The eighth week of SEC baseball brought a sole team to the top of the conference standings. Vanderbilt gained a one-game advantage in the rankings thanks to series losses from South Carolina and Florida, giving the 'Dores a slight edge for the regular season crown with just two weeks left to play. All three teams will face struggles this week, as Florida will travel to Nashville to face Vandy in one of the season's most highly anticipated showdowns. The Gamecocks will have their own test, as a surging Arkansas - who just defeated Florida in a series last week - travels to Columbia.
The momentum of Arkansas's wins kept them atop the SEC West and moved them into fourth in this week's power rankings. The 'Hogs passed Georgia, who fell in a close series to Auburn but still hold a two-game advantage for the fourth seed in the upcoming conference tournament. If the Razorbacks can win at South Carolina this week, they'll make a strong case to be the fourth SEC team to host a NCAA Regional.
However, despite some impressive showings, the West is still a mess.
Mississippi made the leap from a confusing ball of talent to a potential SEC Tournament winner with a big-time series win against South Carolina. The Rebels had struggled with inconsistency all year before two strong performances sealed their biggest victories of the season in Oxford. Auburn kept pace with their SEC West rivals, toppling Georgia, but dropped a spot in the rankings thanks to the higher quality of Ole Miss's wins this week, as well as their overall record disparity.
Five teams now sit within one game of the SEC West lead, which is shared by Arkansas and Alabama at 12-12. Only LSU, at 8-16 after failing to capitalize on a strong Friday showing against the Tide, appears to be out of the race. As a result, the conference is making a strong case for nine bids in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, since much of the league has cannibalized itself. The West has become a prime example of that. All six teams have NCAA RPI rankings between 16-37, but none have been able to gain any traction in this shark tank of a conference.
Traditionally it's been a safe bet that all eight teams that make it to Hoover for the conference tournament will get their NCAA dance cards punched. The inclusion of a ninth team isn't rare, but also isn't a guarantee. Can the West pull themselves up and scrap their way into becoming a five-bid league? We've got two weeks to find out.
Full conference rankings are after the jump.
|1a)||1)||South Carolina||38-10 (18-6)||The Gamecocks are a game down in the rankings, but I can't drop them out of the top spot with that narrow a margin after they posted a 4-2 record against Vandy and the Gators. This could all change next week, pending the results of the UF/VU series. IMPRESSIVE FACT: The 'Cocks have yet to allow a SEC opponent to score more than two runs against them in series openers. That's the awesome power of Michael Roth.|
|1b)||2)||Vanderbilt||41-6 (19-5)||Vandy got torn up by UK ace Alex Meyer, but came back to win three straight in the Bluegrass State, including a win over the team's fiercest non-conference rival Louisville. A series win against Florida this weekend should pretty much seal a national seed for the Commodores.|
|3)||3)||Florida||36-12 (18-6)||There's no shame in losing a close series to Arkansas, and thanks to South Carolina's missteps the Gators still have a solid track to a regular season title. Their next step will be a tough one though - facing Vanderbilt at Hawkins Field for Nashville's most anticipated baseball series of the year (Thirsty Thursdays excepted).|
|Good Teams With Bad Losses, or Bad Teams With Good Wins?|
|4)||5)||Arkansas||32-15 (12-12)||Made the West a bit more respectable by knocking off Florida and climbing up to .500 in conference play. A win in Columbia and a decent run in the conference tournament could turn Fayetteville into a NCAA Tournament hosting site this May.|
|5)||4)||Georgia||25-23 (14-10)||A tough series loss to Auburn drops them out of fourth place and may suggest the start of a regression to the mean for the Bulldogs. Fortunately they've got a weekend in Lexington to sort things out, and with Arkansas facing South Carolin this week, the 'Dawgs should be in good position to clinch the four seed at the SEC Tournament.|
|Dark, Dark, Dark-horse SEC Tournament Champions|
|6)||6)||Alabama||30-20 (12-12)||Adam Morgan and Jonathan Smart both allowed a ton of baserunners, but ultimately shut down LSU in a pair of shutouts to clinch a come-from-behind series win against LSU. The wins were doubly useful for the Tide - they kept the team in first in the West while squashing the Tigers' ascent after winning six straight.|
|7)||7)||Mississippi State||30-18 (11-13)||The Bulldogs have won six straight and can make a major impact on the SEC West standings with wins in their final two series against Ole Miss and LSU. However, they'll have to do it without a true ace throwing for them on Fridays - Chris Stratton Devin Jones, and Luis Pollorena have combined to give up 46 hits and 25 runs in just 19.1 innings as opening game starters since April began.|
|Hey, I Care About These Teams Slightly More Now!|
|8)||9)||Ole Miss||27-21 (11-13)||Came back from the rath of Michael Roth on Friday to win two straight against the defending champs. Their Egg Bowl matchup with Mississippi State will get primetime coverage tomorrow night on ESPNU, just in time for the Rebels to earn a few new fans.|
|9)||8)||Auburn||25-23 (11-13)||The Tigers narrowly got by Georgia to set up what may be a SEC West-deciding series with archrival Alabama this week. If Auburn can beat the Tide at home, they'll be able to cruise to the postseason with one final series against Tennessee as the only thing standing in their way. A midweek loss to Samford, however, was not how this team wanted to start their run through the home stretch.|
|Pretty Bad…Pretty, Pretty, Pretty, Pretty…Pretty Bad.|
|10)||11)||LSU||30-19 (8-16)||Everything was coming up Milhouse until the Tigers sent their offense home two games too early against Alabama. After a ten run outburst on Friday night, the Tigers got 16 hits over the final 18 innings of their weekend but couldn't plate a single run.|
|11)||10)||Kentucky||22-27 (5-19)||Alex Meyer may have shot himself back into the first round of the MLB Draft with his dazzling performance against a Vanderbilt team that had scored double-digit runs in their previous six games. The rest of the team? Ehhhhh…|
|12)||12)||Tennessee||23-23 (5-19)||The Vols have been outscored by 50 runs over their past two SEC series, and by a whopping 97 runs in league play as a whole.|