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And The Valley Projects: March 15th

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PROJECTIONS BACK

Adam Henderson

It's March 15th, and half of America is doing their civic duty by dodging work and filling out brackets for the NCAA basketball tournament. But here at And The Valley Shook, we're beyond ready to move on from basketball season and focus on what really matters: baseball. Welcome to the second season of ATVP, where we draw up a mock NCAA baseball tournament every week until the actual field is selected in late May.

For now, we will take a more "if the season ended now" approach to the selections, once we get to halfway point of the year we'll get more true to definition projections.

The Field

The National Seeds

Florida, Oregon State, Louisville, North Carolina, Vanderbilt, Miami (FL), Texas A&M

Florida is the undisputed number one team in the country, boasting a 17-1 mark that features wins over Miami (FL) and UCF in the non-con schedule. The Gators have a stifling pitching staff led by AJ Puk and an offense that can suppress any faltering from the mound. Before opening SEC play at home against Missouri, the Gators have a YUGE midweek matchup Tuesday night against Florida State that will be on the SEC Network.

Oregon State (12-2) opened the season with a 10-game road trip to Surprise, Arizona where the Beavers played some highly respectable opponents for a non-con schedule: Minnesota, Utah, Kansas State, and Kansas before going to the west coast to play San Diego. In that span, Oregon State went 10-1 with their only stumble being to Utah Valley in the second game of the season. The Beavers opened up Goss Stadium with a series win against San Francisco and stay there when Arizona State (a tournament team) comes calling to open up PAC-12 play. As always, Oregon State prides itself on stellar pitching, but the Beavers have only scored less than three runs once this season, and seem to have shed their small ball west coast identity,

As you will notice, the ACC is especially contentious this season, and so far Louisville (13-2) looks like the team to beat, despite their series loss in the second weekend of the year to Ole Miss. Those two losses are the only ones on the year for the BIRDS WITH TEETH. Outside of that, llvll has been impressive, including a series sweep against Notre Dame to begin the ACC season. Brendan McKay has been as impressive as any other pitcher in the nation thus far, keeping a .33 ERA in 27 innings pitched, posting a K/BB of 4.11 (37/4). Only three runs have been scored on McKay, and just a single one of them was earned. Oh, and Kade McClure is also on staff, and his statline is also impressive: .33 ERA, 16 IP, 3.67 K/BB (11/3), 1 run allowed (earned).

North Carolina (12-2) is looking to bounce back from their 2015 season that saw them miss the NCAA tournament for the first time in 14 years. The Tar Heels' only losses on the year came against UCLA in the opening series and last Sunday as Pitt blanked them 5-0. UNC has a midweek against ECU before making the long trek to Durham to play arch rivals Duke.

Also as an aside, North Carolina's baseball uniforms are my favorite uniforms in sports. They are so incredibly amazing.

Vanderbilt (15-1) has probably been better than some of the teams not named Florida listed above, but the committee wants to avoid having three SEC teams taking the first three spots, even if at the end of the day what national seed you get doesn't matter, so long as you get one. The Vandy boys' only loss of the year came in their series opener against Stanford, but in my mind their opening weekend sweep of San Diego more than covers for that. What makes Vandy's start even more impressive is that they're more or less starting a brand new lineup across the board. The Commodores host Mississippi State at Hawkins Field to open up SEC play this weekend.

Miami's (FL) (13-3) only fault is that they had to play Florida, which is a team that you can't really be penalized for losing to at this stage of the game. Miami is fresh off of a series win against Virginia Tech and is about to face a real gut check: hosting Louisville. There's plenty of time left so it would not be an absolute killer if they lose it, but playing Florida and Louisville before April and winning one of those two will look good on a resume.

Texas A&M (15-1) is the last team to squeeze into a national seed spot, through no fault of their own. The Aggies went to Pepperdine for a series which accounts for their lone loss of the year, and outside of that...there really isn't much of note from the Ags. They play Texas in a midweek this week, but not much can be drawn from a midweek. A&M has had a fairly easy schedule and has taken advantage of that. In fact, their easy schedule continues when they visit Auburn at Plainsman Park to open SEC play. After that though, they travel to Florida and then host LSU (for the third time in four years, thanks SEC).

The Hosts

Cal, LSU, Clemson, Florida State, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Michigan State, ECU

NOTE: These are not in any specific order, I'm just going up the line. Parings are based on conference affiliation and geography, two factors with the NCAA considers when seeding. The exception is usually the team paired with the #1 national seed is considered the weaker host, but even still that's grounded in conference and geography.

California (10-4) has had some ups and downs in their early season run. Starting with an opening weekend series loss to Duke, the Golden Bears responded by sweeping Purdue convincingly. After getting blanked midweek by Michigan, Cal swept Texas in a four game series at Disch-Faulk. Cal tried to play a four game set against Texas Tech, but only got two games in, which they split. Cal could have really used that series, because their next two weeks feature a series with USC and Oregon State.

I've written in depth about LSU's (12-3) struggles to gel as a team and their relative success in some areas. The good news is Alabama is a fairly favorable draw to start SEC play against and the Tigers likely have a larger margin of error against the Tide than some other SEC series. The bad news is that Alabama is slammed between midweeks against two tournament teams, New Orleans and ULL in the Wally Pontiff Jr. Classic and precedes a trip to College Station.

Clemson (11-3) came out of nowhere to tip over South Carolina, but outside of those two games the Tigers haven't quite been impressive, even though they have not lost a series yet. Clemson lost the opening game of the Wake Forest series and now have to go to another ACC school flying under the radar in Boston College.

On Friday night, Florida State (13-3) broke Georgia Tech's stance as the last unbeaten team in college baseball and on Sunday, they swept the Yellow Jackets. That's the second hide on the Seminole's wall, the other being College of Charleston who did steal a game to start the series. After their tilt with arch rivals Florida on Tuesday night, the Noles will go to Pitt for a series.

Ole Miss (15-1) is perfect outside of the Louisville series, which is the biggest feather in their cap. After their series with the Cardinals, Ole Miss made clean work of the Chanticleer Classic against Ball State, Coastal Carolina, and Cincinnati. But to me, the Rebels still have plenty to prove, since they won the Louisivlle series by three runs. We'll have to wait for Ole Miss' next big chance to really impress against South Carolina later in the year, as they go to UAB for two and then Tennessee this weekend.

Speaking of, South Carolina (15-2) roared out to a ten win streak to start the season before rivals Clemson stormed back and took the series. This was after the Gamecocks swept Penn State and began making waves in the national polls. This week SCAR hosts Arkansas, a host bubble team.

The token Big Ten host is awarded to Michigan State (13-1) who has really done much of nothing outside of beating Auburn and UCF in a tournament before dropping their first loss of the year to Southern Miss. After being on the "tournament" circuit since first pitch, the Spartans have their first honest to god series this weekend against South Florida in Tampa this weekend.

The surprise of the season has been East Carolina (11-5), drawing eyes with their series win against Virginia. Since then the Pirates have been less than unbeatable, dropping four games including a series against Rice, who refuses to vanish into baseball obscurity. The Pirates can ride the coattails of the Cavalier series victory a bit longer, but in two weeks they host Houston and take a trip to New Orleans to play Tulane, and UCF is waiting for them at the end of the season. We'll soon find out more about ECU.

The Rest Of The Field

The Baton Rouge Regional is hosted by LSU of course, who plays host to Cal State Fullerton (9-6), a possible at large from the Big West who beat Texas Tech in a three game series but lost to Arizona State in a duo of games and lost the opening series against Stanford. The three seed is none other than the locally sourced New Orleans team that has soared to a 13-3 start under first year coach and former LSU great Blake Dean, who makes his return to Alex Box Wednesday night. The fourth seed is another surprise, 13-2 FAU who beat Mississippi State twice to open the season.

With their poor showing in Tallahassee, Georgia Tech (12-3) dropped out of hosting and into the Columbia Regional, opening the door for ECU.

As you can tell, once more the center of power in college baseball lies in the southeast with the ACC and SEC fielding eight teams into the tournament. The west coast is still represented well, with four teams from the PAC-12 and three (3!) from the Big West, a lot for a non-power five conference. The lower Tornado Alley is dwindling in representation and the midwest is near barren.

The team flying lowest under the radar is 15-1 BYU. While they have no landmark victories, they have swept Kansas and St. Louis, their only blemish coming from their four game series against Samford. The Cougars play in the West Coast conference with San Diego, Pepperdine, and San Francisco, so winning it would be a feat but not entirely impossible. Michael Rucker has struck out 30 in 24 innings of work and Brock Hale is batting with an insane .727 OBP.

This usually doesn't happen, but this week's Group Of Death Of The Week goes to national seed Miami's Coral Gables Regional, which houses Mississippi State (12-3-1) as a two seed and Coastal Carolina (10-7) as a three seed, with AQ Florida A&M (11-5) as the fourth.

We do this every week here at ATVS, so check back every week to see the progress as we race towards the finish line. But I have one rule at Casa de Projections, and that rule is