And then there were 16 (including 5 from the SEC). Super Regional play this weekend will separate the Omaha-bound from the homeward-bound. What will be the difference? Well, here’s a question we have for each remaining SEC squad.
Tennessee: What will happen when adversity hits?
Tennessee is rolling, has rolled all season long, and clearly looks like the best team in the nation. Tony Vitello has to be happy that UT did have to get scrappy a couple times to win its regional, with Campbell playing within a run of the Vols until the 9th inning and Georgia Tech actually holding a 9th-inning lead.
But the X-factor for UT remains what will happen when adversity does hit.
How would UT respond if they drop their opener against Notre Dame? As good as Tennessee is, it’s still a team that has seen so much success that it’s fair to wonder how they’d bounce back in a moment of genuine adversity.
Call it the Arkansas 2021 effect. The Razorbacks were the best team in the country heading into their Super Regional last season… and then, when adversity hit, they couldn’t overcome it.
There’s no getting around UT being the best team in the field. But there’s also no getting around the curse of success — what happens when things don’t go right?
Texas A&M: Is there enough pitching?
The Aggies actually look like a great sleeper team to pick for Omaha, but there is a bit of a disturbing trend. A&M’s offense is very solid, but it’s not a Murderer’s Row like UT’s. The Aggies increased their run total in each game of their regional … but they also allowed more runs in each game. The Aggies can make it to Omaha, but that 4.74 ERA is a little disconcerting, particularly against a Louisville team that scored 49 runs in its 5 regional games, 3 of which it played against Michigan.
Auburn: Can the bats stay this hot?
Maybe nobody in college baseball comes out of the regionals hotter than Auburn, which scored 51 runs in 3 games to sweep past UCLA and Florida State. Oregon State figures to be a different sort of challenge though.
In a nutshell, the contrast is this — Auburn never scored than 11 runs in winning their regional. Oregon State never allowed more than 8 runs in winning their regional.
Cooper Hjerpe is absolutely filthy for the Beavers, and Auburn could well see him start Game 1 and come out of the bullpen to finish a potential Game 3, as he did to lift Oregon State past Vandy in the regional final.
Continuing to average 17 runs a game isn’t realistic, but the Tigers figure to need more 12-11 type games than 2-1 type games against OSU.
Arkansas: Can they keep the Tar Heels in the ballpark?
Arkansas’ season generally consisted of fairly impressive pitching (4.16 team ERA was 3rd-best in the SEC) and inconsistent hitting (.273 batting average is 13th, and the Hogs are 8th in the league in runs scored). They needed both to win their regional in Stillwater, holding opponents to 1 and 3 runs in a pair of wins, but also outscoring OK State 30-26 in the other pair of games.
ACC Tournament champ North Carolina has a fearsome offense, with two respected power hitters in Vance Honeycutt and Alberto Osuna (24 and 20 homers this year, respectively). Arkansas pitchers have allowed just 53 homers, 3rd-fewest in the SEC. Whether the hitting is evening out or not, keeping UNC in the yard could be the difference in the Super Regional.
Ole Miss: When does the clock strike midnight?
Yes, Ole Miss is an NCAA Tournament Cinderella. Like some unknown hoops mid-major or a Jim Boeheim team from olden days, they’ve snuck into the NCAA field and created absolute havoc.
A team with a 4.61 ERA on the season swept their region as a 3-seed, giving up 11 runs in 3 games. Facing a Southern Miss team that has both dangerous power hitters and a trio of starting pitchers with sub-3.00 ERAs, the Rebels will have to be sharp again.
And while good Ole Miss can be very good (remember that brief No. 1 ranking early in the season?), bad Ole Miss can be how bad? This bad: getting swept by Alabama at home, losing a series to South Carolina, putting up 1 run in a first-round SEC Tournament loss to Vandy.
At some point, the bad Ole Miss will surface… which means either that the Rebels will head home or that they’ll have to be superhuman in the rest of their games.