FIRST BASE // 02.16.09

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If you go looking for South Carolina in its usual lofty position in the preseason baseball rankings, you won't find it. The Gamecocks are nowhere to be found in the Baseball America Top 25, and Collegiate Baseball has them at 42nd, technically in the "Other Teams Receiving Votes" category. Tied for 42nd in USA Today/ESPN.

That's not really a surprise, given the post-2008 departures. Among the names from last year's team not on this season's roster: Justin Smoak, James Darnell, Reese Havens and Phil Disher. That's 79 home runs last season, including the all-time South Carolina career leader (Smoak, no matter what Ron Morris says). The next highest guy on the list, DeAngelo Mack, hit seven in 2008.

There's a little bit more cause for optimism about the pitching. Sam Dyson and Blake Cooper are back.

Just a basis for understanding before we get into some deeper previews later in the week: This is a rebuilding year. Seven players were drafted off the 2008 squad. There are eight seniors on the 2009 team. And don't worry if you can't name them -- beyond Andrew Crisp, maybe Curtis Johnson and maybemaybemaybe Craig Thomas, I would be shocked if you had ever heard of any of them. Many of them have had injury or transfer issues.

Where does that leave the Gamecocks? Well, if the preseason polls are accurate, they're probably in the tournament, but not much more.

Of course, Ray Tanner has a say in all of this, and we'll see what he can do with this team. But I wouldn't be buying any tickets to Omaha just yet.

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