Sun Belt Tournament: Breaking down Bracket A
The Sun Belt Conference has changed the format for the tournament this year, whereby instead of double elimination within your bracket, it is now pool play. After a round robin within the bracket, the two bracket champions meet for the automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. In addition, each team has a day off during the tournament. If there is a three way tie in pool play, the highest seeded team goes to the final, thereby rewarding excellence during the regular season. Here is my preview of Bracket A: Troy, WKU, FAU and UALR
#1 seed: TROY (21-9 SBC, 40-16 overall) Coach: Bobby Pierce (322-203,
9th season and overall Division I)
Overall stats: BA .295 (5th), ERA 3.74 (2nd), Defense .975 (3rd)
SBC stats: BA .302 (2nd), ERA 4.36 (6th), Defense: .972 (5th)
STRENGTHS: A solid 1-9 batting order without a real weak spot. Team is capable of scoring 6-7 runs game in and game out, and that's frequently enough. Adam Bryant is a game-changer offensively and defensively and newcomer Tyler Hannah leads the league in doubles. Tyler Ray is by far the league's best pitcher. Nate Hill and Tyson Workman give the Trojans two shut-down relievers. Very solid defensive team, especially up the middle. Decent team speed.
WEAKNESSES: Since the loss of RHP Drew Hull four weeks into the Conference season, Troy has had a dropoff in starting pitching after Ray. Bullpen can be hit or miss after the first two guys. If their pitchers aren't doing a good job of holding runners, you can run on them.
OUTLOOK: This is a really good baseball team. Navigating this bracket won't be easy, however. Pierce has a decision to make. Does he start Ray in game one vs. UALR so he'll have him on Sunday if they are in the final, or does he save Ray for FAU or WKU? If Troy is going to navigate the bracket, they'll need to score runs and have someone step up as a starter.
#4 seed WESTERN KENTUCKY (17-13 SBC, 32-22 overall) Coach: Chris
Finwood (189-152, 6th season at WKU, 241-249, 9 seasons Division I)
Overall stats: BA .299 (2nd), ERA 4.03 (4th), Defense .979 (1st)
SBC stats: BA .280 (6th), ERA 3.96 (3rd) Defense .978 (3rd)
STRENGTHS: Offense capable of scoring some runs, led by Jared Andreoli, Kes Carter and Matt Rice. Two solid starting pitchers in Tanner Perkins and freshman Justin Hageman. Their fielding percentage, unlike the other leaders, comes on a grass field. Very, very solid defensively.
WEAKNESSES: Pitching depth. They've struggled all year to find a consistent third starter and their bullpen is pretty much nondescript. This staff only goes about six deep. WKU has a few guys who can run, but their overall team speed isn't great.
OUTLOOK: Finwood can juggle his starters and make sure Perkins and Hageman go against FAU and Troy. What they do after that, though, is anyone's guess. WKU slumped some offensively toward the end of the season. They'll have to reclaim their offensive mojo if they're going to get to Sunday.
#5 seed FLORIDA ATLANTIC (17-13 SBC, 32-22 overall) Coach: John
McCormack (99-72, 3rd season)
Overall stats: BA .299 (2nd), ERA 4.39 (6th), Defense .969 (5th)
SBC stats: BA .300 (3rd), ERA 3.89 (2nd), Defense .971 (7th)
STRENGTHS: Solid, veteran offensive team. Newcomer Alex Hudak is among the league's best hitters, with Raymond Church, Dan Scheffler and Nick Delguidice adding firepower. One of the league's best pitchers in Paul Davis and the league's best short man in Hugh Adams. Good defensive team. Catcher Mike Albaladejo doesn't let many folks run on him.
WEAKNESSES: Not much pop in the lineup. New bats seem to have affected this team more than most. FAU has three pretty good starters, but they need innings out of them because of a short pen. A few guys can run, but not great team speed overall.
OUTLOOK: I think how good FAU does depends on their starting pitching. Ryan Garton and R. J. Alvarez have to step up in the tournament. They're capable. This is an important time for the Owls, who can solidify their NCAA resume...or play themselves out of the postseason.
#8 seed ARKANSAS-LITTLE ROCK (10-20 SBC, 20-32 overall) Coach:
Scott Norwood (65-91, 3rd season)
Overall Stats: BA .276 (8th), ERA 6.04 (10th) Defense .973 (4th)
SBC Stats: BA .270 (8th), ERA 7.09 (10th), Defense .976 (4th)
STRENGTHS: Starting pitchers Travis Henke, Ryan Juris and Calvin Drinnen, while inconsistent, are capable of keeping the Trojans in a game. Good hitting at the top of the lineup with Myles Parma, Jason Houston and Nick Rountree. Solid defensive team.
WEAKNESSES: Oh, goodness, that pitching staff. The aforementioned are capable of keeping the Trojans in a game, but if they don't, look out below. The bullpen is, kindly putting it, suspect. Not much power for a team that plays in a small park. With a couple of exceptions, not much team speed. Bottom of the lineup has holes.
OUTLOOK: This is UALR's first tournament appearance since 2003. Norwood has them on the right track but they've still got a long way to go. Getting a win in the tournament would be a good accomplishment as Norwood builds the program.