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Tuesday, March 20, 2012
UK sweep shakes up rankings

By Eric Sorenson
Special to ESPN.com

Kentucky Baseball
Kentucky caused quite a stir in the Power Rankings with a home sweep of South Carolina.

Three things we learned

1. We finally had our first jaw-dropping result of the season.
2. This isn't the same Kentucky team we've seen the past few years, with great starts but no play in June.
3. Oh mercy, Florida is starting to have that feeling of invincibility.

Team of the weekend: Kentucky

This choice is almost as big of a no-brainer as could be found in college baseball. The Wildcats played a series of cream puffs prior to welcoming in two-time defending national champion South Carolina and then summarily vanquished the Gamecocks in three straight games: 4-3, 4-3 and 6-3. Yep, nobody saw this coming, especially after the Wildcats' rich recent history of incredible starts followed by horrible finishes.

Off-radar team of the weekend: Texas

I say "off-radar" because the Longhorns entered their series with Oklahoma with a losing record and were mostly out of sight, out of mind on the national front. They were dangerously close to being buried in the depths of the Big 12 until they strode into Dale Mitchell Park and took three games from their Red River rival, winning 7-6, 9-5 and 9-4. They're starting to show some character too, overcoming a four-run deficit in that 12-inning win on Friday. UT is now over the .500 mark, at 10-8, and 3-0 so far in Big 12 play.

Biggest disappointment: Bottom of the Pac-12

No, we're not disappointed in the conference in general. But it's obvious that the cannibalism has officially begun. The occidental boys saw plenty of attrition in the opening weekend of conference play. Teams like Arizona State, USC and Oregon lost their opening series 2-1. ASU's loss at UCLA isn't a shock, but the Trojans and Ducks were considered favorites in their series against Utah and at Washington, respectively. Yet the biggest tank job may have been Cal, which shockingly lost all three games against visiting Oregon State.

Best series: Arizona State-UCLA

If you were at Jackie Robinson Stadium for this one you might not have any fingernails remaining. Friday's 6-5 white-knuckler was decided by a bottom-of-the-ninth solo home run from Bruins second baseman Kevin Williams. Sunday's doubleheader saw the Sun Devils hang on for dear life in a 4-3 thriller. In the second game, they had men reach third base in the seventh and eighth innings but couldn't push across any late runs as the Bruins escaped with a 4-2 win. Too bad this series couldn't take place in late May with the conference title on the line.

Heating up: TCU

Horned Frogs head coach Jim Schlossnagle knew he'd have a lot of tadpoles that would need to swim upstream for a while in 2012. But the Purple Gang may be hitting its stride now; the Horned Frogs have won nine straight games, including wins over the likes of Oklahoma State, Baylor, Texas Tech as well as the weekend's three-game sweep of UNLV, the one team in the Mountain West that was expected to contend with TCU for the regular-season crown. They got a little help along the way, as the Rebels committed six errors and walked 10 batters as TCU plated 11 runs in the final three innings of a 15-6 win in Game 3.

Cooling down: Oklahoma

With only one returning weekend starter on the mound, as well as lots of holes in the field and a tough early-season schedule, the Sooners knew there would be some bumps. But the starting pitching has been a bit better than last season and the offense has some pop. Until this past week, that is. It wasn't just the weekend home sweep at the hands of Texas; Dallas Baptist scored four runs in the botton of the ninth to earn a 7-6 midweek win. This team is in need of a Red Bull weekend to wake itself up.

Raised an eyebrow: South Carolina's road woes

It's odd to see the Gamecocks succumb to three straight losses in their opening weekend of SEC play, at Kentucky of all places. Worse yet, they have now dropped to 0-4 in true road games, making them one of about 50 or 60 teams who have yet to win in someone else's stadium so far this year. We all know how important it is to win games on the road in the SEC; it can mean the difference in who wins the conference crown and gets a national seed in June.

Of note

Portland's snow delay: Quietly toiling away in the Pacific Northwest, the Pilots are out to their second-best start in school history at 13-3. Sunday's 2-1 win over Cal State Northridge was disrupted by a 30-minute snow delay. After the game resumed, Michael Lucarelli knocked in the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth to give the Pilots the series win over the Matadors.

Indiana State streak: The Sycamores swept the field in the Irish Classic in San Antonio this weekend, winning two one-run games and one extra-inning affair with Notre Dame before taking down the Irish 6-1 in Sunday's title game. ISU has now won 11 in a row, improving to 16-4. Freshman pitcher Kyle Rupe is 4-0, 0.72 on the year, and the Sycamores hit .339 as a team.

Jackson State: The Tigers may be the new team to beat in the SWAC after downing defending champion Alcorn State in three straight games, improving their record to 14-6 after a 3-5 start. Kendall Logan had only one hit in each game, but tallied seven RBIs to lead the Tigers.

Bison strong: Who is that team ranked at No. 13 in the Nolan Power Index? Yes, it's the Bison of North Dakota State. They went 4-0 this past week, beating Bucknell, Lafayette, Chicago State and Akron to improve to 12-5 on the season. If you recall, NDSU also took down Arizona on opening weekend, 8-2. With Oral Roberts looking more human than in past seasons, at 9-10, could this be the year of the Bison in the Summit League?

The strikeout king: Oklahoma State's Andrew Heaney continued his 2012 tear on Friday night, tossing eight K's with no walks in a complete-game 14-0 win over Houston. It was Heaney's second straight shutout coming on the heels of a 2-0 win over Alabama A&M last weekend. Heaney leads the NCAA with 52 punchouts in his five starts and has now thrown the first back-to-back complete-game shutouts since 1998 for the Cowboys.

Without further ado, here are this week's Power Rankings …

1. Florida (19-1)

Of note: That 17-game winning streak is nothing to scoff at, right? But if you're a doubter, just think about this: Remember that "uninspired" sweep of William & Mary in Week 2? The Tribe are now 15-7 and just swept CAA favorite James Madison. That's just the nature of early-season rankings.

2. Stanford (13-2)

Of note: The Cardinal have played Vanderbilt, Texas, Fresno and Rice to start their season and were off this past weekend. C'mon, they deserve a week off to study for exams and make themselves even smarter.

3. North Carolina (16-4)

Of note: The Tar Heels' hold on the 3-spot took on a few bruises this week. I mean, really, if it wasn't for teams like South Carolina and Rice having cruddy weeks, it might've been time to drop UNC as well. But we'll resist the temptation for now.

4. Florida State (17-2)

Of note: The Seminoles moved up in these rankings due to the foibles of others as much as their three-game sweep of Virginia. We're still waiting for that "OMG" moment from Florida State, especially after getting beaten 9-2 by No. 1 Florida back on Tuesday. But we're patient.

5. UCLA (15-4)

Of note: The Bruins had their 12-game winning streak snapped by Arizona State on Sunday, but they have discovered yet another big-time arm in Grant Watson, who improved to 5-0 after six innings of four-hit work versus the heavy-hitting Sun Devils in Sunday's second game.

6. Miami (16-4)

Of note: There was a slight hiccup in the form of Friday's loss at Duke, but the Hurricanes allowed just two runs and played nearly flawless defense in their final 18 innings of that series. Peter O'Brien went 4-for-5 with two doubles, a home run and four RBIs in Sunday's 7-1 win.

7. Cal State Fullerton (12-7)

Of note: Don't get hung up on that 12-7 record. The Titans earn points for degree of difficulty for their willingness to take on whoever, whenever. They have our respect after a 2-and-1 weekend over a Long Beach State team that is better than its record indicates. Red flag warning: The offense has stagnated again.

8. Rice (15-6)

Of note: Losing to Grambling State? Really? That's the kind of kerplunk that usually costs a team multiple spots in the unforgiving Power Rankings. But after seeing them battle tooth-and-nail with Arizona in two midweek donnybrooks, the Owls get a very, very temporary pass here.

9. Arkansas (19-2)

Of note: Wouldn't you know, the Razorbacks, who have been saddled with a really poor nonconference schedule, open SEC play against expected bottom-feeder, Alabama? But at least they swept the Tide. Plus they also took two from Gonzaga in a midweek series. Hog strong.

10. Kentucky (21-0)

Of note: OK, it's official. We're not looking at the same old Bat Cats like in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010, who got off to ripping starts, only to fold the tents once the monsters of the SEC invaded. Kentucky swept South Carolina. Wow. Can't wait to see what's next.

11. South Carolina (15-4)

Of note: Uh-oh. What does this weekend's three-game loss to Kentucky in Lexington mean? The Gamecocks were able to score just nine runs in 27 innings and have averaged fewer than four runs a game in their past two weeks. File that away for future reference as the season progresses.

12. NC State (15-3)

Of note: Let's not announce a new sheriff in town for the ACC just yet, but the Wolfpack are now 5-1 with consecutive weekend wins over Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. This big jump may be temporary as a trip to North Carolina awaits. That is, unless the Pack get even hungrier.

13. Texas A&M (16-5)

Of note: After a loss to Kansas State on Friday night that more closely resembles a football score (15-12), the Aggies got huge mound efforts from Ross Stripling (complete-game six-hitter) and Rafael Pineda (complete-game eight-hitter) to outscore the Cats 16-4 over the next two games to win the series.

14. Oregon State (14-5)

Of note: The up-and-down Beavers hit their stride this weekend, sweeping Cal in Berkeley, Calif. We've been waiting for the real Beavers to step up, and it looks like they have, outscoring pitching-rich Cal 26-8. Freshman outfielder Michael Conforto was 3-for-5 with six RBIs in Sunday's 13-5 win.

15. East Carolina (14-4)

Of note: A tough weekend vs. Penn State raised a bit of an eyebrow. Saturday's 6-5 win saw the Pirates score four runs in the bottom of the ninth and the winning run an inning later. Does that show guile, guts or underachievement? A trip to UCF this week may weed things out.

16. Arizona (16-4)

Of note: This may be a wee bit of a biased pick here after seeing the Cats' athletic and diversified batting order do a pretty good job on Rice in person during a midweek win in Houston. Those bats also rolled 20 runs in two wins over Washington State. If this continues in Corvallis, Ore., this weekend against Oregon State, color us sold.

17. Purdue (14-3)

Of note: While the Boilers basketball team lost a heartbreaker against Kansas, at least the Hammer & Rails fans can take solace in a baseball team that has been Gene Keady-strong, ranking No. 1 in the Nolan Power Index and holding wins over Missouri State and Wichita State this past week.

18. Ole Miss (15-5)

Of note: After a 2-3 week, which included a split at Louisville and a home series loss vs. Auburn, could this be the Rebels' last yell? It certainly didn't help when the Rebs allowed Auburn to score two runs in the ninth inning of Game 3, all with two outs.

19. Arizona State (12-7)

Of note: The thing that keeps the Devils' fingertips clinging to the cliff's edge here is how nip-and-tuck those games at UCLA were this weekend. That was a knuckle-buster of a series in Los Angeles that saw ASU drop two of three. Upcoming home dates with UNLV and Cal could confirm their Power Ranking status … be it good or bad.

20. Pepperdine (15-5)

Of note: Calm seas prevailed as the Waves went 4-1 on the week including a win over UC Irvine at Dodger Stadium and a 2-1 series win over Kent State. How fine is the Dine? The Waves have given up four or more runs just three times this season.

Dropped out: Oregon, California, USC, Texas State

Bubble wrap: Oregon, Texas, Dallas Baptist, Appalachian State, UCF