Two years, two trips up I-65. That's the recent history section of Vanderbilt's NCAA Baseball Tournament resume. These teams have stirred up a recent cross-conference rivalry over the course of three games in the past two seasons, with the Commodores earning a 2-1 edge but Louisville earning the more important Super Regional berth. The two familiar rivals even stirred up a bit of controversy this spring, as Jason Esposito celebrated his walk-off, 17th inning home run against Louisville by flipping his bat 3/4 of the way to the pitchers mound, an incident which likely prompted UL coach Dan McConnell to pull his players from the post-game handshake line.
However, after McConnell's recent three-game suspension, Vanderbilt might not even get a chance to see him for a potential matchup. Whether or not his absence will swing in the 'Dores favor has yet to be seen, but it stands to reason that the impact will be minimal. Louisville will be fired up for Vanderbilt regardless of whether or not their leader is standing behind them in the dugout, though strategic decisions may be slightly altered without McConnell manning the helm.
Before we get Louisville, though, we have to acknowledge the two other dangerous teams in the Regional. Louisville will host four of the midwest's top teams, including #4 Saint Louis, who upset a favored Charlotte team to win the Atlantic Ten Championship, and #3 Illinois State, who won the Missouri Valley Conference title over Wichita State. In fact, the only teams to have playoff success leading into the Regional have been the two lowest seeds after Louisville and Vanderbilt's relative failures in their respective conference tournaments.
All four teams can make valid arguments for their claims to move to the Super Regional - but only one will advance. Leading up to Friday, we'll look at the teams that make up the Louisville Regional. We already know what Vandy is capable of - but what should the 'Dores be worried about. Starting today, we'll look at the threats to a VU Super Regional appearance. Illinois State will be posted soon.