Oklahoma vs. (4) LSU
Friday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN; Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN; Sunday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN (if necessary)
After they both lost to a conference rival on April 28, it would have been hard at the end of the regular season to find two teams that looked much different than LSU and Oklahoma. The Tigers seemed to pick up steam for the rest of the year, winning nine of their last 11 games, including taking series from tournament teams Florida, Texas A&M and Ole Miss.
Oklahoma did pretty much the exact opposite. The Sooners went 3-8 over their last 11 games, losing series to tournament teams Oklahoma State and Kansas State, but also dropping a set to West Virginia and losing two games to Dallas Baptist a couple of weeks apart. That slump didn't account for all of the difference between Oklahoma's 36-19 record and LSU 48-8 standings at the end of the regular season, but it comes close.
But once the two teams entered tournament play, LSU stayed red hot -- while Oklahoma largely caught up. The Tigers tore through the SEC tournament, picking up a loss along the way, and then swept the Baton Rouge Regional in three games. Oklahoma arguably did even better; the Sooners won four straight in the Big 12 tournament before sweeping the Blacksburg Regional as the No. 2 seed.
Since then, the world has been a complicated place for Jonathan Gray. The Sooners' most dominating pitcher was reported on Monday to have tested positive for Adderall -- something that doesn't affect his NCAA eligibility but could make him subject to extra testing in pro baseball. Not that the test appears to have hurt his draft stock all that much; he went No. 3 in the MLB Draft on Thursday. How any of that affects his mindset is a mystery until he takes the mound. But the Sooners need him to win, even if the second pitcher (Dillon Overton) is also great and their third starter for the regional (Jake Fisher) was solid in the latter part of the season. If Oklahoma can't win with Gray on the mound, it's hard to see them sweeping the last two games without him. Oklahoma's biggest bat by far is Matt Oberste, whose OPS is an eye-popping 1.081, but the Sooners' lineup doesn't have the depth of LSU, so they need their best pitcher to win.
Of course, Gray will have the task of matching up with Aaron Nola, who is himself pretty good, if you accept a 1.82 ERA, undefeated record and 111 strikeouts in 109 innings as proof of being pretty good. The rest of the rotation probably won't be known until after tonight's game, but it's hard to see how Cody Glenn doesn't get a start at some point if it goes to three games, now that he's officially back on the team. With the offense that LSU can put together, it's hard to see even Oklahoma's talented rotation holding up for long.
Prediction: LSU sweeps in two