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NCAA Baseball Tourney Preview: Ole Miss

I'm running late on this one, and not because of the claims of Mizzou 25 voter shenanigans--I was actually busy at work today.  But here we go with Ole Miss.

On March 4, Ole Miss was 9-0 and #2 in the country.  And now they're the #3 seed in a region that includes two other teams who were, at one point or another, ranked #2 in the country or higher.  That proves two things: 1) Miami got screwed by having to bring the toughest region in the country to Coral Gables, and 2) Ole Miss has the talent to win the region...they've just lacked the consistency.

Season to Date

Playing in the South, you're pretty much guaranteed to play a pretty damn difficult schedule, and Ole Miss's was no cakewalk.  They started the season by sweeping three games against common Mizzou opponent Minnesota, outscoring them 45-10 along the way.  After moving to 9-0 on the season, they struggled in early March, losing 4 of 6 to the likes of Arkansas State, TCU, and Western Kentucky.  After a couple of wins against rival Mississippi State, they then lost 7 of 9 to Central Arkansas (ouch), Florida, Southern Miss, and Alabama.  They had been 9-0, and now they were staring at 15-11 and on the NCAA bubble somewhat.  Then they won 9 in a row.  Then lost 4 of 5.  Then won 5 of 7.  Then alternated between wins and losses the rest of the way.  They've beaten some of the best teams in the country, and they've lost to Central Arkansas.  If you think you have any idea what to expect from Ole Miss come tourney time, you're lying to yourself.  Nothing between sweeping through the regional and losing to Mizzou and Bethune-Cookman for a quick exit would be a surprise.

Pitching

The Rebel rotation has been steady but not spectacular.  Mizzou will likely face Lance Lynn on Friday.  Lynn is 7-3 with a respectable 4.21 ERA and 103 K's in 83.1 innings.  Their other main starters' ERAs are 4.30, 4.41, and 5.40.  Nothing wretched, but nothing to write home about. One thing's for certain, though: if they have the lead late in the game, you're probably screwed.  Closer Scott Bittle's line is insane: 66.1 IP, 1.63 ERA, 6-2 record, 8 saves, 118 K's.  ONE HUNDRED EIGHTEEN STRIKEOUTS IN 66.1 INNINGS.  Almost two-thirds of the outs he's registered were whiffs.  Yikes.  They should just start him every game...let him go through the order once and take a shutout into the 3rd or 4th inning.  Either way, Ole Miss' staff is good enough to keep them in games, but it's probably the least statistically impressive of the Coral Gables Region.

Hitting

Overall, the Ole Miss hitting stats aren't amazingly impressive either, but here's the deal: over 30 of their games came against SEC competition.  They didn't have the most difficult of non-conference slates, but they didn't have a lot of opportunities to pad their stats.  Their big gun is junior 3B Cody Overbeck.  He has an OPS of 1.031 (.423 OBP, .608 SLG), a batting average of .350, 15 HRs, and 53 RBIs.  Beyond that, they have a bunch of solid contributors: senior OF Fuller Smith (.929 OPS, 7 HRs), awesomely-named OF Logan Power (.916 OPS, 8 HRs), junior OF Michael Guerrero (.903 OPS, 9 HRs), and big-swinging 1B Matt Smith (.910 OPS, 14 HRs).  The lineup is similar to Mizzou's, in that there are a couple good power guys, a lot of solid contributors, but no one guy whose stats leap off the page screaming "WALK HIM EVERY TIME!" (Mizzou has that sometimes in Jacob Priday, but not always).  In all, they didn't have any 1st-team All-SEC performers and only pitchers Lynn and Bittle found the 2nd-team.

Overall

Honestly, I said it earlier.  Nothing they can do will surprise me.  Ole Miss is solid from top to bottom, they've got a solid ace, a few solid hitters, and a stud closer.  They were a .500 team in the SEC, but they made the SEC tournament finals.  They took 2 of 3 (at home) from overall #7 seed LSU...and they lost to Central Arkansas.  They're similar to Mizzou in many ways, but Mizzou's ace is better, and I say that gives us the edge early Friday.

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