NCAA Baseball Tournament: Louisville Regional Preview

The last major event of U of L's 2012-13 athletics season gets underway tonight when the Louisville baseball team begins play in the NCAA Tournament.

Even if baseball isn't your thing, the chance to add College World Series participant (champion?) to a nine-month resume that already includes Sugar Bowl champion and national champion is worth investing some of yourself in.

Here's a quick look at the essential information you need to fully submerge yourself in this weekend's events.

THE SCHEDULE

Game 1- Friday 2:00 PM - Oklahoma State vs. Miami

Game 2 - Friday 6:00 PM - Bowling Green vs. Louisville

Game 3 - Sat. 12:00 PM - Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2

Game 4 - Sat. 5:00 PM - Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2

Game 5 - Sun 12:00 PM - Winner Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4

Game 6- Sun 4:00 PM - Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5

Game 7 - Monday 7:00 PM - Winner Game 6 vs. Loser Game 6 (if necessary)

THE TEAMS

1. Louisville (46-12, 20-4 Big East)

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW:

--This is the team you're rooting for.

--This is the team you want to win the regional

STRENGTHS:

--Louisville has the starting pitching you need in order to survive a three (or four) day tournament. Weekend rotation hurlers Jef Thompson, Chad Green and Dace Kime have combined for a 24-5 record, and all three have ERAs below 3.09.

--Dan McDonnell may also have the deepest bullpen he's ever had at his disposal. It's a group led by closer Nick Burdi, who routinely cracks triple digits on the radar gun.

--As McDonnell's teams always are, Louisville is extremely aggressive on offense. They rank third in the country with 142 stolen bases, and three Cardinals have swiped at least 20 bags.

WEAKNESSES:

--After closing the regular season on 16-game winning streak, U of L figured to be one of the hottest teams in the country once the big dance rolled around. That changed last weekend in Clearwater when the Cards went two and out in the Big East Tournament for the first time since joining the conference. Louisville needs a solid start out of the gate on Friday in order to get some of its confidence back.

--Though the Cards have some talented hitters in the heart of their order, they don't have the power numbers you'd expect to see from a national title contender. No player in the U of L lineup has gone deep more than 10 times, and only four players have more than one bomb.

PLAYER TO WATCH:

--Ty Young is U of L's offensive superstar, but Big East Pitcher of the Year Jeff Thompson (10-1) might still be the MVP. Thompson is one of 30 semifinalists for the Golden Spikes Award and comes into this weekend feeling especially rested after not toeing the rubber at all last week in Clearwater.

2. Miami (36-23, 14-16 ACC)

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW:

--The Canes don't have a sparkling record, but the perennial powerhouses are making their 41st consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

--Miami will be playing this weekend without head coach Jim Morris, who has been in the hospital all week with pneumonia.

STRENGTHS:

--Miami is defined by its three lefty starters, Chris Diaz (6-5, 1.75), Bryan Radziewski (9-2, 1.49) and Andrew Suarez (3-5, 3.71). Diaz is the only one with overpowering stuff, but if any member of the trio gets nto a groove then The U is awfully tough to beat.

--The UM defense has been tremendous all season, especially up the middle where Brandon Lopez and Alex Hernandez make up one of the best double play tandems in the country.

WEAKNESSES:

--This is not the type of offensive team you think of when you think of Miami baseball. The Hurricanes rank 213th in the nation in hitting (.260) and 229th in scoring (4.5 runs per game). Freshman David Thompson has hid six home runs, but the rest of the team has combined to belt just seven. Their pitching will keep them in games, but this is a squad that has struggled to score all season.

PLAYER TO WATCH:

--Diaz leads the team in starts ad will get the ball in game one, but it's Radziewski who has been the ace and who was a first team All-ACC selection. He pitched eight shutout innings in his last start against Clemson and has 101 strikeouts in 840 innings.

3. Oklahoma State (39-17, 13-10 Big 12)

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW:

--The Cowboys are another one of the top programs in college baseball, but are back in the big dance after missing out a season ago.

STRENGTHS:

--Like the first two teams covered, Oklahoma State is a team defined by its pitching, most notably ace Jason Hursh. Hursh (6-4, 2.85 ERA) has one of the biggest arms in the country, consistently throwing somewhere between 94-98 mph. He's on the bump for game one.

--Though the Okie State lineup as a whole is fairly average, the meat of the order is very formidable. Zach Fish, Robbie Rea and Tanner Krietemeier bring most of the power in the lineup, combining to hit 17 of the team's 31 home runs.

WEAKNESSES:

--Like Louisville, the Cowboys come into this weekend reeling a little bit. After finishing second in the Big 12 during the regular season, they went 0-3 during pool play in the league tournament.

PLAYER TO WATCH:

Hursh is without question the most well-regarded MLB prospect in the regional.

Bowling Green (24-29, 13-14 MAC)

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW:

--The Falcons are dancing for the first time since 1999 thanks to a Cinderella run in the MAC Tournament last week. Bowling Green entered the tournament as the No. 6 seed before wining four of five games to punch their ticket.

STRENGTHS:

--The main advantage BGSU has at their disposal right now is momentum. They're the only team in the regional that won their last game.

--They also have a very solid closer in the form of your company's computer guy Nick Bruns (6-2, 2.32 ERA), who has six saves on the season and was the MAC Tournament MVP.

WEAKNESSES:

--The Falcons are one of the worst defensive teams in the field of 64. Their .951 fielding percentage is good for 78th in the country. It's a difficult weakness to overcome in a regional that should be defined by strong pitching and solid defensive play.

PLAYER TO WATCH:

Since I'm tired of picking pitchers, let's go with Jeremy Shay, who's hitting .328 to go with 37 RBI and five dingers.

PREDICTIONS:

A lot of U of L fans have moaned about a potential showdown with Vanderbilt in the super regionals, but college baseball is a sport where looking ahead is always foolish. That being the case, Louisville got a pretty friendly draw here, and appears to have a very good shot at claiming its first regional championship since '09.

I think they get it done this weekend at The Pat.

1. Louisville
2. Oklahoma State
3. Miami
4. Bowling Green

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