North Carolina State
At the plate: NC State utilizes a top-heavy lineup that leads off with four guys who can mash. Trea Turner sets things up as the team's leadoff man, and he's getting on base at a 45% clip. He also leads the nation in stolen bases with 55 in 59 attempts (the next closest player has 41). As a result, the freshman is second in the ACC in runs scored.
Chris Diaz bats behind him, and he's third in the ACC with a .364 batting average. Ryan Mathews sits in the three spot, where he's got 14 home runs and 54 RBI. Catcher Danny Canela rounds out the lineup of NC State's elite batters. All four players are batting .330 or better and have at least 39 RBI.
The team drops off a bit after that, with only one regular batting over .260. If opposing pitchers can get through the top of the order with minimal damage, the Wolfpack become a much easier team to handle. However, with a human cheat code like Turner batting leadoff, that's easier said than done.
On the mound: Carlos Rodon is nasty, and any team that doesn't have to face him is lucky. The freshman exploded onto the scene in 2012 with a lights-out year. He has gone 9-0 so far this season and recorded 126 strikeouts in just 105 innings. In his last outing, he held #6 North Carolina to four hits over nine innings while striking out 12. Rodon is a durable pitcher who reaches into the mid-90s with his fastball and supplements that with a sharp curve and slider combination that keeps batters off balance.
Ethan Ogburn and Anthony Tzamtzis round out their rotation as a pair of veteran arms who are each in their third season at Raleigh. Tzamtzis has shown flashes of brilliance throughout the year, limiting opponents to just a .183 batting average, but control issues have dogged his season and patient hitters stand a good chance of cracking him. Ogburn appears to be more in the Taylor Hill mold, a steady, reliable presence who won't overwhelm many batters but still records outs.
The Wolfpack bullpen has the depth to shine in a Regional setting. Junior Chris Overman leads the team with 26 appearances and six saves, and he's got the firepower to induce strikeouts in short innings. Weekday starter Logan Jernigan could see extended action this series, and he's another player who seems to alternate strikeouts and walks at a high rate. Vance Williams is another pitcher who will likely hear his number called a few times this weekend.
Overall outlook: The Wolfpack were a crisp 18-14 against teams in the top 50 this year, and that included series wins over Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Virginia, and Clemson. The only bad loss that they have on their resume is an early February defeat against Wright State. It seems unlikely, at best, that Sacred Heart will be able to give them anything that they cannot handle.
That means that Vanderbilt should plan on seeing NC State if they can get past UNC-Wilmington in Game One today. They'll also have to figure that Rodon will be waiting for them on the hill if the two meet on Saturday. That's a lot of talent for the Commodores to overcome, but Florida was in a similar situation - and Vandy beat them twice last week.
North Carolina State is an intimidating team, but not an unbeatable one. The teams that have beaten them have typically been patient and outlasted this young team. If Vanderbilt (or Wilmington) can work State's pitchers into long counts and get past a murderer's row at the top of their batting lineup, this team becomes a lot less scary. You'll need a well-coached team in order to get past the Wolfpack. Fortunately, Vandy's got one of the best in the business.