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Better Know Your Opponent: Southern Miss

TEAM: University of Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles

CONFERENCE: C-USA (2nd place)
RECORD: 40-20 (15-9)
RPI: 36
RS/RA: 376/328
Expected W-L: 35-25


The 2-seed in this regional is no stranger to the tournament.  This is their sixth straight regional, and the team routinely wins 40 games and finishes second in the C-USA to Rice fairly routinely.  But they never seem to get over the hump and actually win a regional.  I don’t want to give the impression that USM is not a quality program and a real threat, they are.  But they aren’t a powerhouse.  LSU drew a fairly pedestrian 2-seed

First, let’s explain the whole “Expected W-L” thing.  Bill James noticed a long time ago that a team’s winning percentage can be predicted with a fair deal of accuracy by dividing the square of runs scored by the sum of the squares of runs scored and runs allowed.  He has actually tinkered with the exponent for Major League Baseball, but I’m sticking with the simple square method for colleges.  USM only outscored its opponents by 48 runs, yet they were 20 games above 500.  They outplayed their expectancy by five games, which is extremely large in a 60 game season.  They just aren’t a great team.

2B James Ewing (369/451/542) is the lynchpin of the office.  Only one other player has the same kind of power, LF Drew Carson (275/352/529).  The good news is that he 12 HR with 108 TB’s.  The bad news is a mediocre batting average and not many walks.  He’s also their biggest threat on the basepaths.  SS Brian Dozier (343/404/486) is the next big hitter in the lineup.  Sure, he’s got a nice OBP, but it’s batting average driven, which means its prone to fluctuation. 

There’s not really any bad hitters on the team, but few great ones.  The team hits 287/381/453 and scores 6.3 runs per game.  It’s not an offense that puts the fear of God in you, but it does it’s job.  They score runs, just not a lot of them.  This is simply a good not great offense.

The pitching, however, boasts one of the top guys in the country, Barry Bowden (1.62 ERA, 8-3, 75 K, 20 BB, 66.2 IP).  USM has announced they are going to start him on Friday, so LSU doesn’t have to worry about him, though he might be ready to pitch as a reliever on Sunday if he doesn’t go too long on Friday.  So, if LSU play USM, it will likely face Todd McInnis (5.10 ERA, 6-2, 71 K, 33 BB, 67 IP) or Josh Billeaud (7.39 ERA, 3-4, 33 K, 37 BB, 63.1 IP).  As you can see, there’s a real drop off in quality from each spot in the rotation.  Billeaud’s peripheral stats aren’t very good, as its never a good sign when a pitcher has more walks than strikeouts.

Tyler Conn (1.02 ERA, 42 K, 12 BB, 35.1 IP) is the bullpen ace, and he’s going to have to carry the Eagles.  He’s got 18 saves, which either means he’s a stud or the team always waits to use him in save situations.  Or maybe he’s the reason the team is outplaying it’s Expected W-L by so much.  Wade Weathers (3.96 ERA, 3-1, 51 K, 15 BB, 52.1 IP) has pitched so well in relief that he’s allowed USM the luxury of using Conn like a traditional ace.  Expect USM to lean heavily on both of them. 

This is a quality team.  They can beat anyone, but they just don’t scare you outside of their closer and their #1 starter.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they won this regional, but they aren’t a scary matchup.