Tomorrow the University of Kentucky Batcats kick off the Road to Omaha in Gary, Indiana. Here is a look at the competition they'll need to overcome to move on to the Super Regionals next weekend. I'll have more on the match-up with Kent St tomorrow and another excellent preview can be found at Hammer and Rails, the SBN Purdue site.
First a quick overview of the 4 teams in the region (RPI and SOS from Warren Nolan).
The last column might be new to some people, it shows what an "average" team's W-L record would be given its Runs Scored and Runs Allowed. The idea is the same as the basis for Ken Pomeroy's basketball rankings. It's a way to check how a team's performance compares to their underlying ability to score and prevent runs. Its usefullness at the college level is debatable given the wide range in schedule strength, but I think it's worth looking at to get another perspective on the strengths of each school.
There are 3 very strong teams in this region. Purdue, UK, and Kent St have all won 40+ games and their underlying performance supports those records. Kentucky has faced the toughest schedule of the three so they might have a slight edge on that front, but all three teams can hit and all three teams can pitch and play defense. Kent St didn't face competition as tough as what Purdue and the Cats played against, but they have a ton of postseason experience - more than the other three teams combined.Here's a closer look at the offenses:
The top three seeds are closely matched offensively. The Cats have the lowest BA of the three but they make up for it with plenty of walks and consequently there is no practical difference in the on-base percentages for the Cats, Purdue, and Kent St. Their slugging percentages are likewise very similar. Even considering strength of schedule, its clear that Kent St can hit and score runs every bit as well as Purdue and Kentucky. There is also clearly a gap between these schools and Valparaiso on offense.
Now for the other side of the ball:
All four squads can pitch and boast impressive ERA and WHIP rates, but there is some difference in how they get batters out. Kentucky and Kent State are amoungst the best teams in the nation at striking out hitters. Purdue and Valparaiso rely more on the opponent putting the ball in play and letting their defense take care of the rest. Perhaps not coincidentally both those teams show the biggest difference between their runs allowed per game and ERA indicating they give up more unearned runs than UK and Kent St do. More balls in play = more chances for errors to be committed. Much as was the case with offense, not a lot separates these teams in the field - all four schools have the kind of pitching and defense you need to win games and advance.
This region is as wide open as any in the country. Purdue, Kentucky, and Kent St all have the hitting and pitching required to win this regional. Valparaiso is at a disadvantage offensively, but their pitching could give them a chance. With such evenly matched teams these games should be very competitive and very entertaining to watch this weekend.