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Much at stake for USF baseball at Louisville

Kudos to the folks who put together the Big East baseball schedule, which has the league's top two teams meeting in the final weekend as USF and Louisville square off starting tonight. If that weren't drama enough, you have USF coach Lelo Prado returning to the program he coached for 11 seasons, leaving as the Cardinals' winningest coach with 320 career victories.

And while we've established that USF (32-20) can clinch a share of the regular-season Big East crown by winning just one of three games this weekend, there's more than first in play. Should USF fail to get that single win, the Bulls could fall as far as fourth place if West Virginia and St. John's are able to sweep their final series.

If there's something to be learned from USF softball missing the NCAA cut this week, it's that Prado's team, even with a regular-season Big East crown, likely needs to win the conference tournament to make the NCAAs. Softball's RPI was in the mid-40s and wasn't enough, and baseball's current RPI is 69, according to WarrenNolan.com.

USF actually had a higher RPI last season, when the Bulls went 31-27 and 14-13 in conference play to finish with an RPI of 64. Remember how softball was just 3-13 against RPI top 50 opponents? Baseball is 0-4 against the top 50, and the highest-rated team the Bulls have beaten is No. 68 Notre Dame, going 1-2 against them last weekend.

The Bulls' 14-14 nonconference record certainly hurts -- losing to Florida (RPI 6), Oklahoma (22) and Boston College (36) is one thing, but going 0-4 against Florida Gulf Coast (40), Jacksonville (52) and FIU (63) looks bad for USF.

Having said that, Louisville has an RPI of 27, so two or three wins this weekend, plus two or three wins in the conference tournament, could put USF into the 50s in the RPI and at least onto the bubble. WarrenNolan.com rates the Big East as the 12th-best conference in college baseball, so there's no real assurance of anything more than its automatic bid. Last year, St. John's got an at-large as the Big East regular-season champ, but with an RPI of 53 and just a 1-4 record against top 50 opponents, but with a solid 42-16 overall record.

USF will throw No. 2 starter Derrick Stultz (5-3, 4.21 ERA) tonight against Louisville ace Justin Marks (8-2, 3.81) -- a win tonight would take much of the pressure off USF the rest of the weekend. Marks shut out the Bulls for six innings in Tampa last year in a 10-2 Louisville win.

-- One more note on this: It was pointed out to me that if USF wins just one game this weekend and West Virginia gets a three-game sweep, both teams will finish 19-8, the teams will share the regular-season championship, even though USF swept the Mountaineers in their three-game series. The Big East uses head-to-head competition for seeding purposes, but simply splits a tie in the regular-season standings, rather than put one team ahead of another. So for USF to clinch the regular-season title by itself, the Bulls need two wins this weekend, or a win and a West Virginia loss ...

[Last modified: Thursday, May 27, 2010 6:26pm]

    

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