Sports, Thrill of Victory

Around the SEC: Teams continue push for NCAA tournament

Texas A&M's Kyle Simonds celebrates his no-hitter against Vanderbilt. PHOTO COURTESY TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY

Chris Lee brings you the latest news and notes around the Southeastern Conference.

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Simonds says, “No hits for you!”

Texas A&M's Kyle Simonds celebrates his no-hitter against Vanderbilt. PHOTO COURTESY TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY

Texas A&M’s Kyle Simonds celebrates his no-hitter against Vanderbilt. PHOTO COURTESY TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY

When Texas A&M’s Kyle Simonds blanked Vanderbilt in a 3-0 game on Saturday, he did something that no SEC pitcher had done since 1994: throw a no-hitter in league play. If it weren’t for a first-inning error by shortstop Austin Homan, the Aggie hurler would have had a perfect game. Simonds wasn’t overpowering—he struck out just four Commodores—but was economical, hurling an 81-pitch complete game.

It was A&M’s first no-hitter since Ross Stripling, now a starting pitcher with the Los Angeles Dodgers, threw one in 2012.

Shamsid-Deen, Reed leave Auburn hoops

Coach Bruce Pearl has issues getting Auburn basketball turned around, and his job just got tougher. 

Point guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen has quit basketball due to chronic issues with his shoulders; he started all 30 games for Auburn as a freshman in 2013-14 and averaged 9.5 points and 2.9 assists. 

Center Trayvon Reed, a former blue-chip recruit, is no longer with the program. The 7-foot-2 center’s career had been overshadowed by off-court troubles and sat out last year after averaging 1.1 points and two rebounds in 23 games in 2014-15. 

Auburn went 11-20 last season, and 5-13 in the Southeastern Conference.

The race for the NCAA Tournament

The Southeastern Conference has nine teams squarely in contention for a bid for June’s NCAA Baseball Tournament, and a number of them are in line to host a regional, or better.

Top-ranked Florida remains the nations’s No. 1 RPI team; with a 41-8 overall mark that includes 14 wins against top-50 teams and 26 against the top 100, it’s hard to conceive of a scenario in which the Gators don’t get one of eight national seeds (those guarantee hosting a super regional also), let alone one of 16 host spots. UF projects as the top national seed at the moment.

Texas A&M (RPI: 3) also looks to be a slam-dunk pick as a national seed at the moment. The Aggies bolstered their résumé with a series win over Vanderbilt, have 11 top-50 wins and 22 against top-100 teams.

From there, things are a bit less clear.

Auburn point guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen's shoulder issues ended his basketball career. PHOTO COURTESY AUBURN UNIVERSITY

Auburn point guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen’s shoulder issues ended his basketball career. PHOTO COURTESY AUBURN UNIVERSITY

South Carolina (5) would certainly host at the moment, and likely be a national seed. But Carolina dropped two of three games to Kentucky over the weekend, and its only notable weekend series victory came over Ole Miss (7), which was a sweep.

As for the Rebels, that gaudy RPI would seem to lock them in as at least a host for the time. But Ole Miss needs to close strong, and that won’t be easy with a Kentucky (46) team that’s tough on the weekends, followed by a regular-season ending trip to A&M.

Mississippi State (8) would seem to be a near-lock for a national seed if the field were set today; few teams in the country match the Bulldogs’ weekend résumé. The Bulldogs should win their two upcoming series (at Auburn-124, Arkansas-85) but those two teams won’t offer much of an RPI boost, meaning that MSU has much more to lose than to gain.

D1 Baseball projected LSU (13) as a host (Baseball America did not) this week, and that was before a doubleheader sweep at Notre Dame. But the Tigers probably can’t afford to stumble in a road trip to pesky Tennessee this weekend with a season-ending home-stand with Florida looming. 

It’s hard to know what to do with Vanderbilt (9). Neither national outlet had the ‘Dores even hosting this weekend, but if VU could somehow win a series in Gainesville this weekend, that RPI would move up and it might be hard to deny VU a national seed, much less a host spot. But without it, VU could well end up on the road, perhaps even as a 1-seed. 

Few question whether the ‘Dores are one of the country’s best 16 teams, but with a weekend résumé that’s a bit lacking (the only marquee series win came when VU took two of three against South Carolina, though it did also beat Kentucky by the same count). With so many SEC teams in the mix, VU may be the seventh of the seven SEC teams here. The NCAA has never given a league seven hosts and although it’s not a rule, most national pundits see that working against Vandy.

Kentucky, with series wins against Carolina and Florida, looks safe so long as it can win at least two of six games between Ole Miss and Missouri, which would give the Wildcats a .500 league mark. 

Alabama’s RPI (60) has moved into dangerous territory, but a .500 league mark—the Crimson Tide is 12-12 and has remaining series at Arkansas and home against Carolina—should be good enough. 

Tennessee's Nick Senzel is having a banner year at the plate and in the field. PHOTO COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE

Tennessee’s Nick Senzel is having a banner year at the plate and in the field. PHOTO COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE

BASEBALL POWER RANKINGS

  1. Florida: Gators are 41-8, and not even getting the most from All-Americans A.J. Puk or J.J. Schwarz.
  2. Texas A&M: Aggies lead SEC with 152 league runs.
  3. Mississippi State: MSU’s played everyone in the top half of the rankings except Carolina.
  4. Vanderbilt: Commodores’ 2.92 ERA in SEC games is 0.66 better than second-place Alabama.
  5. South Carolina: Gamecocks need to get talented John Jones (8-for-46 in last month) going again. 
  6. Ole Miss: Rebels are 14-10 despite plus-1 run differential in SEC games.
  7. LSU: Tigers could be elite if Jared Poché and Alex Lange pitch to potential. 
  8. Kentucky: ‘Cats are really tough when talented-but-erratic Zach Brown and Kyle Cody pitch well. 
  9. Alabama: Scored a league-low 98 runs in conference games. 
  10. Tennessee: Runs scored/allowed differential suggests Vols should be 31-18, not 26-23.
  11. Arkansas: Off-year can be summed up this way: no dependable starting pitching. 
  12. Auburn: Tigers got OF Josh Palacios (.405/.483/.649) back this week after a 19-game absence. 
  13. Georgia: Bulldogs have played nation’s toughest schedule according to pretty much every computer rating. 
  14. Missouri: Hard-luck ace Tanner Houck has 3.20 ERA despite 3.5 walks per nine, .194 average against.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR (pitchers not included; estimated runs created per 27 outs in parenthesis)

  1. Boomer White, 3B, TAMU (12.30): Hitting .520/.565/.694 in league play; leads league in each.  
  2. Nick Senzel, 3B/SS, Tennessee (10.42): Last year’s second baseman moved to third, and then short when injuries struck. 
  3. Anfernee Grier, CF, Auburn (10.87): .477 BABIP bound to return to earth, but it’s a remarkable season any way you view it. 
  4. Bryan Reynolds, CF, Vanderbilt (9.53): Started every game and played errorless defense.
  5. Gene Cone, CF/RF, South Carolina (9.57): Second to White (.422/.527/.644) in SEC “slash” categories.

PITCHER OF THE YEAR (ERA, BR/IP, IP, K, BB)

  1. Jordan Sheffield, Vanderbilt (2.09, 1.18, 77.2, 92, 26): Second in overall ERA, third in strikeouts. 
  2. Clarke Schmidt, South Carolina (2.37, 1.15, 83.2, 98, 15): Leads league in strikeouts. 
  3. Dustin Beggs, Kentucky (2.50, 0.87, 70, 14): Has allowed a remarkable 0.87 runners per inning. 
  4. Logan Shore, Florida (2.32, 1.07, 73.2, 70, 12): He’s about as steady as they come. 
  5. (T) Kyle Wright, Vanderbilt (1.89, 1.29, 66.2, 73, 21): Leads league in ERA in all games, (T) Jake Walters: (1.98, 1.35, 68.33, 67, 25): Leads league in conference ERA (1.38).