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2012 SEC Baseball Tournament: First Round Preview

If you feel like the SEC baseball regular season just started yesterday -- well, you're not alone. But the SEC baseball tournament really does start tomorrow, with a slate of four games stretching from the time McDonald's stops serving breakfast to one hour after Whataburger starts serving it in the Eastern time zone. (Um -- breakfast for dinner.)

One of the benefits of the crazy end to the SEC regular season means we have some solid teams and intriguing storylines running through the first day. A couple of teams are trying to keep a late-season boom going while former front-runner Kentucky is trying to steady the ship. LSU and South Carolina get to sit this round out after winning the top two seeds, but they get to mix it up with some of the winners, and we're about to start several days of great SEC baseball.

(9) Ole Miss vs. (4) Kentucky, 10:30 a.m. ET
Both teams come in having lost four straight games -- one to a decided non-SEC underdog and the last three to a hot team from the conference. They're also more evenly matched than you might think from having seen the Wildcats and the Rebel Black Bears' respective seasons play out. In SEC games, Kentucky trails Ole Miss in OPS by .001 and holds an advantage of .40 runs in ERA. The Wildcats also come in disappointed by falling completely out of the SEC and SEC East championship races, but they're still probably good enough to take care of Ole Miss in what could be a closer-than-expected game.

(7) Mississippi State vs. (6) Arkansas, 30 minutes after Ole Miss-Kentucky
The Razorbacks were actually doing pretty well until running into South Carolina and Auburn(!), but rallied to sweep Tennessee, which vied all year with Alabama for the title of the worst SEC team. Mississippi State, as we noted on Saturday, finished up a torrid streak over the last few weeks of the season by sweeping Kentucky. Neither of these teams tear up the ball on offense, but both pitch pretty well. Last I heard, the Western Division Bulldogs were not going to start Chris Stratton in this game -- which is probably the right strategy in a double-elimination tournament -- but I still think that the hot streak continues and gives us a small upset in the first round.

(10) Auburn vs. (3) Florida, 5:30 p.m. ET
Why does this game sound so familiar? Oh, yeah, maybe it's because Florida went to Auburn and took two of three from the Tigers this past weekend. The Gators won their two games in that series by a combined 15 runs; Auburn eked out a one-run win in the series finale. Auburn has a great offense, leading the conference in SEC play with a .770 OPS, but Florida's pitching staff is good enough to keep the Tigers' bats in check for another game.

(8) Georgia vs. (5) Vanderbilt, 30 minutes after Auburn-Florida
Here's another case of hot versus cold. Georgia won one its last five SEC series and ended the season by losing two straight against Alabama. Vanderbilt, meanwhile, has been on the kind of roll that makes them immensely dangerous in a tournament like this. (Though, ironically, the last time the Commodores lost an SEC series was against Alabama.) In that time, Vanderbilt won series against Kentucky and at LSU in addition to the sweep of Ole Miss to end the year. Georgia's a sliver better on offense and Vanderbilt holds a slight edge on pitching, but this game seems more about momentum, and the Commodores remain scorching.