Weekend sets up Big East tourney for Bulls
USF baseball opens a big three-game series at Pittsburgh, wrapping up the regular season and setting the tone for next week's Big East tournament in Clearwater.
The Bulls (23-29, 14-10) sit fifth in the league standings entering the weekend, with the possibility to move up or down a single spot in the seedings, but nothing more. You can tell a lot more about USF's conference record by the strength of their opponents -- against the other teams in the top six in the league, the Bulls are just 2-7, while their record against the bottom six of the standings is a solid 12-3.
Who will the Bulls open with in Clearwater's double-elimination field? There are 16 scenarios for the two series of relevance to USF -- the Bulls vs. Pittsburgh, and fourth-place St. John's at sixth-place Rutgers. Out of all these possibilities, just two, both involving a USF road sweep of the Panthers, allow the Bulls to take the fourth seed.
The most likely scenario is staying in fifth place, and the most likely opening opponent is St. John's, which took two of three games from the Bulls when they played two weeks ago. Coach Lelo Prado has confidence in his top starter, junior Randy Fontanez, and is hopeful that junior lefty Andrew Barbosa can return this weekend after being limited by a knee injury the past two weeks. Those two are among the league's top four in conference ERA, so they can set USF up with two strong starts, if healthy.
The key to success in Clearwater is winning your first two games, which gives you a day off and a spot in the semifinals, where you need just one win in two tries to reach the finals. USF has gone 2-2 in the last three Big East tournaments, and only once have they had a 2-0 start, having spoiled that by getting shut out twice on the same day by Connecticut in the 2007 semifinals.
We'll update the standings after each game this weekend, and we'll be out at Bright House Field for next week's tournament as well ...