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Better Know a Regional: Kennesaw State

Could an owl beat a tiger?

OK, LSU didn’t get a national seed this year nor a hosting site. I will now permit all y’all this space to complain loudly about it to some random person who is preferably not me. I’ll even give y’all the appropriate space:

We done? Yeah, the Committee blah blah blah. Know what? They did LSU a favor. LSU has played well away from home, but more importantly, they got a fairly manageable regional. Auburn got a host site and a national seed, plus an absolute bear of a regional.

On the other hand, sure, LSU has to play a national seed in their home park. Southern Miss is a really good team. But no offense to the teams which made it, this is not murderer’s row. According to Boyd’s World, LSU has a 37% chance of winning the region, the third best odds for any two seed in the nation (behind Gonzaga and Wake Forest).

You’ve been through enough postseasons, you learn that the draw is everything. So let’s look at the Tigers’ draw, starting with its first day opponent.

Kennesaw State Owls

Record 35-26 (19-11, T-3rd Atlantic Sun)

RPI 42

ISR 60

RS/RA: 432/406

The Owls made a remarkable run to the A-Sun championship after dropping not just one, but its first two games in the conference tournament. Fortunately for Kennesaw St, the A-Sun uses pool play rather than a double elimination format. Even then, the Owls were three outs from elimination before a furious late-inning rally lifted them to a win of FGSU and a birth in the semifinals.

They pulled upsets over traditional conference powers Lipscomb and Liberty to earn their first tourney win since 2014. Good on them. As a reward, they get the LSU Tigers. So, not all good news. The big concern for the Owls is that they play a lot like the Tigers, trying to cover up their pitching staff with an offense which loves to put up crooked numbers.

Would Their Mascot Beat Mike in a Fight?

You have to give the Owls air superiority. The big challenge for Mike would be simply catching the owl, not the fight itself. Which is not to say owls are not pretty bad ass. Razor sharp talons, good strength, the ability to attack aerially… the owl is a formidable opponent.

Still, for the owl to win, it’s gonna have to get close to Mike, and from there, the size and speed advantage all tilts in the tiger’s favor. I don’t think it would be an easy win, but I’m giving this one to Mike the Tiger.

Offense

The Owls can hit. The team put up a combined slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) of 301/378/462. That’s a team OPS of 840, which is an elite level of offense. What makes the Owls so threatening is the balance in the lineup. It’s not just one or two guys putting up huge numbers and the rest of the team struggling to keep up. Six starters have an OPS over 800, a seventh, Nick Colina, has an OBP over 400 and an OPS of 782, making him an effective table setter.

That isn’t to say there isn’t star power. CF Josh Hatcher (386/44/648) and 1B Donovan Cash (356/416/565) make a pretty terrifying one-two punch. And that’s before we mention the team’s home run leader, 3B Cash Young, who banged 17 dingers and posted a 296/376/564. There aren’t a whole lot of easy outs here.

Pitching

Despite an offense which scored 406 runs, Kennesaw St was actually outscored by its opponents this year, allowing 432 runs. We can complain about LSU’s pitching staff, but KSU’s 6.08 team ERA is truly horrific.

The thing is, you only face one pitcher, not the whole staff, and the Owls do have at least one starter who can take over a game, and its likely they will pitch him in the opener to avoid the loser’s bracket. LHP John Bezdicek boasts a 3.75 ERA and a 81/31 K/BB ratio over 74.1 innings. That’s not terrifying, but it is a good pitcher.

However, if LSU an chase the starter and get to the bullpen… well, good luck to the Owls. They seem to be bereft of options.

Tiger Bait?

Styles make games. The opener should be a good old fashioned slugfest, with each team trying to crack 10 runs. On the one hand, no lead will be safe because each team’s offense could explode at any moment. On the other… no lead is safe because of the weakness of the pitching staff. There’s a high chance the wheels come off.

Honestly, the Owls would have preferred playing Southern Miss for the contrast. Go against the team with a great pitching staff and go strength on strength, and see who wins. Against LSU, Kennesaw St is basically a slightly lesser version of the Tigers. They do the same things well, and the same things poorly. It’s staring into a funhouse mirror and while this isn’t an easy out, this is about as good of a matchup as LSU could have hoped for on day one.