Big 12 Tournament Preview

It's a big week for the Aggies. Win at least two games, and you've got a great chance to host a regional at Olsen Field. Anything less, and it's time to wait and see. Aggie Websider's Lanny Hayes takes a look at this week's Big 12 Tournament in Oklahoma City.

The second season begins this morning for the Texas A&M baseball team, as they take on Nebraska in the first game of the 2007 Big 12 tournament. The tournament continues its' stay at Bricktown in downtown Oklahoma City, where it returned in 2005 after alternating with Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

If it seems like it's been forever since A&M played in the Big 12 tourney, that's because it has. The game will be A&M's first appearance in the conference tournament since 2004, when they lost both of their games in Arlington (to Oklahoma State and Texas). A&M's last tourney win came on a Thursday in 2003, when they took down those same Longhorns.

The format has also changed during the Aggies' hiatus. Rather than the two-bracket double elimination system, the tournament was changed to a pool play style in 2006. Coaches voted for the new style in an effort to provide bubble teams with a better chance to reach the postseason, while also deemphasizing the strain placed on the pitchers of teams who are a postseason lock.

This format may actually help A&M, notoriously light on pitching as the series goes on. A&M plays their two toughest games on paper, vs #4 Nebraska and #1 Texas, in the first two days. That gives Rob Childress the luxury of throwing two of the best pitchers in the Big 12, Kyle Nicholson and David Newmann, if he so chooses on the first two days, with No. 8 seeded Kansas State looming on Saturday.

Advancement to Sunday's championship game requires the best record in your pool, and holding the head-to-head tiebreaker, if necessary. Making it to Sunday will require A&M to win at least two games and get some help along the way.

This past weekend's sweep against Texas ended any hopes for a national seed and placed A&M squarely on the No. 1 seed bubble. Ultimately, their performance this week at the Big 12 tournament will determine whether or not they host postseason play at Olsen Field. Conventional wisdom states that a 0-3 or 1-2 week ends all discussion, while a 2-1 or 3-0 week would be very favorable to the selection committee. Host seeds are announced at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, during the tournament championship game.

The Aggies are 4-5 against their side of the bracket, including a pair of 2-1 series wins over Nebraska and Kansas State, plus the sweep by the Longhorns.

Nebraska and A&M hooked up for an entertaining series at Olsen in early April, culminating in a dramatic finish with the Ags winning the rubber game in their final at-bat. Nebraska won Friday's contest 11-4, thanks to seven Aggie errors, but A&M put up eight runs on both Saturday and Sunday to win the series. Kyle Nicholson, the likely starter, pitched in both wins that series, earning the win on Sunday.

The series between A&M and Texas is well documented and fresh on the minds of both schools' fans. David Newmann will likely start against the Horns on Thursday, hoping to duplicate his outstanding performance from Saturday. First pitch in that game is scheduled for 4:30 p.m..

None of A&M's Sunday pitchers could stop Kansas State last week, but they'll get another shot on Saturday at 10 a.m. The Wildcats didn't do much against Newmann or Nicholson, but tore up the Sunday staff for eleven runs on fifteen hits.

Weather looks to be a concern for the tournament as well, as thunderstorms plague the local forecast for the entire weekend.

Stay tuned to Websider.com for postgame analysis, up to the minute tournament news, and rumors du jour as A&M treks through the Big 12 tourney and prepares for regional play.

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