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NCAA preview: Austin Regional

1. TEXAS LONGHORNS

46-11, 24-6 Big 12, 7-3 last 10 games

At their best: Texas is the best team in the country. The Longhorns have three strong starting pitchers, a relief staff that enters games without missing a beat and a great closer in Chance Ruffin. The offense can drive in runs in droves.

At their worst: They’re unfocused and can struggle to score. Texas’ now much-discussed 0-3 performance in the Big 12 Tournament was the worst the team had played all year. Texas couldn’t produce offensively to offset uncharacteristic bad starts to Missouri, Texas Tech and Texas A&M.

Biggest strength: Despite the Big 12 tourney disappointment, the selection committee gave the No. 2 national seed to the Longhorns. Why? The starting rotation of Green, Jungmann, Workman sets Texas apart.

Last NCAA appearance: 2009 (CWS)

2. RICE OWLS

38-21, 20-8 Conference USA, 8-2 last 10

At their best: Rice is a very pesky two seed with loads of NCAA experience, a loaded bullpen led by junior Abe Gonzales (3.23 ERA, 53 IP), and a transcendent hitter in third basemen Anthony Rendon (.393 batting average, 23 HRs).

At their worst: Rice has proven they can score a lot of runs when called to do so, but the statistics have been padded by lopsided wins against Houston (72 runs in six games). The Owls' starting pitching isn’t going to scare Texas, especially considering their success came in weaker Conference USA. Rice has proven throughout the season that it can win one game against a better team in a series, but the Owls will need more than one win to advance in the regionals.

Biggest strength: The Owls have shown they can be an offensive force against good teams, beating NCAA tournament teams Cal (outscored 33-15 in two wins), Southern Miss (18-14 in two games) and San Diego (9-8). Their offense hasn't been just for show in conference romps.

Last NCAA appearance: 2009 (Super Regional)

3. LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE

37-20, 21-11 Sun Belt, 6-4 last 10

At their best: They’re starting pitcher Zach Osborne (2.65 ERA, 112.2 IP) and letting a slew of good relievers take over when he gets tired. Beyond that, things become more interesting. They aren’t going to score a lot of runs against good opposing pitching, but with Osborne and company (or not, Osborne has recorded four perfect games this year) they have a good chance to steal a game from someone.

At their worst: They’re a team that is ice cold and never beat anyone that impressive to begin with. They stole single games from their best conference opponents in series and won games they should have won all year. They started slipping at the end of the year, and there’s no telling if they’ll be better than they were in two conference tournament losses.

Biggest strength: Osborne a thousand times over. That he holds an 8-4 win/loss record should tell you how bad the hitting situation is for the Ragin’ Cajuns. Osborne has allowed 95 hits in 122.2 innings and has an astonishing 108 strikeouts to only 19 walks, of the 43 runs he’s allowed, only 32 were earned.

Last NCAA appearance: 2007 (Regional)

4. RIDER

36-21, 18-9 Metro Atlantic, 10-0 last 10

At their best: Right now. Rider is on a 10-game win streak and won by wide margins in several of those games. Rider didn’t have a lot of premier competition in the northeast, but they did go to Virginia Tech and steal one of two games. They have a good all-around club and have beat up much of their competition. They have solid hitters, but they haven’t seen a pitcher on the level of Texas’ rotation.

At their worst: Several losses to weak teams this season. Rider simply didn’t play a difficult enough schedule to prove they belonged in the tournament if they hadn’t won their league tourney. It lost too many games to mediocre/bad teams, and didn’t have the big wins to offset them. They can hit, but even if they do, they don’t have near the depth of pitching they would need to advance.

Biggest strength: The hitting foursome of Nick Wojnowski, Steve Galella, Brandon Cotton and A.J. Albee. All four batted better than .355. Seven batters averaged over .300 for the Broncs.

Last NCAA appearance: 2008 (Regional)