Ed note: Here's our full primer for the Nashville Regional. Stay tuned here to CQ for full coverage of Indiana's Road to Omaha.
VANDERBILT REGIONAL SCHEDULE
Friday, May 29
Game 1, 3:00 p.m. EST: (2) Radford Highlanders vs. (3) Indiana Hoosiers
Game 2, 8:00 p.m. EST: (1) Vanderbilt Commodores vs. (4) Lipscomb Bisons
Saturday, May 30
Game 3, 4:00 p.m. EST: Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2
Game 4, 8:00 p.m. EST: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2
Sunday, May 31
Game 5, 4 p.m. EST: Winner Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4
Game 6, 8:00 p.m. EST: Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5
Monday, June 1
Game 7 (if necessary), 7:30 p.m. EST: Winner Game 6 vs. Loser Game 6
VANDERBILT COMMODORES (1)
The hosts, and defending national champions, were left just on the outside of the race for a national seed. Vanderbilt recorded a 42-19 record this season, including a 24-8 mark at home. And given the fact that TCU was granted a national seed, the Commodores probably have a legitimate gripe as to being shutout. Vanderbilt had 13 more wins over RPI Top-50 teams than the Horned Frogs.
For the sake of the other three teams in the regional, you have to hope that Vanderbilt isn't out to prove a point. The Commodores already score over 6.6 runs per game while their pitching staff sports a stingy 3.08 ERA. Vanderbilt also has the only pitching staff in the regional that runs as deep as Indiana's. The Commodores have 10 pitchers who have made more than 10 appearances on the season, and six who have made at least five starts.
Vanderbilt's offense is led by Dansby Swanson whose .350 average, 13 HR, and 58 RBI make him one of the most dangerous hitters in the field of 64, let alone the regional. In addition to Swanson, Zander Wiel, Will Toffey, and Rhett Wiseman all have more than 40 RBIs to their names, giving Vanderbilt the kind of pop that the Hoosiers became accustomed to in 2013 and 2014.
Add in the experience this team gained during its run to the College World Series title last season and the gauntlet of a schedule it played in the SEC and you have a clear favorite to win this regional.
Vanderbilt went 10-10 against other NCAA tournament teams.
Radford Highlanders (2)
Each year it seems that a mid-major or two comes out of nowhere to become a threat to any team that they play in the tournament. In addition to Missouri State and Dallas Baptist, Radford is part of that list this season. The Big South champs are 43-14 this year and come into the NCAAs at 15 in the RPI.
The Highlanders have had unprecedented success this season, such as winning their first Big South title, thanks to a slobberknocking offense. Radford scores over 6.8 runs per game. But the one thing they don't have is deep pitching. Only four pitchers on the Highlander roster have an ERA under 3.00, and as a team, they allow more than 4.25 runs every outing.
Radford went 4-6 against teams in the NCAA field. In those 10 games, they scored just 3.5 runs per game and allowed 4.7, both worse than their season averages, which suggests that the season average is inflated by their weak conference, which only got one other bid. The deep pitching and seasoned offenses of Vanderbilt and Indiana may pose real problems for the Highlanders as the weekend goes on. But they won't be an easy out as they carry the momentum of a 15-game winning streak into Nashvegas.
Lipscomb Bisons (4)
Most people would think that all Lipscomb has going for it is that it won't have to travel very far, as the Nashville-based team will bus across town to play. But the seemingly overmatched Bisons (RPI: 71) may not bow out quietly. The 39-18 club is on a 7-game winning streak and snuck into the tournament by winning the Atlantic-Sun conference title. They will look to keep their unexpected late season surge going at Vandy.
It's hard to know just how good Lipscomb is, however. They have played just one game against a team in the NCAA field of 64, a midweek win over Vanderbilt. Certainly that shows that on the right day and in the right circumstances, they can hang with anyone. But the team's numbers (5.73 runs per game, .278 avg., and 3.66 ERA), which aren't stellar to begin with, are undoubtedly inflated by their poor schedule (SOS: 173).
Barring a bizarre game or two, Lipscomb should be the first team eliminated this weekend.
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
1. Indiana is better tested than any other team in the regional. Although Vanderbilt undoubtedly plays in the better conference, Indiana played more games against NCAA tournament teams than anyone else. The Hoosiers went 11-10 in 21 games against teams that were selected to travel down the Road to Omaha (College of Charleston, Cal State Fullerton, Louisville, Iowa, Michigan, Illinois, Notre Dame, and Maryland).
2. The Hoosiers are clicking at the right time. Indiana is playing its best baseball of the season right now, having won 11 of its last 14 games. But its not just the winning. The pitching has been tremendous, as Indiana has allowed more than five runs in just one game during that 14-game stretch. And it seems like every Hoosier recorded a big hit at some point during the run that catapulted IU into the dance.
3. Chris Lemonis has a tough decision to make regarding Kyle Hart. Immediately following the selection show, Chris Lemonis stated that he's a fan of putting his best arms out as early as possible in tournament play in order to stay in the winner's bracket, but hinted that that might change after they look at splits. In the SoCon championship game, six of Radford's nine starting batters were right-handed, which suggests that LHP Kyle Hart, Indiana's best pitcher down the stretch, may not be the guy for Friday. Vanderbilt, who Indiana would presumably play if they can beat Radford, would also have six righties batting against Hart. In the SEC championship game, the Commodores had 4 righties, 3 lefties, and 2 switch-hitters in their lineup. Either way, Hart would have his work cut out for him against a slew of righties. It will be interesting to see not only what day Hart gets the call, but how many times he's allowed to go through the opposing lineup before Effross or other relief is brought on.