If there's one thing that Vanderbilt fans can take solace in, it's that spring offers one hell of a distraction after basketball season implodes. Coach Tim Corbin has turned Vandy's baseball team into a consistent contender in the country's toughest conference. Using a recruiting pipeline that extends all the way to Maine, Corbin has brought multiple first round draft picks to Nashville and built the Commodores into a powerhouse team that's able to erase the pain of a basketball flameout.
In short, the diamond 'Dores are every Vandy fan's Jack Daniel's; they'll make you forget about your problems.
2011 is no different, as a stacked Vanderbilt team has been a consensus top five team across the national rankings for the past two months. Players like Sonny Gray, Grayson Garvin, Jason Esposito, Aaron Westlake, and Jack Armstrong are all blue-chip prospects who have devastating combinations of talent and veteran leadership. Behind them, a freshman class that includes guys like Tony Kemp, Kevin Ziomek, and T.J. Pecoraro ensures that the team won't drop off completely after this year's projected exodus to the MLB Draft.
Last season brought the 'Dores within one at-bat of a trip to Omaha for the College World Series - the team's best ever showing. This year, the goal is to get to Nebraska in June. However, the road won't be easy. The SEC is as tough as ever, with three of the top four teams in the USA Today rankings residing in the SEC East. In all, six of the league's teams are currently ranked in the top 20.
The order of those rankings is still a bit suspect, though, as the non-conference schedules between the conference's teams have left plenty of question marks. We'll try to decipher the SEC's pecking order after the jump.
|1)||n/a||Florida||19-2 (3-0)||Winners of nine straight, including four games over top ten teams in that span. Three of those came in baseball-crazy Baton Rouge, which should count double.|
|2)||n/a||Vanderbilt||20-2 (2-1)||After Sonny Gray and Grayson Garvin, the 'Dores have four guys battling for Sunday starts down the line: Taylor Hill, Jack Armstrong, Kevin Ziomek, T.J. Pecoraro. That's a legit, six-deep rotation for Vanderbilt.|
|The Terribly Good|
|3)||n/a||LSU||16-5 (0-3)||Got swept by Florida in three games and have lost their last four, but took care of then-#13 Cal State Fullerton just a week earlier. A dangerous team once they regain their offense. The Tigers edge out the Gamecocks for the #3 spot this week, but it's a razor-thin margin.|
|4)||n/a||South Carolina||15-4 (2-1)||Poor Rhode Island. After putting up a strong show in a 0-3 sweep against Florida, they draw a road trip to South Carolina. The Gamecocks have some solid wins, but are vulnerable to losses (Furman, Georgia) that are streak killers.|
|Still Good, But Questions Loom|
|5)||n/a||Auburn||14-7 (2-1)||They get the nod over the Razorbacks on the strength of their series win last weekend, but there are questions surrounding their non-conference schedule and some surprising early losses. Can Auburn play well enough to be a 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament?|
|6)||n/a||Arkansas||16-4 (1-2)||Did Arkansas's weak early-season schedule make them weak? Auburn may have exposed them in their SEC opener, but they'll have a chance to rebound when they host Vanderbilt Friday.|
|A Big Ole' Jumble of Crap. Are These Guys Good, Or…?|
|7)||n/a||Alabama||14-7 (2-1)||Until traveling to Mississippi, the Crimson Tide had developed a penchant for shrinking when faced with tough opponents. Nearly all their wins are against cupcakes.|
|8)||n/a||Ole Miss||16-6 (1-2)||The talent is there, but Ole Miss is just 2-4 against teams receiving votes in the USA Today Top 25.|
|9)||n/a||Mississippi State||15-6 (1-2)||Stole a game in a gritty comeback against Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs are better than they were last year, though that isn't saying much.|
|10)||n/a||Kentucky||13-8 (2-1)||Bounced back from a terrible (4-6) start to look respectable and bounce Tennessee, but the Wildcats haven't proven much yet.|
|11)||n/a||Tennessee||16-4 (1-2)||Beat a bunch of nobodies, then lost their first SEC test against Kentucky. The Vols have lots of experienced players on the roster, but they're still largely a mystery heading into the second week of SEC play.|
|12)||n/a||Georgia||9-12 (1-2)||They've got wins against Florida State, South Carolina, and Alabama so far this year. They won't make it to the postseason, but they'll screw up plenty of other teams along the way.|