Friday, May 30, 2014

What's at Stake in Nashvegas!

For the first time in three years Clemson will not be heading to the Armpit, though it will be the 6th time in Clemson's last 8 NCAA Tournaments they have been paired with an SEC team in regional play. And as long as the opponent doesn't smell like beef and cheese, Clemson has fared pretty well, even advancing in their last three regionals against non-stateside SEC teams.

But two of those three regional wins were at the Doug, and Nashville ain't no Doug. (Just ask USC how they've fared in this lovely city - 6-5 in their last 11 trips across their three major sports, with each team sporting at least one loss.) But more than that, Nashville boasts a former Clemson assistant, an Oregon team once ranked in the Top 10, and the Big East Tournament champions in Xavier. With the way Clemson can go cold at the plate, all three teams are capable of sending Clemson home. Conversely, with Clemson's pitching, they are capable of sending all four regional teams home. But as any good Clemson fan knows, they rarely see their offense and defense clicking for an entire weekend, leaving the team that collects the timely hits and sports the deepest pitching staff to most likely advance.

So, knowing it's potentially anyone's regional, let's take a look at what's at stake and what will probably happen.

What's at Stake?

Vanderbilt is making their 9th consecutive postseason appearance, and 10th in the last 11 years. If Vanderbilt wins, they will most likely travel to the #4 National Seed and reigning Omaha participant Indiana for the Super Regionals. Advancing from the regional would result in Vanderbilt's 5th trip to the Supers and put them one series away from their second ever trip to Omaha.

For Vanderbilt, a regional win will begin to validate the early part of their season, but more importantly, it may permanently place the student above the teacher. A regional win would give Vandy four Super Regional trips in five years, three of which are more recent than Clemson's last trip, along with a more recent College World Series trip.

Oregon is making only their sixth total postseason appearance, with four of those occurring in the last five years. Oregon has only a single College World Series appearance (1954) and a single Super Regional appearance (2012). Should Oregon win this regional, they will travel to Indiana; however, should Indiana lose at home, Oregon would be a strong candidate to host.

One interesting note about Oregon is they have at least two wins in each of their previous five postseason appearances, and at least two losses.

If Clemson should win the Nashville regional, they would be forced to travel to Indiana or Indiana State for a chance to reach their 13th College World Series, and first since 2010. By winning the Regional, Clemson would reach the Super Regionals for the 10th time in 16 years.

For a season that started with such promise, winning the Nashville regional would begin to slow the roll of Leggett naysayers, and possibly even the AD. What's interesting is the impact of a loss. Could being eliminated in the regional actually bring about two coaching changes? One for Leggett, and one for Corbin as he leaves Vanderbilt for Clemson?

For Xavier, winning the Nashville regional would bring about large parties around the Big East offices as the Big East would have bested the SEC, ACC, and Pac-12. This is Xavier's second postseason appearance.

What Will Probably Happen:
I feel a bit of a dichotomy among Clemson fans, where part want Clemson to win every game, regardless of the impact to the team infrastructure, and where the other part wants to see Clemson struggle if only to see Jack Leggett let go. For the latter group, the ends justifies the means; however, for the purposes of this preview, we'll assume the goal for the Clemson team is to win, win, win.

But before Clemson can think about winning, they need to score some runs. In the ACC Tournament, Clemson scored a total of 8 runs over three games. Even if Clemson loses a game, they need to be able to put some runs on the board. Only twice this season has Clemson eclipsed the 5 run mark...and lost. They haven't scored more than 4 in a loss in nearly 10 weeks.

For Clemson, they have two strong starters, a pretty good closer, and a bunch of mid-relief arms. That can help Clemson reach Sunday, but they'll still need someone else to step up so they can finish off either Oregon or Vanderbilt. For example, Clemson is 0 for their last 5 when holding a 2-0 lead in postseason tournaments.

Regardless of how well Clemson plays, I don't think anyone comes out of this regional unscathed, which begins to throw this whole regional into the proverbial Thunderdome.

My Prediction:
While Xavier played well in the Big East Tournament, they will most likely bow out rather meekly, which sets Vanderbilt in the drivers' seat. Clemson will send Crownover to the mound, but how their bats respond will eventually decide if they are able to overcome an equally strong Oregon team.

Look for Clemson to squeak by Oregon in a very low scoring game, but turn around and lose the same type of game against another of Vandy's stout starters. Clemson and Oregon meet in the loser's bracket where it will come down to unreliable starters. If Clemson can get another big game performance from Clate Schmidt, then Clemson could in turn play Vandy, needing to win twice to advance.

Ultimately, Vanderbilt's arms become too much for Clemson to match and Vanderbilt advances. Best bet for Clemson is to have Crownover and Gossett shut the regional down so Clemson gets to 2-0, needing just one win to advance. From here, they need another superhuman performance by Schmidt or Erwin, to match what Oregon or Vanderbilt will throw. If not, Clemson will once again be in the driver's seat, only to have an SEC team take it away...

Good luck to all teams, and don't forget your wallet chains as you enter the Music City...

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