Originally Published: March 22, 2012

Places to be this weekend

By Eric Sorenson
Special to ESPN.com

Editor's note: The NCAA has not released its RPI ratings yet. The RPI ratings listed below are from Boyd's World and are not official.

1. No. 1 Florida (20-1, 3-0 SEC, No. 1 RPI) at No. 8 South Carolina (16-5, 0-3 SEC, No. 15 RPI)
SC UF Carolina Stadium, Columbia, S.C.
What's at stake: The great leap forward.
Here it is. The rematch. Last time we saw these two teams face off they were deciding last season's national title in Omaha, Neb.. Though there is a lot of baseball to be played, Florida can make that big move forward and further take control of the SEC (and the national rankings) with a series win here. The Gamecocks have a bit more riding on this as they might get lost in the shuffle a little if they drop this series. The SEC always gets its share of No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament, but if the Gamecocks are sitting behind the Gators and Kentucky in the SEC East standings come tourney time, they may find themselves doing some traveling this postseason. It's a strange proposition considering how much baseball is left to be played, but if South Carolina loses this series, is the road back to national seed territory too tough to navigate?

Key matchup: Gamecocks' youth versus Gators' experience
South Carolina's new group of infielders has yet to experience a pressure-cooker series of this magnitude (with all apologies to Clemson, of course). Keep an eye, both offensively and defensively, on the success rate of new infielders Joey Pankake, Erik Payne and Connor Bright as well as freshman catcher Grayson Greiner.

2. No. 20 NC State (15-4, 5-1 ACC, No. 8 RPI) at No. 5 North Carolina (17-4, 5-1 ACC, No. 9 RPI)
SC UF Boshamer Stadium, Chapel Hill, N.C.
What's at stake: R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Kind of like we all did with Kentucky going into last week's series with South Carolina, we're all still playing a bit of a wait-and-see game with the Wolfpack. Sure, taking down Georgia Tech and Wake Forest is good, really good, but let's see how they do in a tough road series before we're completely sold. The Tar Heels sit atop the Coastal Division, tied with Miami, but have been challenged in road wins at Clemson and Maryland. And how about this for statistical evenness: UNC's pitching staff has an ERA of 2.78, 169 K's and 63 walks; NC State has a 2.84 ERA with 167 K's and 64 walks.

Key matchup: Trea Turner and the NC State speed game versus Carolina defense.
The UNC rotation of Kent Emanuel (5-0, 1.67), Benton Moss (2-1, 2.13) and Chris Munnelly (2-0, 2.73) is comprised of complete shutdown arms, to say the least. But they'll be leaned on this weekend even more as the Pack have a knack for giving opposing defenses the willies with their running game and power strokes. NC State opponents are fielding at only a .930 level, which means they're specialists at applying pressure. If the Pack can get on base, look for them to pull out all the stops. That starts with Turner, who is a perfect 21-for-21 on stolen base attempts.

3. No. 11 Arizona (16-6, 2-1 Pac-12, No. 27 RPI) at No. 16 Oregon State (14-5, 3-0 Pac-12, No. 29 RPI)
UF SC Goss Stadium, Corvallis, Ore.
What's at stake: Ownership of the Pac-12 lead.
The coaches in both dugouts have won national championships. Both programs are proven winners. Both squads enter on an uptick. This should be a good one in the early Pac-12 rigors. It's similar to the aforementioned SEC and ACC matchups -- it's not quite win-or-else time, but the victor stays atop the conference standings and on the forefront of the national picture. These teams come at you in two different ways: Arizona hits and runs with the best of the Pac-12, with a .327 team average and 44 stolen bases. OSU is much more concerned with making you pay for your mistakes, having pulled 100 walks and 34 unearned runs on offense. Either way, both teams get things done and leave you in their wake.

Key matchup: Wildcats' offense versus Beavers' mound corps.
Seeing both teams in person, it's Arizona's offense that jumps off the page (and off the stat sheet as well) hitting almost .330 and passing the eye test with a lot of diversity, athletic ability and having the top six bats hitting .345 or better, led by Alex Mejia's .393 average. The Beavers have a lot of youthful talent on the bump but this isn't the kind of staff that will blow you away (just 116 strikeouts on the year). If the Wildcats get consistent contact and keep the pressure on, they'll have better than a puncher's chance here.

4. East Carolina (15-5, No. 26 RPI) at No. 21 Central Florida (17-5, No. 59 RPI)
SC UF Bergman Field, Orlando
What's at stake: Sending a message.
The winner of this series will light the neon sign signalling its intention to be the burr in Rice's saddle in the Conference USA title race. These are pretty evenly matched teams -- UCF hits slightly better (.289 compared to ECU's .288), but both pitching staffs are at the top of the conference rung and both defend the dickens out of you. The Knights sort of sleepwalked their way over Harvard last weekend, scoring just 14 runs in their three wins, but they have a knack of getting clutch hits. Five of their six runs in a midweek win over South Florida came with two outs. The Pirates, however, have played a much tougher schedule so far (66th nationally compared to 173rd for the Knights) and have been better tested. That could come in real handy in a tough road environment.

Key matchup: Knights' discernible eye versus Pirates' accuracy.
Something's got to give here. Both pitching staffs have great résumés so look for some intangibles to come into play. UCF is second nationally with 124 walks. But the Pirates' staff is efficient, if not dominant. Starters Kevin Brandt (3-1, 1.77), Tyler Joyner (3-0, 1.97) and Jharel Cotton (4-0, 2.22) have combined to issue just 23 walks in 96 innings of work.

5. California (12-7, 0-3 Pac-12, No. 102 RPI) at Arizona State (13-7, 1-2 Pac-12, No. 68 RPI)
UF SC Packard Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
What's at stake: Elimination, or close to it.
Considering their high RPIs and their standing in the Pac-12, both teams desperately need to avoid falling into the conference dungeon by losing this weekend. Cal needs its leaders Tony Renda (.358) and Chadd Krist (.313) to pick their cohorts up and dust them off after a bad three-game sweep at home against Oregon State. The defense has been a sore spot so far, sweeping at a .953 level. With ASU's potent bats, particularly Joey DeMichele at the top of the order, giving the Sun Devils more than three outs in an inning would be playing with fire.

Key matchup: The early innings.
In all three losses to Oregon State last weekend, the Bears saw early deficits that they couldn't overcome. That would be a dangerous modus operandi in the Valley of the Sun considering ASU has outscored opponents 54-23 in the opening three innings of games this year, including a 20-2 count in the first inning alone.

6. No. 10 Texas A&M (16-5, 2-1 Big 12, No. 13 RPI) at Pepperdine (16-5, 0-0 WCC, No. 23 RPI)
UF SC Eddy D. Field Stadium, Malibu, Calif.
What's at stake: A stamp of approval.
Pepperdine has weekend series wins over teams like Oklahoma, Fresno State and Kent State, along with a nip-and-tuck series loss at Louisville. But this weekend presents an opportunity to earn an "atta-boy" nationally if they can pull off a best-of-three series win. Texas A&M has yet to play a single game away from College Station, Texas. The tricky hillside overlooking the Pacific Ocean is a tough place to get acclimated to, especially with the winds coming in off the ocean. This will be a weekend of pitching and defense. It could come down to three or four key defensive plays each game.

Key matchup: Michael Wacha versus Jon Moscot.
The Friday mound matchup should be one of the best in the country. I say "should" because Wacha is coming off one of his worst performances as a college pitcher, giving up 11 hits, nine runs and three walks in a 5.1 inning stint against Kansas State. Moscot has been solid so far as the Waves' Friday guy, especially when you consider they've given up just 12 runs in the five games he's started.

7. No. 4 Florida State (19-2, 6-0 ACC, No. 4 RPI) at Wake Forest (16-7, 3-3 ACC, No. 31 RPI)
UF SC Wake Forest Baseball Park, Winston-Salem, N.C.
What's at stake: Survival.
It's survival mode for the Demon Deacons, who are in the midst of a brutal stretch. After traveling to NC State last week, they host Florida State this weekend followed by trips to North Carolina and Virginia in subsequent weekends. There's no question that Wake needs a wake-up call after being swept by the Wolfpack. The Seminoles have passed their initial road tests this season, winning twice at UCF and sweeping Duke two weeks ago. The Seminoles' inexperienced starting pitching is growing on the job, helping the team ERA stick at 3.15.

Key matchup: The bottom of the Seminoles' batting order versus Wake's pitching.
With an ACC-best average of .437, it's no secret that James Ramsey is the straw stirring the Seminoles' drink so far. Jayce Boyd (.388), Devon Travis (.354) and Seth Miller (.320) have each contributed, but as evidenced in Monday night's game against Virginia, the bottom of the order has been a problem, hitting .293 as a team and giving the Noles half an offense. If Brian Holmes (4-0, 1.44) & Co. can handcuff the lower half of the Noles' lineup, this series can go either way.

8. Maryland (15-7, 1-5 ACC, No. 24 RPI) at No. 9 Miami (17-4, 5-1 ACC, No. 11 RPI)
UF SC Alex Rodriguez Park, Coral Gables, Fla.
What's at stake: Confidence down the stretch.
After a series win at UCLA to start the season, the Terrapins have hit the skids the past few weeks, getting swept at Wake Forest and then losing a series to UNC. But in their defense, the Terrapins were in the fight the entire weekend, losing the Friday night game 4-3 after having the tying run on third. Two of their final three ACC weekends will be road trips to Virginia Tech and Florida State, so getting a few wins here will make a huge statement that the Terps are back and might give them a shot in the arm for when those end-of-season road tests come calling. The Canes still have a little bit of mystery about them, having beaten Boston College and Duke to get to 5-1 in the league. Don't be surprised if the Terrapins revert to opening weekend form.

Key matchup: Maryland relievers versus Hurricanes not named O'Brien.
Peter O'Brien has lived up to billing for the Canes, hitting .400. But can the other bats in the lineup give the Hurricanes an extra punch, especially late in games? Maryland leads the ACC in pitching (2.24 team ERA) and has received stout work from Jimmy Reed (0-0, 0.00 ERA, six saves) and Korey Wacker (3-0, 0.69 in 10 appearances) to lock down W's.

9. No. 3 Arkansas (20-2, 3-0 SEC, No. 16 RPI) at Mississippi State (15-7, 1-2 SEC, No. 34 RPI)
UF SC Dudy-Noble Field, Starkville, Miss.
What's at stake: Proof. Very telling proof.
The Bulldogs have to be champing at the bit, coming off a series loss at LSU where, according to head coach John Cohen, they out-pitched the Tigers. It doesn't help that the Bulldogs are still not expected to be at full strength; injuries to six key players have hindered their growth this season. Unlike recent years, the Razorbacks have played a pretty easy slate (167th in the country according to Boyd Nation) and have yet to play a true road game in an opponent's stadium. This will be a big test that should tell us a lot about where the Hogs are.

Key matchup: Hogs' bullpen versus MSU's offense.
The Bulldogs have given Cohen fits, losing five one-run games so far this season. But if the Razorbacks have an Achilles' heel, it could be at the back end of games, when they're outscoring their opponents just 36-30 from the sixth inning on. If the Bulldogs can get to the Hogs' starting pitching early, they could have the upper hand in the late innings when the bullpen takes over.

10. USC (13-6, 1-2 Pac-12, No. 36 RPI) at No. 2 Stanford (13-2, 0-0 Pac-12, No. 3 RPI)
SC UF Sunken Diamond, Palo Alto, Calif.
What's at stake: A big welcome back to contention.
After a 13-day break for exams, the Cardinal are back in action, hoping to crush the upset hopes of the Trojans, while also looking to re-establish themselves at the top of the polls. The Trojans are hoping last week's series loss to Utah was a hiccup. A big hiccup, but nothing more. Prior to that, USC was starting to look like it was back among championship circles, playing well in a 1-2 series loss at North Carolina as part of a 12-3 start. But last week's stunning losses to Utah show that these guys need to have a bounce-back weekend, and maybe even need to pull a Kentucky here and shock the Cardinal.

Key matchup: The first pitches of Stanford versus USC's bats.
When Rice took an early lead on Stanford in their Friday and Saturday matchups two weeks ago, they did a lot of their damage by being aggressive and going after early pitches. Mark Appel and Brett Mooneyham had some tough moments when the Owls would go after the first strike they saw. See if the Trojans employ the same tactic here as they hope to welcome the Cardinal back into action in a rude manner.

Comments

You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?