Big East Tournament Preview

By Grant Tunkel - May 20, 2007

Eight Big East baseball teams will descend on Keyspan Park in Brooklyn, New York, home of the Class-A Mets affiliate Brooklyn Cyclones, for the Big East baseball tournament. It is a double elimination tournament, and the winner will get the Big East's automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. Last year's winner was Notre Dame, who comes back this year as the 7 seed.

For those of you who don't know a whole lot about Big East baseball, I've written a little about each of the 8 teams that will compete in the tournament, listed in order of their seed.

ST. JOHN'S RED STORM (39-15, 20-7)
The Red Storm won 30 of its final 35 contests, en route to finishing the season ranked No. 23 in Baseball America's poll and tied for 1st in the Big East. They come into the tournament as the one seed by virtue of owning a better overall record than Rutgers. The team, which was picked by the coaches to finish 1st in a preseason poll, is lead by junior 3B Gil Zayas and junior LHP George Brown. Zayas hit .376 with 19 doubles during the regular season and drove in 51 runs. Brown turned in a fine 2007 campaign, going 6-2 with a 2.90 ERA. All three St. John's pitchers who made at least 10 starts- Brown, sophomore right-hander Jared Yecker and sophomore left-hander Scott Barnes-won at least 6 games, and none had an ERA higher than 3.26.

Rutgers finished tied for 1st in the Big East with its 20-7 record and draws the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament. The Scarlet Knights have won 11 of their last 13 games and have lost only 2 Big East series all season long, at St. John's and versus Notre Dame. They were also picked to finish 2nd in that same preseason poll. The Scarlet Knights are lead by junior SS Todd Frazier, who was picked to be the Big East preseason Player of the Year. Frazier did not disappoint during the regular season, batting .362 with a conference-leading 19 HR, 71 runs scored, 152 total bases, and 55 walks. Frazier also leads the team with 23 stolen bases, and will likely be a first-round pick in the MLB draft. Rutgers' top pitcher has been senior right-hander Steve Healing, who posted an 8-3 record with a 3.70 ERA in 14 starts.

The Cardinals come into the tournament as the No. 3 seed for the second consecutive year, having lost in last year's conference championship game 7-0 to Notre Dame. Louisville boasts the best pitching staff in the Big East, leading the conference in ERA, average against, and strikeouts. The staff is lead by junior RHP Zack Pitts, who was a stellar 8-3 with a 1.90 ERA. The Cardinals are also paced by a tremendous bullpen, lead by senior right-hander Trystan Magnuson, who has dominated opposing hitters all-season long, posting a 2-1 record and a 0.81 ERA in 28 appearances. At the plate, the Cardinals are paced by senior Logan Johnson, who hit .377 and leads the team with 13 HR, 54 RBI and 62 runs scored.

Pittsburgh comes into the tournament on a 2-game losing streak, having lost its final 2 contests to Seton Hall. But the Panthers have already exceeded expectations, finishing the season with a winning record in conference play and as the 4th seed in the conference. Pitt was predicted to finish 9th in the pre-season coaches poll, but won regular season series against tournament teams Louisville and Notre Dame to propel itself to 4th in the Big East. The Panthers are lead at the plate by senior 1B/RHP Seth Button, who leads the team in hits (60), HR (8) and RBI (31) and was second in average (.316) and runs (27). Senior RHP Paul Nardozzi has been the Panthers' ace, turning in a 5-5 year with a 3.93 ERA. He threw 2 complete game shutouts this year, blanking Cincinnati and Notre Dame. He allowed only two hits and two walks while striking out nine against the Irish.

The Bulls will limp into the tournament, having lost 8 of their last 12, including series losses at Louisville and against St. John's. USF did, however, win season series against Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, and Connecticut- three tournament teams. The Bulls are lead offensively by sophomore SS Addison Maruszak. He followed up a stellar 2006 campaign that earned him Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American honors with another great season in 2007, finishing 3rd on the team in average (.323) and 2nd in runs (45), HR (7), and RBI (43). Junior RHP Chris Delaney has been the Bulls' steadiest pitcher, posting an 8-4 record and a 4.28 ERA. Senior RHP Danny Otero has been phenomenal for USF in Big East play, posting a 5-3 record and a 3.18 ERA in nine starts, including 3 complete games.

The Wildcats have largely exceeded expectations, finishing 6th in the conference. The preseason coaches poll had Villanova finishing 11th, and the team hadn't made the conference tournament since 1997. But the team persevered through a difficult schedule to make it to Brooklyn. Junior infielder Derek Shunk paces the Wildcats with a .372 average, while junior OF/1B Dan Terpak leads the team in HR (8) and RBI (47), and is 3rd in runs (41). Villanova's best pitcher has been senior right-hander Mike Loree, who finished the season with a 7-3 record and a 4.08 ERA. However, the Wildcats finished in the bottom half of the conference in team ERA, strikeouts, walks allowed and hits allowed.

The Irish clinched a post-season berth on the final weekend of the regular season and finished 7th in the conference, despite being picked to finish 2nd in the preseason poll. Notre Dame lost 6 of its final 7 games, including being swept at Louisville and versus Connecticut. However, the Irish boast one of the best pitching staffs in the conference. Sophomore RHP David Phelps has been dominant all season long, posting an 8-4 record and a 1.87 ERA, as well as 4 complete games and 93 strikeouts in 101 1/3 innings pitched. Freshman 3B A.J. Pollock leads the Irish with a .382 average, while junior shortstop Brett Lilley has a .504 on-base percentage.

The Huskies finished 2nd in the Big East last year, but finished 8th this year, the last team to make the postseason tournament. UConn won 9 of its last 11 games in a late-season surge that propelled the team into the tournament, including a series win at Notre Dame. Senior SS Dennis Donovan has been Connecticut's best player, leading the team in batting average (.344), HR (7), RBI (43) and total bases (109). Senior left-hander Brendan McGinn has been the Huskies' best pitcher, going 7-1 with a 3.61 ERA. Junior left-hander Matt Karl has been UConn's best pitcher out of the bullpen, saving 10 games to go along with a 1-2 record and a team-leading 3.42 ERA.

Posted by Grant Tunkel at 07:39 PM on May 20, 2007

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