It’s Baseball Time in Tennessee: Vols at Clemson Regional Preview (June 2-4)

Recently: Tennessee had the shortest stay possible in the SEC tournament, losing on day one to Texas A&M, a team they had swept back in March. 

UT's region mates had better luck in their conference tournaments. National #4 seed Clemson (43-17, 24-10 ACC) is 23-2 in their last 25 games, winning 16 in a row coming into the NCAA tournament, including sweeping their way through the ACC tournament--although they dodged national #1 seed Wake Forest in that bracket. Charlotte (34-26, 17-12 AAC) has won nine of their last ten, including a midweek win over South Carolina back on May 16 and a 5-2 win over a top-20 nationally ranked Dallas Baptist team in the American tournament championship. ASUN regular season and tournament champions Lipscomb (36-24, 23-7) nearly got knocked out of their conference tourney early before righting their ship and beating FGCU for the title. The Bison also picked up a win against Arkansas back on May 2.

Previously on Vols in the NCAA Regionals: UT went 3-0 in the Knoxville Regional a year ago, beating Alabama State, Campbell, and Georgia State. 

Tennessee has not played Clemson or Charlotte this season, but did beat Lipscomb 10-0 on March 14.

What to Watch: Clemson is the #4 seed nationally for a reason. They are arguably the hottest team coming into the tournament. At this point in the season though, you're only playing teams that are good, and Charlotte and Lipscomb both have some nice pieces too. Charlotte's Cam Fisher, for example, led the nation in home runs and is top-10 in OPS as well. Here's a chart of the top 20 hitters in this regional, sorted by OPS:

Keep in mind, of course that these teams haven't all played equal opponents. Clemson's SOS is top-10, Tennessee's is around 20, while Charlotte is somewhere in the 50-range and Lipscomb is around 150. With that knowledge, it's nice to know that UT leads the teams in this regional despite playing a pretty tough schedule. 

Seeing how much Lipscomb and especially Charlotte (UT's first opponent) strike out warms my orange little heart, since the Vols lead these teams in throwing strikeouts, too. 

Speaking of pitching, it's hard to know how to weigh the pitching stats in a scenario like a regional tournament. Typically, when looking at a three-game weekend series, it's enough to concentrate on three starters and a handful of bullpen guys. But when you might have to throw four games in three days, the pitching rotation gets thrown wide open. It's possible guys who have only been called on in midweek games have to take the hill in real pressure situations this weekend. So I'm giving you pitching stats broken out in a couple of different ways, on the left sorted by ERA (minimum 50 batters faced) and on the right sorted by strikeouts. Choose your flavor. 

The data seems to be supporting the common sense idea that this region should come down to Tennessee and Clemson. Pitching-wise, both the Vols and Tigers have a lot of guys with low ERAs despite facing stiff competition, and while Charlotte has a ton of strikeouts spread among several pitchers, you can imagine that they've feasted on some of the weaker teams they've played. Best news is that Tennessee's leads all four teams in many traditional pitching stats: 

You'd think the #4 overall seed would be given a fairly easy road to Omaha. But the numbers say Tennessee is right there with Clemson statistically, and the betting odds say the same--BetUS has Clemson at +105 to win the regional, UT is +125; while DraftKings has Tennessee at better overall odds (+2000) to win the whole CWS than Clemson (+2500). Did Tennessee get screwed by receiving what is essentially the number 29 overall seed? Or did Clemson get screwed by having a team that was on the bubble to be a host school itself as their #2 seed? Pundits have argued both. You can also argue that Tennessee is no real threat when not playing at the friendly confines of Lindsey Nelson Stadium. 

The good news for UT, a team that has relied heavily on home runs to win games this year, is that Clemson's Doug Kingsmore Stadium has similar dimensions to LNS, being at most 10 feet deeper to any one part of the park. Ironically, despite playing in a hitter-friendly park, Clemson has the fewest home runs of anyone in the field this weekend. If the Vols can generate some offense and the pitching staff lives up to their ability, there's a tremendous opportunity for Tennessee to advance from this regional. 

The Clemson regional winner will face the Auburn regional (#13 Auburn, Southern Miss, Samford, Penn) winner in the super regional round next weekend. 


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