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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Big 12: Baseball roundup, weeks 1/2

Believe it or not, the baseball season is already rolling, at least on the collegiate level. With pitchers & catcher starting to filter into big-league camps tomorrow, let's take a look at what has transpired so far on Big 12 diamonds. This is the first of what will become my weekly conference rankings. The "previous" that you will see reference below refers to each team's ranking in the preseason coaches poll. The order of the teams hasn't changed. No one has shown quite enough to be moved up or down yet. Heck, Nebraska and Kansas State haven't even played yet. But it was tempting to move Kansas and Texas A&M up a notch and Missouri down. Sure, Texas started 0-3 but its showing in the Houston Classic demonstrated that it's business as usual for Augie Garrido's crew in Austin. The opponents' RPI is merely the average RPI of the teams' opponents to date, taken from the final ranking from www.boydsworld.com

1. Texas (4-4, prev: 1, oRPI 96)
Longhorns have recovered from season-opening sweep at surprising San Diego to win four of five, including 2 of 3 in the though Houston Classic. The game Saturday night against Rice was as good as early-season college baseball gets. After Texas ace Kyle McCulloch and Rice stud Joe Savery hooked up for for a 2-2 tie through seven innings, Rice was able to break through against the Longhorn bullpen and eventually took a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth. With one on and two out, freshman Kyle Russell blasted a two-run, opposite-field, pinch-hit shot into the Crawford boxes at Minute Maid Park to give Texas the win. Russell is a 6'5" masher who bats lefty and looks like the mirror image of a young Richie Sexson. This weekend, Texas travels to Stanford. As their year-in, year-out postseason success shows, the Longhorns may sacrifice some off the won-lost record with its tough early-season schedule but it pays off come tournament time.

2. Nebraksa (0-0, prev: 2, oRPI n/a)
Huskers open Thursday at Charleston Southern, who lost to Missouri last Friday. They play in the Homewood Suites Shootout in Charleston, S.C. this weekend against N.C. State, The Citadel and Richmond. The Wolfpack were #19 in the RPI last season.

3. Missouri (2-2, prev. 3, oRPI 187)
Bad opening weekend for the Tigers in South Carolina. Has the black cloud hovering over the Mizzou athletic department enveloped the promising baseball program? Ace starter Max Scherzer closed a door on a finger on his pitching hand and missed the opening weekend. He's not expected to pitch this weekend, either. Tigers have a three-game series at Louisiana-Monroe this weekend, a team that Texas Tech pounded by a combined 47-19 in three games earlier this season.

4. Baylor (3-0, prev. 4, oRPI 291)
Bears opened with a sweep of Stephen F. Austin, a school that hasn't fielded a baseball team since 1995, and a lambasting of Texas-Arlington. Hard to get much of a gauge on the new-look Bears from that. Top starters Ryan LaMotta and Cory VanAllen were both sharp in their initial outings, each hurled five shutout innings with little resistance. This weekend, Baylor will host Califorina, which finished 61st in the RPI last season but did not make the NCAA tournament field. Guess it will be the battle of the Bears.

5. Oklahoma (5-1, prev. 5, oRPI 180)
Here's another ID: Insufficient Data. The Sooners struggled to beat Texas State in their opener but Texas State knocked off Texas Christian on Tuesday. Oklahoma has pounded the weak teams on its schedule but was pounded by Lamar, a non-tournament team in 2005 that finished 69 in the RPI. Chuckie Caulfield is off to a 12 for 27 start and Kevin Smith has driven in 10 runs for the Sooners. This weekend, Oklahoma will play in the very tough Coca-Cola Classic in Houston. They'll play No. 5 Rice, No. 19 Long Beach State and will have a rematch with Lamar.

6. Oklahoma State (2-1, prev. 6, oRPI 50)
The Cowboys have had perhaps the toughest slate early on, playing tourament teasms South Alabama and Arkansas plus a George Mason team that was 74th in the RPI. The results were decidedly mixed. Oklahoma State's booming bats were alive and well in two victories in which it combined to scored 28 runs against S.Alabama and Georg Mason, hammering four home runs in the process. But the Cowboys were no-hit by three pitchers against Arkansas. This weekend, Youngstown State will visit Stillwater. We won't know any more next week than we do now unless, of course, the Cowboys flop. Realistically, expect a bunch of runs and a bunch of homers for Adam Carr and company this weekend but we won't know about OSU's pitching staff until sometime next month.

7. Texas A&M (4-0, prev. 7, oRPI 60)
You really have to look at the results on the field in college baseball. In football or basketball, Northwestern State won't strike fear into any of the Big 12 schools (though the men's hoops team almost beat Missouri). In baseball, however, the Demons were 39th in the RPI last season and made the NCAA tournament. So it was actually a nice season-opening sweep for the Aggies last week, even though two of the victories were by one run. It's a nice start for new A&M coach Rob Childress, the former pitching guru at Nebraska who has to be thrilled by his team's early 1.45 composite ERA. This weekend's opponent, Northern Colorado, isn't very highly regarded.

8. Kansas (6-2, prev. 169, oRPI 169)
Terrific week for Kansas, who won two of three at Stanford. Gus Milner continued his hot start and has already driven in 16 runs this season. Sean Land and transfer Ricky Fairchild beat the Cardinal. Only ace Kodiak Quick, who transferred to Kansas from Stanford, was defeated. Ritch Price's early-season schedule doesn't get any easier this weekend as the Jayhawks head to California for a tournament which includes No. 25 USC, Vanderbilt and surprise No. 15 San Diego, who swept Texas in three games last week.

9. Texas Tech (4-3, prev. 9, oRPI 114)
Larry Hays has had an up-and-down start to his 20th season at Tech. After beating weak La-Monroe three straight to begin the season, the Red Raiders lost all three games in the ultra-tough Houston Classic but were competitive in all three games against Rice, Tulane and Houston. This weekend, Tech will host St. Johns, 49th in last season's RPI and made the NCAA tournament.

10. Kansas State (0-0, prev. 10, oRPI n/a)
Brad Hill will kick off his third season at the helm of the Wildcats this weekend with three games at the Texas-Arlington Invitational, which includes KSU, UTA, Oral Roberts and Illinois State. Not too easy but not overly tough. Good early season litmus test for the improving K-State program.

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