The NCAA Tournament starts for Texas on Friday as the Longhorns take on fourth-seeded Rider in the Austin sub-regional. First thing's first: because ESPN did not choose to pick up the Austin tournament, Texas Sports has stepped to the plate and will broadcast at least the UT-Rider game online. So that's great news.
Texas returns to UFCUDFF for the first time since May 16. For those keeping score at home, Texas went 31-4 at the Disch during the regular season. That is a remarkable record, make all the more stunning in light of the fact that Texas started the home season 1-2 against New Mexico. That means the Longhorns have gone 30-2 at home since the first weekend of the season. They last lost in Austin to Oral Roberts on March 30. All of that is meant to illustrate one point: the three visitors this weekend are wishing they had been sent elsewhere.
Use this as your open thread for the early games around the country. Florida International and Texas A&M will start things off at 11 AM. We'll put up another post before the Horns play at 6:30. Here's your Austin Regional schedule:
Saturday, June 5
Game 3: Game 2 loser vs. Game 1 loser at 1 p.m.
Game 4: Game 2 winner vs. Game 1 winner at 6:30 p.m
Sunday, June 6
Game 5: Game 3 winner vs. Game 3 loser at 1 p.m.
Game 6: Regional Championship Game: Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner at 6:30 p.m.
Monday, June 7 (if necessary)
Game 7: Second Regional Championship Game: Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner at 1 p.m.
After the jump, we capsule the three teams visiting Austin this weekend. If Texas should advance through the tournament, we will provide looks at each team they may play; but like the team, we'll take that one week at a time.
4. The Rider Broncs
- How They Got Here: Rider won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference to earn an automatic bid to the Dance. They swept through the four-team conference tournament, beating Canisius 4-2 for the championship.
- Record: 36-21 (overall), 17-5 (home), 15-16 (away), 4-0 (neutral)
- Boyd's World RPI: 139
- Offensive Leaders: The Broncs have four players hitting over .350, led by left fielder Nick Wojnowski at an impressive .396. Wojnowski also leads the team in homeruns with 9, walks with 37, slugging percentage at .626, and on-base percentage at .498. So it's safe to say that Wojnowski is the Broncs' best offensive player. An inspection of those stats, though, show that Wojnowski is a well-rounded hitter who deserves the Longhorns' respect. A guy who can clearly hit for power and average, the 37 walks illustrate that he is also patient at the plate and willing to take a pass. That is a level of maturity seen all too rarely in college hitters. Another of those .350 hitters, A.J. Albee, leads Rider in RBI with 60 and should also be on the Texas pitchers' radar.
- Pitching Leaders: Mike Thomas is the Broncs' top starter, with a 9-2 record and a nice 3.59 ERA in 14 starts. Opposing batters hit only .253 against him; his major problem has been control, as he has thrown nine wild pitches and hit 12 batters. It seems clear that Texas will see Thomas on the hill today. Out of the bullpen, the Broncs rely heavily on Tyler Smith. Smith allowed only 2.77 earned runs per nine innings, led the team with nine saves, and made 30 appearances in relief.
- Overall Outlook: Rider snuck into the NCAA Tournament with two wins over MAAC regular-season champion Canisius in the conference tournament. That's not meant as a dig--the Broncs are clearly playing their best ball right now (Canisius swept Rider in the regular season). Even so, however, Rider and the MAAC simply do not occupy the same world as Texas. Their website editors find it necessary to note after each score on their schedule how many innings were played--not just for games that went into extra innings, but for all of them because a significant number were scheduled as 7-inning affairs. They played only one team from a major conference all year--a two-game split with Virginia Tech. The Hokies are admittedly a solid team, landing the two seed in the Columbia regional; but Rider's trip to Blacksburg was way back on March 16-17. At the end of the day, as long as Texas respects the Broncs instead of looking past them, Rider is likely to find that it is an awfully long way from Lawrenceville, NJ to Austin.
- How They Got Here: University of Louisiana-Lafayette--or ULaLa if you prefer--picked up an at-large bid after going 2-and-out against Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee in the Sun Belt Conference tournament. They shared the regular season title with Florida Atlantic after finishing the conference schedule on a 17-1 tear.
- Record: 37-20 (overall), 23-10 (home), 14-9 (away), 0-1 (neutral)
- Boyd's World RPI: 44
- Offensive Leaders: Designated hitter Jordan Poirrier has done his job this year. He is second on the team in batting average (but only by three points) at .330, RBI (but only by one) with 56, and homeruns with 12. He leads the Cajuns in slugging (.633), on-base percentage (.420), doubles (17), triples (a fantastic 6), and walks (30). However, scarier than Poirrier is catcher Chad Keefer. Keefer leads in all three categories in which Poirrier is second, and he has also struck out 17 fewer times than Poirrier (33 to Poirrier's 50). The DH's propensity to K will hurt him against Rice and/or Texas and their pitching strength. And in case anyone is wondering, first baseman and head coach's son Justin Robichaux hits .270, slugs .328, and gets on base at a .318 clip. Not great.
- Pitching Leaders: The Owls will face Zach Osborne, who started 15 games for the Cajuns and racked up an ERA of 2.56 with opponents hitting only .227 against him. Osborne has been Louisiana's workhorse, tossing 112.2 innings on the season--the most on the team by a wide margin. The other regular starter is TJ Geith, who sports a 4.79 ERA and a .277 BAA. Head coach Tony Robichaux will likely go with Geith in the Cajuns' second game--either to keep them alive or to get them into the championship game through the winner's bracket. After Geith, however, the pickings are slim. Josh Miller is currently ULL's third starter and he has been up-and-down; Miller did finish the regular season by starting a 13-1 win over Louisiana-Monroe, but he gave up nine hits in 6.2 innings in the effort.
- Overall Outlook: First, how appropriate is it that Louisiana-Lafayette would have a coach named Tony Robichaux? That's awesome. (Also, the third base coach is named Anthony Babineaux.) Second, ULL plays its home games on a similar field turf to the surface on the Disch, which should be at least a minor advantage for the Cajuns. And unlike Rider, ULaLa plays in a pretty decent conference--the Sun Belt got three teams into the Dance (that's more than the Big Ten and tied with the Big East). The offense has been pretty strong by committee--no one player really jumps out at you statistically, but the Cajuns have scored 10+ runs 14 times. That said, they also scored three or fewer runs 13 times. So depending on which offensive team shows up, this squad could give Rice a serious challenge today. Particularly considering that the senior Osborne is on the hill and has to be treating it as his last college start, the Cajuns could be awaiting the winner of Texas-Rider. However, assuming that Texas is the winner of that one, it will be tough for ULL to overcome Taylor Jungmann--who will certainly be the best pitcher they have seen all year--with Geith.
- How They Got Here: Rice picked up an at-large bid after losing to red-hot Southern Miss in the C-USA championship game. They had easily plowed through the tournament coming into the title game clash with the Golden Eagles, to the tune of 11-3, 24-3, and 18-0 against East Carolina, Houston, and Marshall respectively. As has become customary, Rice did take its fifteenth straight regular season conference title.
- Record: 38-21 (overall), 21-6 (home), 13-13 (away), 4-2 (neutral), 1-1 (against Texas)
- Boyd's World RPI: 30
- Offensive Leaders: The best hitter in this tournament is Anthony Rendon. Rendon is a second-team All-American who can flat out play baseball. Our favorite Rendon statistic is actually his number of walks: he has an astonishing sixty-two of them in 59 appearances. That's right-- he walks more than once per game. Due in no small part to that patience and hitter's eye, he has an equally remarkable OBP of .532. That means when Anthony Rendon stands at the plate, he is more likely to end up on base than to make an out. That is absolutely sick. Oh yeah, he also leads the Owls in batting average (.393), homeruns (23), RBI (78), and slugging (.787). Assuming the Longhorns face Rice at least once this weekend, it is imperative that the pitchers not allow Rendon to be the one who beats them. It's like letting Pujols crush the back-breaker; you just have to make someone else beat you. (Yes, we know the Astros won that series and went on to get embarrassed in the World Series. No need to remind us in the comments.)
- Pitching Leaders: Head coach Wayne Graham has said that his likely starter against ULL is Jared Rogers, who comes in with a 4.10 ERA in 17 appearances and 13 starts. Rice has three other hurlers with significant starting experience this season, and they all have similar stats and all four started in the conference tournament. The lowest ERA of the group belongs to Mike Ojala at 3.80. Out of the 'pen, Graham relies on the triumvirate of Doug Simmons (20 appearances, 2.66), Abe Gonzales (24 [relief] appearances, 3.23), and and Tyler Duffey (25 appearances, 5.21). As the numbers indicate, this has not been the kind of dominant pitching staff we have come to expect from Rice--but they can still get the job done.
- Overall Outlook: Rice handed Texas one of its 11 losses this season when the rivals met at Reckling Park. The Owls are undeniably a tough draw for the Longhorns to have been handed as their two seed, but that's the thing about two seeds--they're generally pretty good ballclubs. While the 2010 Owls don't have their signature pitching in as high supply as usual, their three victorious scores in the Conference USA tourney are the most recent examples of why this year's offense has not needed elite pitching to win games. These guys scored 535 runs to their opponents' 305. Texas has a similar margin, having scored 392 runs to their opponents' 175. So when (and if) the Owls and Longhorns meet, Texas pitching vs. Rice hitting will be strength against strength, and Rice pitching vs. Texas hitting will be (relative) weakness against weakness. It's a good, solid matchup. We think Texas has an edge simply because the Longhorns' hitting has been better than the Owls' pitching; but at the end of the day, if the Texas starters cannot return to midseason form Rice will certainly make them pay.