SEC Baseball Tournament Preview: Here's who will take home the title this week in Hoover
As conference tournaments get underway this week, we’ll get our first taste of postseason baseball in 2023.
I’ve gone ahead and previewed the SEC Tournament and what you should expect from the premier baseball conference this week as teams vie to solidify their positioning ahead of the NCAA Regionals.
First, here is your full bracket (my picks will be below)
South Carolina and Tennessee are both in interesting positions as we head to Hoover. The Gamecocks were a top-five team only a few weeks ago but currently find themselves looking up at the regional hosting seeds. If they’re able to go on a deep run in the conference tournament, it may help them regain their footing and give the Selection Committee something to consider heading into the tournament.
Like the Gamecocks, the Volunteers need a strong showing in Hoover to boost their hosting resume; a potentially huge advantage for a Tennessee team that has been nearly unbeatable at home but has struggled on the road this season. I believe the Volunteer pitching should be strong enough to push themselves to at least a couple of wins in Hoover and maybe enough to `be considered for one of the final hosting seeds if results around the country go their way.
Texas A&M had lofty expectations entering the season but, other than a series win over Florida, have been mostly mediocre. They’ve been a lukewarm team, showing promise against Kentucky and Florida while also being decimated by LSU, Tennessee, and Arkansas. If they play to their best ability they’re incredibly dangerous but they’ve yet to find much of that high-level consistency.
The top four seeds: Florida, Arkansas, LSU, and Vanderbilt, are all projected top-eight seeds nationally and are in true pole position this week. Without the pressure of needing wins to secure hosting seeds, these teams should be able to set their own pace and intensity. And while they will all obviously be trying to play strong baseball and win the tournament, I wouldn’t expect them to go all-out to push the limits of their players in pursuit.
They’ll see this week in Hoover as a step in their preparation for the NCAA Tournament, getting injured players back to game speed, understanding the intensity and emotions that come with postseason baseball, and ensuring that all of their key pieces are trending upwards at the right time.
Of the leaders, LSU and Vanderbilt have the most to prove. After each program experienced setbacks down the stretch, they came away with series wins on the final weekend; a much-needed recalibration that should set them in the right direction entering the postseason, if, they can keep the momentum going into Hoover and into the Regionals.
Watch to Watch For:
Two of the hottest teams in the conference, Auburn and Alabama, will be looking to cement themselves as the real deal this week. They’re both currently projected to host regional seeds after their respective hot streaks to close out the regular season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see either of these teams make a lot of noise in the tournament.
Entering the postseason, LSU’s use of its pitching staff, and in particular Paul Skenes, is going to be a key point to watch. Skenes will presumably be used in games they view as must-win so it will be interesting to see who steps up and is able to fill in the gaps for the Tigers. This week will be a great introduction to what we should be able to expect from LSU this postseason.
Of course, it wouldn’t be fair of me to preview the tournament without giving my bracket and what I’m expecting to see this week.
I have Tennessee in the Finals; potentially an odd pick given the year the Vols have had away from home but in my eyes, there is no reason why Tennessee shouldn’t be competing at the highest level this week. They lead the SEC in pitching and that’s exactly what I think will carry them deep into the tournament and into the postseason. If there was ever a time for them to turn it around it’s this week and I think Coach Vitello will have his guys ready and raring to go in Hoover this week.
To me, Florida is the most complete team in the country. Between their pitching led by Hurston Waldrep and Brandon Sproat and their talented offensive core led by Jac Caglianone and Wyatt Langford, the Gators are talented from top to bottom and should go on a deep run this week in Hoover and on to Omaha if everything clicks.
Follow Grayson Buchholz on Twitter - @GBuchholzNWA