Thursday Thoughts - Dreaming of the post-season already

It's already mid-April. Yes, I just said the "m-A" word.

Go ahead, pinch yourself. Mid-freakin-April! It's hard to believe we're already past the midway-point of the season, but it's true. And with that, we need to start thinking of what's going to happen in that magical month of June. The time when we wake up like St. Nick had just been at our house and we're all surrounded by 14 hours of post-season bliss from coast-to-coast.

Maybe now would be a good time to turn to our post-season projection guru Mark Etheridge, the college baseball equivalent of Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm all rolled into one strapping ex-athlete who can still bench press 300 pounds (lemme see ANYBODY in college baseball scribe-town do that!).

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This just in, Mark Etheridge doesn't like to sleep---
One of the biggest heroes in college baseball today is CSTV blogger and SEbaseball.com head honcho Mark Etheridge. He has once again had the smarts, the foresight and the cajones to release his first NCAA Regionals projection to CSTV and the rest of the baseball world:

http://www.cstv.com/sports/m-basebl/2007bracketapril10.html

Mark informed me that he made the executive decision last week to do the projections over getting sleep because his first projections of the year always take longer than the rest. From a fans perspective, I say, thanks bro. When you do your projections, you're doing the Lord's work.


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(Regarding Mark's projections)
Dear NCAA tournament committee, please take note of:
- Okay, so there are 22 teams from the ACC, Big 12 and SEC, but at least the thinking here is that none of the super-conferences have nine teams in the field. So hopefully that whole not-making-your-conference-tournament-but-making-the-Big-Dance thing won't happen again. Ever. (Mark admits that these early projections always show a lot of big-money conference teams, but promises they'll weed themselves out by the end of the season. Let's hope so.)
- Eight Big 12 teams make it in. Bad. But in this projection, five of them would hit the road. Good.
- Vanderbilt, Arizona, Oregon State, Pepperdine as host sites. It would be good to see sites that aren't exactly huge venues would be able to host on merit, not money.
- The Missouri Valley getting three bids. Just look at some of their non-conference wins and you'll realize these teams are worthy.

Dear NCAA tournament committee, please ignore:
- The 22 teams Mark has from the ACC, Big 12 and SEC. Let's go with the Dick Vitale, "If you don't finish in the top five in your conference, you're not the best your conference has to offer and shouldn't get a bid."
- Three ACC teams and five SEC teams at home. New rule: If you play stiffs at home in the pre-conference, you don't deserve to be at home in the post-season. (Arkansas - you're exempt here)
- MVC aside, the fact that there are far too few mid-major at-large teams in this field (which mirrors the baseball post-season every year for the most part). But Mark warned us in his column from earlier this season, where have all the mid-major bids gone? They've followed the money.
- Speaking of, eight of the No. 2 seeds are from "mid-major" conferences. Giving benefit of doubt, I'd reward them as many home regionals as possible, since by and large, the big wigs won't travel to their stadiums in pre-conference.


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Where I wish I was going this weekend---
As usual, if I had a magic carpet, or the CSTV company jet, here would be my fave places to be, unless the weather is still wet, nasty and ornery out there in baseball-land.

My Top 10 series of the weekend:
1- Michigan (18-6) at No. 29 Ohio State (18-5)
Between you and me, I really wanted to go to this series in Bill Davis Stadium, but couldn't pull it off. If the weather cooperates, there should be 4,000+ wild Bucks fans going through the turnstyles each day. This also should be a pitching-heavy series as each team returned great staffs. Michigan features Zach Putnam (4-2, 1.95) and OSU counters with red-hot Cory Luebke (4-0, 1.64), both should be high-round draftees too.

2- No. 16 Wichita State (27-8) at Southern Illinois (23-9)
For the second week in a row the Shockers take on a Valley contender. Damon Sublett hasn't caught much mention in the Player of the Year voting, but leads the Shocks with a .371 average. Two players I've been keeping tabs on are SIU's Cody Adams (8-1, 2.26) and Mark Kelly (.440). But the Salukis got run-ruled twice at Evansville in their last Valley weekend, so this could be one of those expose-the-fraud weekends.

3- Florida (20-16) at No. 9 Arkansas (26-10)
The two leaders of the SEC divisions face off in Fayetteville. For a team on top, the Gators are reeling a little bit, blowing a late lead in the Sunday loss to South Carolina and then getting beaten by Central Florida on Tuesday. The Hogs have something to prove beyond Nick Schmidt, after getting roughed up by Mississippi State last weekend and with a team ERA climbing to 4.16. Despite last weekend, you've still got to like the Hogs at home.

4- No. 17 Texas A&M (28-7) at Missouri (24-9)
Seems like we say this every week, but this is yet another great opportunity for the Tigers to finally get the ranking they deserve (well, that I think they deserve.). Rick Zagone (6-0, 3.43) and Aaron Crow (4-1, 2.95) head a still-young pitching staff for Mizzou and they'll have to go pitch-for-pitch against Kyle Nicholson, who is almost an entire staff in his own right (7-1, 1.30, 4svs). But expected temps in the 40s with rain and snow interspersed won't help the Aggies.

5- Georgia Tech (21-13) at No. 8 Virginia (30-7)
Two weeks ago, I got to see a pair of great two-way players in Tech's Danny Payne (.381, 3svs) and Matt Wieters (.336, 3svs). This road series starts a season-ending schedule that will be no picnic for the Engineers. There's a lot to like about this Wahoos team too. Brandon Guyer .435-6-38, 12-13SBs) and Greg Miclat (.400, 23-26SBs) continue to be torrid and Jacob Thompson (8-0, 1.49, 62-15 K-BB ratio) continues to get gloss in the Player of the Year voting.

6- No. Rice (26-10) at Houston (18-14)
These two teams come from different directions into this showdown of 1-vs-2 in C-USA play. Rice just got through sweeping East Carolina in Greenville, which is damn impressive. Houston, meanwhile, had some early struggles, but has righted the ship lately and now sits just a game and a half out of first. But the Coogs have played the easiest schedule in the conference so far, beating last place Central Florida and sub-.500 UAB. So this will be a huge mountain for UofH to climb. Probably too big of a mountain.

7- No. 1 Vanderbilt (30-5) at No. 22 Kentucky (25-7)
Don't you get the idea that opposing coaches look at their upcoming schedules and see that "V" word and just go, "Oh crap! What are we gonna do now?" David Price, Pedro Alvarez and company tend to have that effect on people. Especially since the Wildcats have won 25 games against mostly stiffs. So as my grandmother used to say, this is a come-to-Jesus meeting, so to speak, for UK. But let's give the Bat Cats a puncher's chance here, they are playing at home and Vandy has shown to be vulnerable away from their music city confines. Should be interesting.

8- Cal Poly (18-17) at No. 27 UC Irvine (24-8-1).
Like Rice and Houston above, these two come from completely different directions as they meet at the top of the Big West standings. Cal Poly has put together some good innings and a string of Ws against also-rans Pacific and Cal State Northridge. The Anteaters, as you know, just got through two brutal series against Long Beach and Fullerton. but they made it out alive and that's why they've got two black eyes and a whole lotta respect if you ask me. Maybe not if you ask the pollsters. Oh, and UCI's Blair Erickson goes after that magical NCAA saves record this weekend as well.

9- Nebraska (20-13) at No. 24 Oklahoma (24-11)
These two rivals both seem to be a bit hither and yon so far this season, getting some big wins, going on W streaks and also losing some curious games as well. Husker hurlers Tony Watson (3-1, 3.33) and Johnny Dorn (5-1, 4.89) both seem to follow that trend of being un-hittable one game, but a mess the next. Meanwhile, the edge has to go to OU, which leads the conference in ERA at 3.47.

10- Wright State (15-11) at Illinois-Chicago (14-12)
At 9-4 and 6-2 respectively, these two are at the top of the Horizon League. But the part I like best is how hot these two are and who some of their victims have been. WSU won a best-of-three series at Ole Miss and have now won five of its last six. UI-C has gone on the road and beaten Georgia Tech, Tennessee and Washington State and are now on an eight-game win streak.


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Best mid-week win---
Northern Iowa - 1
Minnesota - 7
Not only did this Wednesday game get moved to the Metrodome because of bad weather in Cedar Falls, Iowa, but it was played at 8am, so not to interfere with the preparations of that night's Yankees-Twins game. The U proved it was just chomping at the bit to play baseball again after suffering through six straight canceled games. In their first action since a 9-2 win at Penn State on March 31st, seven Gopher pitchers combined on a 13-strikeout, one-hit game vs. the Panthers. The win improved Minnesota to 18-6 heading into its weekend series vs. an improved Iowa team.


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Best mid-week win II---
Kentucky - 1
Louisville - 8
An overflow crowd of 2,643 saw the Bluegrass rivals go at it in L'ville, with the Cards coming out on top in blowout fashion, improving to 22-10 on the season. Since the UofL stitched-ballers have switched over to the Big East, every non-conference win over a team from the SEC becomes all that much more important. Right now, the 'ville has an RPI of No. 48. The hot-hitting Wildcats managed just six hits over nine innings (see what happens when you face good pitching UK?) in suffering its first non-conference loss of the season. The Cards also need to make amends for losing two home games to Pittsburgh last weekend. Louisville now travels to UConn for three games as part of an eight-game road trek.


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Worst mid-week loss(es)---
Southern Utah - 2
Utah - 9

Southern Utah - 2
Utah Valley State - 4
As if this 5-31 season weren't bad enough for the Thunderbirds. On Wednesday, they played a game at Utah in Salt Lake City at 1pm, losing 9-2. After it was over, SUU boarded a bus, still in their unis, and made it down to Orem (45 miles away) and lost a 7pm game to the Wolverines, 4-2. What made it worse was that the 'Birds had just split a doubleheader the night before at UVSU. So in a 30-hour period, they played four games in two locales, losing three of them. The good news is that Southern Utah now has seven days off to rest before playing BYU.


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Best pitching matchup---
Michigan's Zach Putnam (4-2, 1.95) vs. Ohio State's Cory Luebke (4-0, 1.64).
According to Baseball America, these are two of the top five prospects in the Big 10. In fact, Luebke was drafted in the 22nd round by the Rangers last June, but decided to return to Columbus. Putnam has just 12 walks and eight earned runs in 37 innings of work this season. But in addition to his valuable Friday night duties on the mound, Putnam also leads the Wolverines in hitting at .384. That's strong work, any way you slice it. If the weather agrees, this should be a dynamite weekend starter.


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Pet peeves in college baseball, part 84---
Attendance figures.
Listen people, when you put the word "attendance" at the bottom of your box score, that should ONLY mean that the number of butts sitting in seats is taken into consideration. I.e., number of attendants. That's it. And that's all. Last week, while sub-zero temperatures were invading most of the country, LSU announced their "attendance" at Sunday's game with Auburn as 6,757. But two lines down the box score it read, "actual attendance: 687." See, maybe it's inflated numbers like this that help LSU lead the country in "attendance" each year? Lord knows the Smoke Laval era was wrought with empty stands. But they aren't the only ones, Arkansas did the same thing on Sunday, announcing attendance for their game with Mississippi State as 7,004, when the actual butts-in-seats total was 2,844. MSU makes it only marginally better by listing (for it's game with UL-M) "5,951 (paid), 1,318 (actual)." Just quit being blowhards, people, and report the number of fans attending a game. Is that so hard?

New rule:
From now on, the boxscore should read like this at the bottom...
tickets sold: 7,000
attendance: 1,000
people dressed up as empty seats: 6,000

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Chick rockers---
I'll make this quick. I've got two words for you music types out there: Mandi. Perkins.
I went to see her sing on Wednesday night at The Roxy (one of the Sunset Strip clubs that launched a myriad of bands from the 60s, 70s and 80s). Have to admit, she's a rocker people. Lots of high-energy stuff and with a little attitude thrown in. Okay, so she's got a touch of angry Alanis Morrissette-type lyrics that asks why men do what they do. Okay. But I dig the fact that she doesn't go ballad-heavy or weepy on us. Mandi and her band are all about good rockin' stuff the whole show long, not worried about making a face while keeping the music goin'. Oh, and she's also a fabulous babe to boot, but given the wicked tunes she belts out, that's just lagniappe man. Check her out here when you get a chance:

www.mandiperkins.com

MandiPerkins.jpg
Mandi at the mic

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Stat of the week---
1-for-20.
That's what the Mid-American, Big South and Southern Conferences combined to go on number of games that were supposed to be played but were instead canceled due to inclement weather on Wednesday alone. C'mon Mother Nature, didn't we have enough of this crap this past weekend? Quit being such a jerk to college baseball.


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More weather blues---
Maine has already lost a home series this coming weekend when their 4-game set with Maryland-Baltimore County has had a change of venue. With the forecast in Orono calling for snow and rain mix and temps in the 40s all weekend, the two teams decided to meet up at East Connecticut State University for double-headers on both Friday and Saturday. The Black Bears also had a double-header with Brown canceled on Wednesday.


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Good scheduling just got better---
Stetson has added Miami (Florida) to its 2007 slate.
Shame as it is, these two high-quality, in-state schools have not faced each other since the 2001 post-season. Yet, because of lost game to (what else?) weather, these two have agreed on playing a single game on Wednesday, April 25th. Of course, Miami didn't see fit to schedule a return date up in DeLand, so this is it. Ahhhh, scheduling as a mid-major in college baseball. You've got to love it.


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Music in Movies---
Sometimes a song can transcend just being music to your ears. Every once in a while a movie perfectly marries a song to a scene and that song is forever ingrained in our visual memory as well as our aural memory. I'm sure you all have your favorite song/scene matches. Here are mine.

The Top 5 Songs Used in a Movie Scene:

1- Movie: Animal House
Song: "What a wonderful world this would be" (Sam Cooke)
Scene: Blutarsky (John Belushi) loading up in the school cafeteria buffet line.
I can't help but laugh every time this song comes up. Thinking about Bluto filling his face, his tray, his pockets with food. Then of course, the epic "Guess what I am now?" conclusion. Somehow, I've heard the DVD version of the movie uses a different song during this scene. Blasphemy!

2- Movie: Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Song: "Moving in Stereo" (The Cars)
Scene: The pool scene when Brad Hamilton (Judge Reinhold) comes home to his sister's friends using the pool and he makes history in the bathroom.
Phoebe Cates should win an honorary Oscar for this pool scene/dream sequence. Great song beginning too, with the perfect pause as Cates' character speaks. "You know how cute I always thought you were, Brad." Which is followed by 30 seconds of slo-motion cinematic brilliance. And nudity no coming-of-age teenager will ever forget.

3- Movie: Lost in Translation
Song: "Just Like Honey" (The Jesus and Mary Chain)
Scene: When Bill Murray is being driven to the airport at the end of his trip to Tokyo and he sees Scarlett Johanssen and chases her down in a crowded plaza.
Perfect marriage of cinema and sound. The under-appreciated Scottish band's anthem had the dual purpose of a feeling of confused isolation and a salute to the years between the characters as well. But what DID Bill Murray whisper in Scarlett's ear?

4- Movie: Reservoir Dogs
Song: "Stuck In The Middle" (Stealer's Wheel)
Scene: Warehouse scene near the beginning of the movie where Michael Madsen cuts off a guy's ear.
I don't know what's harder to get past, Michael Madsen's lip-biting, white-boy dancing or the fact that this is playing in a scene where a dude gets his ear cut off. None-the-less, it's another example of how Tarantino matches a song and a scene almost better than anyone.

5- Movie: Apocalypse Now
Song: "The End" (The Doors)
Scene: Used in both the opening scene where Martin Sheen is staring up at his hotel ceiling fan and at the end of the movie where he's returning down the river after offing Marlin Brando.
This song is so wicked for both scenes, it's the epitome of a 60s induced drug trip, only with major complications. Perhaps the greatest mood-setting song in movie history. Man, too bad Jim Morrison was such a freak. The dude just died way too young.

- Best baseball-related scene/song pairing:
Movie: Bull Durham
Song: "I Got Loaded" (Los Lobos)
Scene: Where the Bulls are hoping for a rainout and take matters into their own hands at getting it.
"You want a rainout? I'll getcha a rainout." This movie made a great instant transition from those words to the unfettered, ribald payoff of guys tearing up a field with the sprinklers firing on all cylinders. Hilarious.

Feel free to send in your favorites too. But if anyone says "Staying Alive" with Tony Munero walking down the street with a can of paint in his hands, they're automatically banned from all college baseball games for a year and placed on double-secret probation.


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This Week's YouTube Moment---
Refer to No. 1 above and click on this link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p546m1FeNPQ&mode=related&search=


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Okay, that's it for now. Hope I gave you plenty of material to chew on while you're waiting for first pitch of whatever game you're at this Friday. Can't wait for this baseball weekend to kick off. As we inch closer to June, this is another in a long line of important weekends in the college stitched-ball landscape.

Questions? Comments? Feel free to bring 'em on.

G'night.

Comments

R.E.M.'s "Man on the Moon" is a favourite of mine, and I thought it was extremely cool that it made the soundtrack of the Jim Carrey film of the same name.

And another comment on Stetson's schedule; they should add Embry-Riddle. The campuses of the two schools are about 20 miles apart, and Embry-Riddle has been consistently putting good teams on the field over the past few years.

Where's the respect for Creighton in the post-season projections? The Bluejays took 2 of 3 from the Evansville, took one in a tight series against a much more talented Wichita State team, and has beaten Missouri and Kansas State from the Big XII while almost mounting an incredible comeback against the Huskers. This team is legit after a slow start.

What are your thought on UCLA? They struggled against a ridiculous non-conference schedule, but with the return of Jermaine Curtis have been great in Pac 10 play as they now sit at 7-1. What record will it take to get into the tournament and what seed do you think they'll get? If they win the Pac 10 or finish 2nd do they have a shot at getting as high as a #2 or will their non-conference doom them to a #3 or #4?

Creighton needs to keep beating down on the MVC to get more respect. The Big XII wins are ok, but the NCAA knows that while the mid-majors throw their aces, the bigger schools aren't, so you need to beat 'em more than once.

Like the projections so far, although I think you switch Ark. and MSU. Sure, the Bulldogs took 2 of 3 from UA, but whoever's in first in the SEC deserves a top 8 national seed, and right now that's Arkansas (not Vandy, SC, or MSU).

I agree with what you say, Jean. So far Creighton is taking care of business in the MVC (9-3), and and are 3-3 against Evansville and Wichita State. The big series will come against Southern Illinois. Although I see the Bluejays as a solid second best team in the Valley, taking atleast 2 of 3 from the Salukis would certainly add a bit more validity to my opinion.

As for the Big XII wins, they can only help. They get a shot to even the series against the Huskers on Tuesday.

Ho man! Sorry I didn't get to these responses earlier boys. Thanks for writin', that's mighty cool of ya'.

Bob, I loved the REM "Man on the Moon" song, but it wasn't used in the parameters I laid out in my song/scene list.

Jeremy, I'm an Omaha native, so I'll sound very biased if I go into my feelings on the Bluejays. But typical of northern schools, they play better once they get outside and into a groove. Like the North Carolina State SID told me last year "When we got to Lincoln for the Regionals (in '05) Creighton was the team NOBODY wanted to play, just 'coz they were like most northern teams, playing their best ball in June."

Ryab... First off, did you mean to type "Ryan"? Check out the Sunday Summations on my UCLA thoughts. If Charles Brewer EVER comes back, they'll be all that more legit.

Jean, can't go with the "whoever is in 1st in the SEC deserves a national seed" thinking. And God willing the committee doesn't either. Arkansas wasn't that great in pre-conference. Decent, but not great.

Oh and to all of you... the projections are Mark Etheridge's, not mine. I'm not smart enough to do them, just smart ass enough to comment on them. Besides, Mark does a bitchin' job.

cheers,

Eric

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Eric Sorenson Eric Sorenson
Eric Sorenson is CSTV.com's National Baseball Columnist, and also appears on CSTV as a baseball expert