Before I even talk about the game tonight, let me say a few words about Fresno State. If I wasn't a big LSU fan paying attention to LSU to the exclusion of almost all else, I would be all over this Fresno story.
This is a team that was a #4 regional seed and not only won their regional, beating #1 seed Long Beach State and #2 seed San Diego 2 out of three times, but they then turned around and beat #3 overall seed Arizona State best two out of three. And that was just to get here. Then, they turn around and cream the #6 overall seed Rice and then beat the #2 overall seed UNC to take control of this half of the bracket.
A team that by all rights should have ended their NCAA tournament 0-2 has gone 7-2 and is at least an even-money chance to make it to the championship round. This is bigger than George Mason making it to the Final Four. It's absolutely remarkable.
Anyway, on to LSU.
No one says it's going to be easy, but I much prefer having to play UNC now in an elimination game for a chance to try to win 2 over Fresno than having to play Fresno in an elimination for a chance to try to win 2 over UNC.
For one thing, if my observations are correct, we have a real problem hitting the best pitchers in the country. Scott Gorgen and Alex White both effectively neutered us for long stretches. We kill lesser pitchers, but really struggle against the cream of the crop, and we don't have our own ace to counter someone else's.
The good news is that Fresno doesn't really have that kind of pitcher. They've had great success in the post-season without one. Their #1 starter gave up 6 earned runs to Arizona State in 4.1 innings and has a season ERA over 4.00. They don't have the kind of pitcher who kills us. UNC does, and if we had to play them this weekend, we'd see him again.
Getting UNC tonight, we avoid their ace, which gives us a real fighting chance to outslug them, even if their starting pitcher reportedly hasn't given up a home run all season. If we get past UNC tonight, we get a couple of chances to outslug Fresno this weekend. It won't be easy, but missing the one true ace left in our bracket gives us a much better chance to win 3 in a row than we would otherwise have.
The key will be to make the UNC pitcher work. He walks a lot of people, so we can really get his pitch count up and knock him out of the game early if we hit well and be selective. I don't want people to change how they hit, but I also don't want to see a lot of 1- or 2-pitch outs. Make him work and earn his outs, and get into that bullpen as early as possible.