It’s pretty good to be Louisville right now.
Your basketball team just won its third national title. Your women’s team just made it to the national title game. Your football team ran circles around Florida to win the Sugar Bowl to finish 11-2 and will have a preseason top 10 team this coming fall. And now, your softball team is ranked No. 11 and – most importantly – your baseball team is ranked No. 12.
Remember when I was at Louisville for their series vs. Alabama earlier this season, I wrote how baseball coach Dan McDonnell is such a HUGE fan of athletic director Tom Jurich? That Jurich dude is having the year of a lifetime in Card country.
The Cards will move all athletics to the ACC in 2014, and if this season is any measure, they’ll be the top dog in their new conference in many of their sports. Plus, this year also pointed out one more thing: Louisville’s $85 million dollars of athletic department revenues would also be No. 1 in the ACC. So you know they mean it when it comes to building up their athletics programs, all across the board.
One of the key factors I forgot to write about when I was there in Louisville is the fact that the reason the University’s athletic programs have such a fervent following – especially evident in their home basketball game I saw vs. Notre Dame – is because, as UofL radio guru Sean Moth pointed out to me, the city is the largest metropolitan area in the country which does not have a professional NFL, NBA, MLB or NHL team. In fact, other than the venerable Kentucky Derby held at Churchill Downs, the Cardinals are the biggest game in town.
And their teams certainly are playing that way too.
Oh, and add this “p.s.” to it: Tom Jurich is one of five finalists for Street & Smith’s Athletic Director of the Year Award. Who are the other four? Mike Holder of Oklahoma State, Jim Phillips of Northwestern, and how about these last two: the now-deceased Mal Moore of Alabama and the now-disgraced Tim Pernetti of Rutgers.
I’m gonna go ahead and vote for the one who is obviously the biggest baseball guy on that list: Tom Jurich.
[And in case I forgot to mention it before, Garrett Wall is one of the best baseball S.I.D.'s in our sport too. So there.]
THE 10 PLACES TO BE THIS WEEKEND.
It’s mostly a lame weekend across the top, so there are slim pickins in where to go. But I’ve still managed to find 10 to go to.
10- WASHINGTON STATE (17-13, 4-5) at No. 27 ARIZONA (21-11, 6-6)
This is a pretty crappy week for Pac 12 play. No real marquee matchups as all the top teams take on all the bottom teams. But this one is an interesting “elimination” weekend. With their two RPI sitting in the 90s, whoever loses this one is probably going to into a crevasse and likely won’t return. But it should be a high-octane weekend as the Coogs lead the Pac 12 at .317 and the Cats are second at .316. So obviously, watch the walk totals and the error totals in Tucson this weekend.
9- No.11 OKLAHOMA (27-6, 7-2) at BAYLOR (17-16, 5-3)
The Bears got off to such a horrid start to the season (7-10 at one point) that there’s a reason they are stuck down at No. 92 in Boyd Nation’s Pseudo-RPI. But they also are just a game and a half behind the Sooners in Big 12 play, so there is hope. They’ve won six of seven and get OU at home this weekend. Interestingly, this past week saw Nathan Orf take over the Big 12 lead in hitting at .421, surging past Sooner slugger Matt Oberste, who is .414, although M.O. still leads in home runs (8) and RBI (40).
8- SETON HALL (16-14,5-4 Big East) at No. 28 HOUSTON (24-9, 6-3 C-USA)
You might be surprised to see this one in the Top 10. And I normally wouldn’t have it here either, but every Big East coach I’ve talked to keeps on gushing about how good this Pirate team is. And get this; the Pirates must lead the nation with an incredible nine one-run losses. Yes, 9. The Coogs lead the C-USA standings at 6-3, but will venture out to play SHU here. And as you know, that usually means weekends like this are nothing but a trap door series. For that reason alone – not to mention the Pirates are a good team that can pitch and defend their asses off – I’m picking the upset here.
7- UCF (18-15, 4-5) at No. 18 RICE (24-11, 6-3)
This looks like the Knights’ last stand (… which sounds like a good premise for a movie… hmmm). UCF has been a bit of a surprise this season, only it’s in a bad way. Chris Taladay has held up his end of the bargain, hitting .379 and 32RBI. The rest of the team is dragging down the team average to .259. They’ll be going up against the 2nd-best pitching (2.82ERA, loop-best 281Ks) and top defending (.978 fielding) team in CUSA in the Owls. Also, keep an eye on how this one turns out because Rice has played five one-run games in their last six. UCF, you’ve GOT to make a move here.
6- No. 30 FLORIDA GULF COAST (20-9, 6-3) at MERCER (26-10, 7-5)
Great matchup among the red dirt roads of South Georgia. This could be the most excitement to hit the area since the filming of Smokey & the Bandit. The Bears love to mash, hitting an Atlantic Sun-best 37 home runs, a ridiculous 77 doubles, while also culling 191 walks. They’ll go up against the A-Sun’s best pitching staff, as the Eagles lead with a 3.03 team ERA and features Ricky Knapp (6-1, 1.20), who has issued just seven walks in 52.2 innings. Great matchup here.
5- No. 16 MISSISSIPPI STATE (27-9, 5-7) at TEXAS A&M (21-13, 6-6)
If the Aggies were back in the Big 12 and at 21-13, they’d probably be sitting in the 40s or 50s in the RPI. But here we are in their new world SEC and their RPI is sparkling just a bit at No. 24. MSU ranks 14th in the RPI, but the interesting thing is that whoever loses this series will get stuck in sub-.500 land of the SEC. That usually means having to travel for the Regionals. The Dogs are 3-4 in true road games… pickin’ the Aggies here.
4- ELON (20-15, 12-6 SoCon) at No. 12 LOUISVILLE (25-7, 7-2 Big East)
Historically, the Phoenix have been a burr in the saddle for plenty of national monsters. And I think they might just be here too. Once again, like Seton Hall above, Elon finds themselves in a possible trap-door weekend. They’ve already taken out teams like N.C. State, Virginia Tech and Kansas State. We’ve all heard of Mason Katz and Kris Bryant, but EC’s Ryan Kinsella is right behind them with 12HRs and 45RBI coming into the weekend. They’ll take on the Cards and their No. 4-ranked pitching staff at 2.27ERA. Won’t be easy, but Elon needs to improve its 67th-ranked RPI and this is their chance. By the way, you do realize UofL has lost their last three non-conference games, right? Beware.
3- No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA (31-2, 12-2) at VIRGINIA TECH (22-12, 7-8)
The Hokies have a couple of things at work here. On the good side, they are ranked at No. 13 in the RPI and own wins over Georgia Tech, Miami and a series win over Florida State and have two of the better relievers around in Clark Labitan (0-2, 2.10, 5svs) and Jake Joyce (5-1, 2.57, 2svs). On the down side, they dropped three straight vs. N.C. State and dropped out of the rankings. They’ll get the Tar Heels at home, where they are 10-4 so far. The Heels have all the pitching stats you could want, including a 2nd-nationally 1.90 team ERA, a .196 opponents average and just four home runs given up. But because they are such blowout artists, the Heels have only four saves all season. Tech, do your best to keep every game close, raise the pressure in the late innings and hope the Heels crack in unfamiliar surroundings.
2- No. 5 VIRGINIA (30-4, 12-3) at No. 19 GEORGIA TECH (24-9, 9-6)
Here’s a question for you; If UVa wins this series, do people begin to finally give them some street cred? Of all the high-ranked teams from the Big 6 conferences, only Oklahoma has played a weaker schedule (their SOS is 120th). But Tech had a horrible weekend at Duke, losing two of three and scoring just two runs in the process, so the naysayers might point to that. But screw that, it ain’t gonna happen. I’m thinking the Jackets finally get top-hitter Brandon Thomas (was hitting .439 when sidelined with mono) back in the order and will reach a comfort zone to get back into the win column.
1- No. 2 LSU (31-2, 11-1) at No. 8 ARKANSAS (24-10, 8-4)
Need an odd stat to suck on? How about Arkansas and its No. 47 ranked RPI? That’s bizarre. But it just goes to show how important this series is for the Razorbacks. We all know about how dominant the Tigers have been so far this season, having the biggest sticks in the conference at .317 and with Alex Bregman hitting .441 and Mason Katz at .436. But as you might’ve heard, UofA pitchers ain’t bad. Nope, not at all. Having a 1.59 team ERA is like crack-cocaine to a head coach. You can’t replace bitchin’ pitchin’. Ryne Stanek, Barrett Astin, Randall Fant, Colby Suggs, Jalen Beeks… go ahead, try to name a Razorback pitcher who has an ERA above 3.00. See?… Ya’ can’t. In a big series like this one here, the key will probably be to keep an eye on who makes the most boneheaded plays. That would be Arkansas’ defense, the SEC’s worst at .960.
OFF THE RADAR.
- Columbia (14-15, 16-2) at Cornell (17-10, 5-3)
While Dartmouth is considered the huge favorite in the Rolfe Division, the Gehrig Division is jammed like a roller derby. The Lions lead at 6-2, but breathing down their necks are defending Ivy champion Cornell, Penn and Princeton, all sitting one game back at 5-3. Columbia actually owns wins over Arizona, Central Florida and St. John’s. The Big Red, on the other hand, are trying to cope without pre-season All-Ivyers Chris Cruz (just 10 starts) and RHP Kellen Urbon (just 5.1inns. of work). Cornell has a 3.18 team ERA, led by Nick Busto’s 4-0, 1.38 and Brian McAfee’s 2-2, 2.45.
BEST MONDAY WIN:
Liberty – 1
Coastal Carolina – 12
Just when it looked like the Chanticleers were vulnerable and actually going to lose out to the Flames for the first time since… since… hell, I can’t remember, they turn around and sweep LU, putting a 12-1 exclamation point on the three-game weekend. But CCU has a new rival for their coveted top-spot in the Big South: Campbell. The Camels have an RPI of 32, compared to the Chants and their No. 37 RPI. But of course, like many conferences in the country there are just too many teams in the BSC as CCU and Campbell aren’t scheduled to play each other in 2013. Dammit!
BEST TUESDAY WIN:
Michigan – 4
Notre Dame 1
Don’t look now, but the formerly woe-be-gone Wolverines have now won six straight and are 17-14 overall. Tuesday’s win over No. 22 Notre Dame could be a defining moment for the burgeoning program as they are still wet behind the ears under first-year head coach Eric Bakich. Look for them to pile up some more wins as the schedule lightens up with Penn State and Norhwestern in consecutive weekends. A trip to Indiana waits in late April.
BEST WEDNESDAY WIN:
Florida Atlantic – 9
Florida Gulf Coast – 0
Wow. What a skunking for the Owls. It never sucks to beat your rival – being that both are south Florida denizens and all. But it’s even cooler when you consider that FAU’s ranking in the latest RPI is way down at No. 63 and FGCU’s is up at No. 28. So give the Blue Waves some bones points here in their bid to get into at-large range. FAU is now 22-11 overall, while Gulf Coast drops to 20-9.
We’re getting nearer to the Bubble Watch, the Heating Up/Cooling Down and the battle for Regional host sites. So in preparations for that, here are the five most curiously good and bizarrely bad current RPIs.
- THE CURIOUSLY(?) GOOD
The teams that might be getting too much credit in the RPI.
1- Indiana, No. 9.
At 26-4 and in National Seed range, who do they think they are, Purdue of 2012? (Although a Big Ten team getting “too much credit in the RPI” is completely laughable, knowing how the conference has been screwed by it over the years).
2- Virginia Tech, No. 13
The Hokies are 5th in the Coastal Division of the ACC and just got swept by Jekyl & Hyde N.C. State, but the 17th toughest slate in the country helps.
3- North Carolina State, No. 11
Speaking of that freakish up-and-down Pack team, here they are. They’ve lost to Appalachian State, Elon, UNC-Greensboro and a series at Clemson, but they’re still in No. 1 seed territory.
4- Miami, No. 17
C’mon. Everyone knows the Canes aren’t the Canes of old. And No. 17? I like Coach Morris and Co. but I’m sure everybody knows this ain’t right.
5- San Diego, No. 29
The Toreros have the talent for much better, but they sit in 4th place in the WCC right now and are 5-7 in their last 12.
- THE BIZARRELY BAD
The teams you have to do a double-take after seeing how low they’re ranked.
1- Arizona, No. 90
Hard to believe the national champs are this far down the pecking order. But scheduling Coppin State, Columbia, San Jose State and Butler will do that.
2- UC Irvine, No. 41.
Why is No. 41 a bad ranking? Mainly because the Anteaters’ much more user-friendly ISR ranking has them at No. 16. Damn!
3- Arkansas, No. 47
Already mentioned above, but have to reiterate, How can THIS be? The pre-season No. 1 R-backs are still a rankings darling, camping at No. 8, poll-wise.
4- Oklahoma State, No. 108
Gah! And you thought Arkansas’ ranking was bad? The Pokes are 23-8, but not even top 100. For this traditional power, you have to ask, Is that a typo?
5- Kansas State, No. 70
The Cats are 2nd in the Big 12 and own wins over Kentucky, Cal Poly, Minnesota, Baylor and Wichita State, but can’t gain much ground here.
How bad has Mother Nature kicked us in the teeth this year? Creighton had their game with Nebraska on Tuesday cancelled due to rain. It marked the 13th game this season that the Bluejays have had cancelled or postponed. And that’s just an indicator of what’s gone on in college baseball this season, especially across the Midwest.
I’m sure there are teams out there with more games effected by weather this year. If you know of any, drop a line my way.
RIDICULOUS STAT OF THE WEEK
- Central Arkansas catcher Michael Marietta, 11RBI in one game.
Hold on to your mauler here. The Railsplitter backstop went 7-for-7 at the plate in a 30-0 Normandy Stormin’ of Grambling on Tuesday. Marietta hit three doubles and three home runs in the game where UCA scored in every inning and there was no run-rule. Thirty runs to none. Marietta finished the game with 24 carries for 274 yards and three touchdowns.
THE CROSSFIRE HURRICANE.
I’m admittedly not even a Rolling Stones fan – though I respect their place in rock and roll history – but their documentary “Crossfire Hurricane” is freakin’ outstanding. It’s a huge microcosm of the 60s and where society was during this, the Stones’ heyday. Check it out if you catch repeats of it on HBO anytime soon.
- Ohio State.
The Buckeyes beat Marshall 5-0 on Wednesday, marking their fourth straight mid-week shutout. Their last four have gone:
- Won 5-0 vs. Marshall. (7hits, no walks, balks, plunks or WPs)
- Won 9-0 vs. West Virginia. (4hits, 1BB, 11Ks)
- Won 1-0 vs. Miami U. (4hits, no walks, balks, plunks or WPs)
- Won 3-0 vs. Youngstown State. (2hits, 10Ks, no walks, balks or WPs)
Ohio State is now 21-10 overall and 5-4 in Big 10 play as they head to second-place Nebraska for a big baseball weekend. But file away their mid-week pitching come post-season time when OSU may be needing to flash their depth in the Big 10 or even NCAA tournament.
“WE’VE GOT OURSELVES A NATURAL DISASTER”
As you guys might know for over the years, other than the horrible casting job of Tim Robbins as a pitcher who looks like he’s never thrown a baseball in his life, Bull Durham is one GREAT baseball movie. Here is one of my favorite scenes, accompanied by the very good “I Got Loaded” by Los Lobos:
THE TOP FIVE THINGS IN MY SKY MALL MAGAZINE.
On my plane ride today, I decided to dive into everyone’s favorite in-flight magazine to see what would be the most ridiculous things I could buy just for the hell of it. Here’s the best of the worst.
5- The Flair Hair.
Decked out in all your favorite college teams colors and logos, the Flair Hair is one of those visors with fake spikey hair coming out of the top of it. But the best part of the Flair Hair is the fact that the example they show is a bald dude who is likely in his upper-50s with nothing on his head. Then, the picture next to it is with the Flair Hair visor, which makes it look like he’s got a full head of hair that is spiked and colored like the pin-striped grey unis of his beloved Yankees.
But of course, if we had seen this at dude at the stadium wearing this faux-haired visor, we’d just say “Pfft! Douche!” and move on.
Price: $24.95… and true embarrassment is yours.
4- The Discreet Phone Call Receiver Watch.
Oh, what a huge save for humanity. This cell-call screening watch is a wrist-watch you sync up to your phone and it helps you keep out unwanted calls by displaying the phone number of the person calling you on your watch face. And if that’s not enough, there is also a wristband-wide readout band which will tell you who’s calling and will also vibrate if your phone happens to g beyond a 16-foot radius of where you are. God forbid we walk more than 16 feet away from our cell phones.
Price: $119.95… and you’ll be a slave to your phone for life.
3- The No Blind Spot Rearview Mirror.
This specialized rear-view mirror is attached to your windshield and goes nearly from one end of your windshield to the other. In other words, it’s nearly 6-feet wide. Yes, like you need something that monolithically wide to see every bit of traffic behind you. In other words, if you’re on a two-lane road, you can see into the two neighboring counties in your rear-view. Not that you’ll even need this thing.
price: $59.95… miniature fire extinguisher for your door jam sold separately.
2- The “Commas Saves Lives” T-shirt.
The extreme of corniness. They are selling shirts that say, simply:
“Let’s eat Grandma.
Let’s eat, Grandma.
Commas saves lives.”
Really? This is what our society has come to? Sad part is, most people are so grammatically inept, they won’t know the difference.
Price: $19.95… the who-gives-a-shit? factor is thrown in for free.
1- The Voice Activated R2-D2
A full-sized replica of the “droid” owned by Luke Skywalker is at your service. It obeys up to 40 voice commands, plays tag with you and also dances when the Cantina music is played. Of course, the part they DON’T tell you is that in the middle of the night while you are sleeping it rolls up next to your bed and kills you.
Price: $199.95… and no single attractive girl will ever see it in person ‘coz buying this shows you have no game whatsoever.
NOT SO MANY SOUTHERN ACCENTS.
I find it both bizarre and interesting that college baseball at Division 2 or 3 or NAIA is so vastly different. It’s like college football in a way because good teams can come out of nowhere. The D2 baseball rankings released this past Monday shows that there are only six (6) warm-weather schools in the Top 25.
- #4 St. Thomas.
- #10 Trinity (Texas)
- #16 Texas-Tyler
- #18 Cal Lutheran
- #20 Birmingham Southern
- #22 Pamona-Pitzer (Calif)
That’s it. The rest are from programs that had snow on their field as recently as last weekend.
Okay, I’ve gotta hit the hay and get some rest.