Thursday, May 28, 2009
As one of sixteen teams selected to host an NCAA regional, IU's opening round match-up with the University of Louisville will undoubtedly be a tough one. The Cardinals, who took home both the Big East regular season and tournament championships, sport a 44-15 overall record, including a 19-7 mark in Big East play and an impressive 26-6 clip at home in the friendly confines of Jim Patterson Stadium. The season was a monumental one for the Louisville program in several respects. This year marked the first time in Cardinals baseball history that they won the Big East regular season title, and eclipsing forty regular season wins was also a program first as well. In addition, Louisville won its second consecutive conference tournament championship, and they welcome the Hoosiers into town for the tournament opener having won 15 of their last 17 games. As you will read in greater detail below, the Cardinals have a very strong attack both on the mound and at the plate, so the Hoosiers will certainly have their hands full in this one.
The Hoosiers will take on the Big East Pitcher of the Year, Justin Marks on Friday at 7pm ET. Marks currently sports a 10-2 record and a 3.50 ERA. Marks is a very good left-hander who has struck out an impressive 116 batters this year while only walking 30 in 92.2 innings pitched. As if his strikeout/walk ratio wasn't good enough, he also has held opponents to a .223 batting average. Even if the Hoosiers can manage to get Marks out of the game early, IU will assuredly face another good pitcher as Louisville has a very strong pitching staff which sports a 4.19 team ERA. This includes having 8 guys with over 38 innings pitched with ERAs equal to or under 4.08.
With a total of 81 home runs on the year (4 came against IU), Louisville has a very powerful offense led by Big East Player of the Year Chris Dominguez. Dominguez (pictured on right) is currently batting .359 with 23 home runs and 79 RBIs. He also leads the Cardinals in stolen bases with 18. Protecting Dominguez in the lineup is Phil Wunderlich. Wunderlich has a .369 BA, 18 home runs, and 74 RBIs. In the 3 hole, first baseman Andrew Clark is also dangerous especially given his ability to get on base. His .491 on base percentage leads the Cardinals and can mostly be accredited to his 52 walks compared to only 25 strikeouts. Additional offensive threats include leadoff man Josh Richmond (.312 BA), #2 hitter Adam Duvall (.343 BA), and #6 hitter Ryan Wright (.343 BA). Overall, Louisville is a very good offensive team, and you can look no further than their two games against IU this year where they scored 25 runs to attest to that fact.
Behind the Plate Prediction: Hoosiers take tournament opener 8-4. Yes, I will admit this prediction may be a bit over-optimistic. Nevertheless, I really and truly believe the Hoosier can take the opener from the Cardinals. Although Louisville racked up the wins this year both in and out of conference play and took both midweek games from the Hoosiers, this Cardinals team is by no means invincible. Louisville plays in a conference in the Big East that is far weaker at the top and from top to bottom as a whole than is the Big Ten. Louisville is the lone NCAA tournament representative from the Big East this year, while the Big Ten got three teams in (and an argument could have been made for four if you consider what Illinois did this year). In addition, Louisville dropped three of its five games against Notre Dame this year (and both of their wins were one-run games), a team that finished fifth in the Big East. While the Hoosiers dropped their first contest with Louisville handily this season, they gave the Cardinals a much better game in Bloomington. As we all are well aware, IU struggled mightily in midweek games, and the team is much more tailor made for a tournament setup like the NCAA regional, something I think bodes well for the ballclub heading into Friday.
The Cardinals do have several weapons at the plate, but until someone proves to me that they can beat IU when Eric Arnett is on the mound, I am not going to bet against the Hoosiers. There is no denying the talent and ability of Marks on the mound, but the IU offense is hitting on all cylinders right now, and as a team, they are playing their best baseball of the season. IU rolled through the Big Ten Tournament and was hardly challenged, while the Cardinals actually dropped a game to the Fighting Irish and had another close call with Notre Dame that same day that nearly knocked them out of the Big East Tournament altogether.
All things being said, I think the Hoosiers will surprise a lot of people and take home a W in their regional opener. Arnett will be tested by the Cardinals' power and overall team hitting prowess, but at the end of the day, I look for IU's bats to get to Marks at some point, paving the way for a big victory to kick things off down in the Bluegrass state.
Consult the Tournament Logistics post below for all the relevant details for those of you making the trek to Louisville this weekend as well as for those who will be following the Hoosiers from home. GO HOOSIERS!
**Check out the NCAA Regional Preview Part, II on Baseball America here. I would suggest starting at about the 1/4 way mark to hear their thoughts on the Louisville bracket.
**It is also worth checking out College Baseball Today to at least see a picture of Dunning after the celebration here.
**Patrick Ebert of PG Crosschecker, when referring to the draft status of Eric Arnett, says "it’s not a leap to think Arnett could go in the top 10." Check out the full article here.**