It’s the first weekend in May, and temperatures are climbing around the country-just as conference races and battles for at-large NCAA bids are heating up in college baseball as well. There will be a bit fewer Top 50 teams in action this weekend and next weekend, due to conference byes and teams taking final exams around the country.
Here’s a look at a few things to look for this weekend (all rankings based on the College Baseball 360 Week 12 Composite National Rankings):
1. Thursday is here, and that means college baseball on prime time TV! The SEC Thursday night game of the week on ESPNU has been just fantastic so far. Kyle Peterson has brought his bag of college baseball knowledge on a weekly basis and The U has also done a great job of covering teams from other conferences with its College Baseball Live lead-in show. They have had interviews with coaches each week and had other features as well. It’s worth setting the DVR if you can’t catch it live. This week’s Thursday game has #4 Florida (34-10, 17-4) at #21 Arkansas (29-13, 10-11). ESPNU will also televise Saturday’s series finales at 8 p.m. ET. Bring it on!
2. There are compelling/pivotal conference match-ups every week, especially in the SEC, but the LSU at Alabama series could be as pivotal as it gets in the SEC Western Division. LSU (28-17, 7-14) currently sits in last place in the division, but the Tigers are just 3.0 games behind division co-leaders Arkansas and Alabama (28-19, 10-11). A sweep by LSU could turn the whole division upside down. The Bayou Bengals swung last weekend (and possibly their season) when they scored eight runs in the bottom of the 8th inning in their 9-5 game one win over Kentucky to key their first SEC series sweep of the year. Alabama has dropped six of its last nine conference games, despite taking two of three from Mississippi State last weekend.
3. The aforementioned conference bye weekends have led to some interesting non-conference series this weekend. #15 TCU is at #20 Oklahoma State, #41 Central Florida visits #6 Florida State and #11 Texas A&M playing host to Dallas Baptist. TCU (31-13) has won 11 of its last 14 games, with a pair of losses to Oklahoma and a setback to Dallas Baptist in that stretch. The Horned Frogs’ pitching staff boasts a 2.82 ERA with 354 strikeouts and just 119 walks this year. OSU (30-13) is in third place in the Big 12 behind co-leaders Texas and Texas A&M. Central Florida (28-17) and Dallas Baptist (31-13) both have opportunities to get much needed RPI boosts with NCAA selections looming in just over three weeks.
4. If South Carolina and TCU get back to the College World Series this year they will likely have to reach the hallowed soil without two of college baseball’s biggest stars. TCU pitcher Matt Purke reportedly has shoulder bursitis, but could still return to the mound this year. Purke hasn’t pitched since going just 4.0 innings in an April 16 start vs. San Diego State. South Carolina’s Jackie Bradley, Jr. has been out since injuring his left wrist on April 23 against Mississippi State. Bradley said recently via Twitter “something is torn inside there”. His career at South Carolina could likely be over. Both Bradley and Purke are expected to be first round picks in next month’s MLB Draft.
5. Michigan State second baseman Ryan Jones is on an historic march in East Lansing. Jones extended his school record hitting streak to 30 games in Wednesday’s 7-1 loss to Western Michigan. Jones is batting .364 for MSU (27-14, 10-5), which hosts a first place Big Ten showdown with Purdue (30-13) this weekend. It’s the second straight weekend the Spartans have hosted a Big Ten co-leader. They swept Penn State last week. Jones has the longest active hitting streak in Division One baseball.
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