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May 15, 2008

SCS.comWith only one weekend left in the regular season, Hoover is only a week away with the NCAA Tournament starting in two weeks. The SEC at this point in the year has up to eight or nine teams that could make the NCAA postseason with half of them having the potential to host regionals. We’ll take a look at each how each SEC team in the postseason chase has fared so far this year along with their prospects for the postseason.

The Georgia Bulldogs are the best team in the SEC, no questions asked. They proved that with their series victory at Vandy over the past weekend which in turn made them SEC champs. Dave Perno’s club boasts a strong starting rotation in Trevor Holder, Stephen Dodson, and Nathan Moreau and has the best closer in the nation in Joshua Fields. The offense is led by Gordon Beckham, who will probably win not only SEC Player of the Year but National Player of the Year as well. Along with Beckham, Rich Poythress and Ryan Peisel carry the offense. The Bulldogs are a lock to host a regional at this point but getting a national seed will require them to win their home series against Alabama and then take one or two in Hoover. Say they do that, Georgia should get a national seed in the 4-8 range. This has definitely been a banner season so far for the Bulldogs.

LSU is back. With a 13-game winning streak, good for the longest in the country, the Tigers see themselves back in the top 20. LSU has swept their last three SEC series and is obviously playing its best baseball of the year. The Tigers have gotten all of the timely hits lately and are getting strong starting pitching. Blake Dean, Matt Clark, and Ryan Schimpf are carrying the offense and making LSU’s offense look similar to the “gorilla ball” style that existed with them in the 90s. Starter/closer Jared Bradford along with Ryan Verdugo has been a great 1-2 punch in the pitching staff. LSU plays at Auburn this weekend, a series they should be able to take two out of three or sweep with the way they’ve been playing lately. If the Tigers can win the Auburn series and then one or two in Hoover, they should be able to host a regional in Alex Box Stadium’s final year. How fitting would that be.

The Commodores, although they’re in third place in the SEC at this point in the year, have underachieved. With talents like Pedro Alvarez, Ryan Flaherty, Dominic de la Osa, and Mike Minor, Vandy should be in a better position. Granted Alvarez missed almost the first half of the SEC slate, the Dores still should have been able to better take care of business with such a veteran lineup and strong starting pitching staff. I say they’ve underachieved because while they’re in third place in the conference right now, they still haven’t assured themselves of hosting a regional. Vandy will have to prove itself in the NCAA postseason this season as they were upset in the regionals last year at home against Michigan. This team, if they don’t host a regional, will be a very dangerous 2 seed that no host wants to play.

Alabama was one of the afterthoughts in the SEC a month ago but now owns a conference record over .500 at 14-13. The Crimson Tide’s offense has been on fire lately, led by Alex Avila, Josh Rutledge, and Brandon May. Their offense has kept them in all of their games lately but the starting pitching will need to get a little better if the Tide wants to do damage in the postseason. Like LSU, Alabama seems to have a knack for getting clutch hits in late situations of their ballgames. This Bama team is a very tough squad and won’t go down easy in the postseason if they make it. They play at Georgia this weekend, and will need to take out least one. In Hoover, the Crimson Tide will need to win at least two so they won’t be “sweating it out” on NCAA selection day. Alabama has done a lot better than how many thought they would do this year.

The Florida Gators are probably the biggest surprise at this point in the season. Picked by many to finish in either fifth or sixth in the SEC East, the Gators in Kevin O’Sullivan’s first year have really overachieved. Like Bama, they stand at 14-13 in the conference but their prospects for the postseason are much better. They play Vandy at home this weekend in a series in which they can position themselves to be anywhere from a 4-8 seed in the SEC Tournament. The Gators, led by Cole Figueroa and Josh Adams, are a tough club because they just aren’t easy to beat. Florida would have to play very poorly in the next few weeks to not make the NCAA Tournament.

Kentucky has more wins than any other team in the SEC due to a very weak non-conference schedule. They stand at 14-13 in the conference after an impressive sweep over the past weekend at Tennessee. Their offense is one of the better in the nation with Sawyer Carroll, Collin Cowgill, and Ryan Wilkes doing damage to opposing pitching. The starting pitching is improving and that will only help the Wildcats in the postseason. Kentucky plays Ole Miss in Lexington this weekend in a crucial series for both teams as each squad has an identical SEC record. The Cats aren’t a lock for the NCAA postseason yet, but winning the Ole Miss series and then winning one in Hoover will go a long way in doing that.

As Florida is the surprise in the SEC this year, Ole Miss is the major disappointment. Coming into the year many thought this Rebels club could win the SEC West and be the team that finally makes it to Omaha. Fast forward to the month of May and the Rebels are on the bubble for the SEC Tournament as well as the NCAA Tournament. They travel to Lexington this weekend in a huge series for them as they need to get as many wins as possible to improve their NCAA postseason resume. The Rebels will need to win the series so they don’t have to worry about not making Hoover as Arkansas and South Carolina are close behind along with all of the tiebreaker scenarios that could play out. If they do make the SEC and NCAA postseason, they will be dangerous as their starting pitching is strong with Lance Lynn and Drew Pomeranz along with having Cody Overbeck and Logan Power at the plate.

The Hogs were once close to the cellar of the SEC West but now see them selves making it to Hoover. Arkansas is coming off a very impressive sweep of South Carolina over the past weekend at home and will play Mississippi State on the road this weekend in a very winnable series. Dave Van Horn’s club has a very good RPI and although they would be the final spot in the SEC Tourney if it started today, they really wouldn’t have to worry about not making the NCAA postseason. The exceptional play of Logan Forsythe and Dallas Keuchel over the past few weeks is one of the reasons why Arkansas has completely turned their season around. They should be able to win the series in Starkville this weekend and then win at least one in Hoover, which would pretty much ensure them selves of a NCAA postseason berth.

Here’s another major disappointment in the SEC this year, Ray Tanner’s South Carolina club. The Gamecocks have been playing poorly over the past few weeks in conference play and currently own an under .500 SEC record at 13-14. South Carolina has one of the better offenses in the nation with Justin Smoak, James Darnell, Reese Havens, and Phil Disher all having over 15 homeruns on the season. But sometimes the offense just doesn’t show up, which hurts the Gamecocks due to their pitching being very mediocre. If the SEC Tourney in Hoover started today, Ray Tanner and his club would be left watching from Columbia. Luckily for them, they get Tennessee this weekend, a team that has won only four of their past 18 ballgames. South Carolina needs to sweep the struggling Vols this weekend in order to them to not have to worry about the teams ahead of them in the SEC standings.

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