NCAA Baseball Tournament: Tucson Regional Preview

The Field:

No. 1 Arizona (38-17, 20-10 in Pac-12)
33rd appearance (third straight), at-large, tied for first in Pac-12

No. 2 New Mexico State (35-22, 11-7 in WAC)
Third appearance (last in 2003), at-large, WAC regular-season co-champion

No. 3 Louisville (39-20, 18-9 in Big East)
Sixth appearance (last in 2010), at-large, Big East regular-season co-champion

No. 4 Missouri (32-26, 10-14 in Big 12)
22nd appearance (last in 2009), automatic, Big 12 tournament champion

The Favorite: Arizona

The host and top-seeded Wildcats have been a model of consistency this season, dropping just two weekend series. The Pac-12 champs finished the season with a .325 team batting average (sixth-best in the nation) and five players that hit better than .340 - Johnny Field, Robert Refsnyder, Alex Mejia, Seth Mejias-Brean and Bobby Brown.

Ace pitcher Kurt Heyer (11-2, 2.03) is one of the nation's most dominating pitchers, and a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award (baseball's Heisman Trophy). Sinkerballer Konner Wade (7-3, 4.88) has had a bit of a disappointing season, but remains the team's established No. 2.

Best Hitting: New Mexico State

The Aggies' combined .308 team average isn't staggering, but their 47 home runs and average of better than eight runs per game can certainly turn some heads. NMSU outscored their opponents by more than 100 runs this season, which is remarkable considering their pitching staff posted a robust 5.50 ERA. Opposing pitchers, however, had a combined ERA of 7.47 against this squad.

Basically, if you don't score big you're not winning against the Aggies.

Best Pitching: Louisville

The Cards have three regular starters with at least eight wins each - Jeff Thompson (9-3, 3.91 ERA), Jared Ruxer (8-2, 2.88 ERA) and Big East Pitcher of the Year Justin Amlung (8-4, 2.36 ERA) - and a solid team ERA of 3.36. The bad news for Louisville is that they're spending the weekend in a very hitter-friendly park against three teams that know how to light up a scoreboard.

The Underdog: Missouri

Missouri snuck into the field by surprising everyone and winning the Big 12 Tournament last weekend. They hit below .275 as a team and don't have what anyone could call a dominating pitching staff, but they're as streaky as any team in the country, and that makes them dangerous in postseason play. The Tigers have posted separate winning streaks of 10, five and five games so far this season, and come to Tucson having just won four straight league tournament games.

Best Pitcher: Kurt Heyer, Arizona

Simply put: the kid's a stud. He tossed six complete games and struck out 91 hitters while walking just 20 over 119 2/3 innings this season.

ALSO CONSIDERED:

Justin Amlung, Louisville (8-4, 2.36 ERA)

Jared Ruxer, Louisville (8-2, 2.88 ERA)

Best Hitter: Robert Refsnyder, Arizona

A .359 average, six home runs, 57 RBI, four triples, 17 doubles, 53 runs, 12 stolen bases and just 19 strikeouts in 217 at-bats. Those are numbers that speak pretty loudly.

ALSO CONSIDERED:

Zac Fisher, New Mexico State (.366, 6 HR, 58 RBI)

Johnny Field, Arizona (.379, 2 HR, 31 RBI)

The Schedule:

Friday, June 1 (All Games on ESPNU)

Game 1: (3) Louisville vs. (2) New Mexico State 7 p.m.

Game 2: (4) Missouri vs. (1) Arizona 11 p.m.

Saturday, June 2 (All Games on ESPNU)

Game 3: Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 7 p.m.

Game 4: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 11 p.m.

Sunday, June 3 (All Games on ESPN3)

Game 5: Winner Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4, 7 p.m.

Game 6: Winner Game 4 vs. Loser Game 5, 11 p.m.

Monday, June 5 (Game on ESPNU)

Game 7: Winner Game 6 vs. Loser Game 6, 11 p.m.

Predicted Order of Finish:

1. Arizona

2. Louisville

3. New Mexico State

4. Missouri

It's not a bad draw for the Cards in that they don't have to face a national seed, but this is an extremely hitter-friendly ballpark and Arizona and New Mexico State are both teams built around putting runs on the board. I say U of L takes an L tonight, then bounces back with a pair of victories before falling to Arizona on Sunday night.

Here's hoping for some early June magic in Tucson from Dan McDonnell and boys.

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