Gonzaga enters the NCAA Tournament as the WCC Champions with a 33-17 record, going 20-7 in conference play.
The Bulldogs opened the season going 2-2 in Suprise, AZ, including a 17-5 win over Kansas State but also featuring a 20-4 loss to Oregon State and a 6-1 loss to Kansas State. They split another series against Dallas Baptist, lost a midweek pair on the road to Texas Tech but then beat TCU on the weekend.
In WCC play they swept Santa Clara, dropped a series against Loyola Marymount, swept Pacific and BYU, and beat Saint Mary’s and Pepperdine.
And then, for what I assume are COVID-related reasons, they didn’t play from April 27th to May 14th, scrapping series against Seattle and Oregon. They picked things up by sweeping Portland and taking the series against San Francisco.
They dropped a rescheduled San Diego series to finish the regular season, but they won the opening game. The West Coast Conference had no tournament this year for COVID reasons so Gonzaga’s one win over San Diego was just enough to earn the regular season conference championship and an auto-bid into the NCAA.
Now, I just named dropped a bunch of team most of you have zero awareness of, so let’s examine the numbers and how LSU compares in parenthesis:
Record: 33-17 (34-22)
Conference: 20-7 (13-17)
RPI: 27 (28)
SOS: 53 (3)
Non-Conference SOS: 6 (110)
Home: 15-5 (24-14)
Road: 16-10 (10-7)
Neutral: 2-2 (0-1)
vs. RPI Q1: 3-6 (7-13)
vs. RPI Q2: 2-2 (2-2)
vs. RPI Q3: 4-3 (9-3)
vs. RPI Q4: 21-6 (10-4)
So class, what did we learn? LSU had a harder schedule and played more games. That’s really it. The Zags (can I call them that? I’m gonna call them that) had a much better conference record, but LSU’s was infinitely harder. But Gonzaga didn’t play Pacific University 12 times, they did play some P5/tournament teams in their non-conference, and they fared about as well as LSU did against their conference foes.
So all that to say, in terms of resume, both teams are pretty even.
Brett Harris: .358/.566/.483, 17 2B, 1 3B, 6 HR, 42 RBI, 25 BB, 24 SO
Ernie Yake: .321/.409/.412, 11 2B, 1 HR, 28 RBI, 20 BB, 13 SO
Andrew Orzel: .292/.421/.392, 12 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 34 RBI, 22 BB, 28 SO
Oh yeah, that’s the west coast ball we all know and love. They don’t hit home runs, but they don’t strike out and they’re really really good at putting balls in play.
Gonzaga is wholly content to stringing singles together until the cows come home because they’re pretty decent at it. One way they really break type is that they don’t steal, Harris leads the team with 12 attempts, only seven of which were successful.
Gonzaga is a true station-to-station ballclub, and they will put balls in play. It is absolutely imperative at LSU is ready to play on an artificial turf field and be ready to flash some leather.
Alek Jacob: 2.82 ERA, .95 WHIP, 76.2 IP, .199 BAA, 6.06 K/BB (103/17)
Michael Spellacy: 3.51 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 48.2 IP, .249 BAA, 2.44 K/BB (39/16)
Gabriel Hughes: 3.23 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 61.1 IP, .211 BAA, 2. 23 K/BB (67/30)
Here’s a good barometer of whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist.
Is Alek Jacobs a hoss? Yes, absolutely. Has LSU faced guys as good or better than him week in and out in the SEC? Yes, absolutely. Now, LSU hasn’t had a whole lot of success against those guys, but they’ve seen them regardless.
And that’s how the Gonzaga pitching staff translates as a whole. They’re good, pretty damn good actually, but not quite on par with the teams that gave LSU fits.
So, I think the opening game will be absolutely tight and will bet my bottom dollar it is no more than a two-run game, especially if LSU wins. It’s going to come down to two things: how well LSU fields and their BABIP luck.
I know better than to expect LSU players trying to play hero ball in the postseason, it’s just going to happen, especially since this is Mainieri’s last ride. The question is to what degree. If they can swing for the gaps and not the fence and start playing the law of averages, that will only give them more chances to beat Gonzaga at their own game.