Postseason magic: something every sports fan dreams of. South Carolina fans know the feeling all too well, as seen by the historic tear that the basketball team embarked on. We all saw it last season, when Coastal Carolina got hot at the right time as they captured the College World Series title, something very few saw coming.
Herein lies the beauty of postseason sports: when attempting to identify the favorite to win it all, there will always be a Cinderella team making headlines and history to skew the initial forecast. However, barring any aforementioned postseason magic, there are three teams who have the best shot at taking hope the SEC Championship.
The #4 team nationally, the Gators are expected to not only compete for an SEC title, but an NCAA one as well. After capturing the SEC East regular season title, Florida has a talented pitching staff headlined by projected first-round pick Alex Faedo. Their potent and experienced rotation will be what propels them to the title. Despite lacking a true star hitter, the offense as a whole is consistently efficient, with every starter having an on-base-percentage over .317. Florida is a well-oiled machine with few weaknesses, making them the favorites in the SEC tournament.
The #2 seed in the SEC Tournament, LSU has the right amount of talent and coaching to make yet another run to Omaha this postseason. After a 10-8 start to the season, the team’s seniors rallied the team together. Since then, LSU is 29-9. Led by stud right fielder Greg Deichmann and his 17 home runs, LSU has an incredible offense, which boasts all nine starters sporting on-base-percentages over .348. LSU has a deep and talented pitching staff, featuring formidable weekend trio Alex Lange, Jared Poche, and Eric Walker. Closers Zach Hess and Hunter Newman have been incredibly effective, as Newman’s 0.81 ERA and nine saves will come in handy in clutch situations. Something always clicks for LSU in May, and this year is no exception. This team has gotten hot at the right time, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them make it to Omaha for the second time in three years.
Dark Horse: #6 seed Vanderbilt
Talent. Experience. Pedigree. This team has all three. Pitcher Kyle Wright is projected to be a top-five draft in this summer’s MLB Draft, with teammate Jeren Kendall likely joining him in the first round. Even in a down season, Vanderbilt is still a dangerous team. The top of their lineup (Toffey, Infante, and Kendall) have combined for 34 homers, and their pitching staff features three very-good starters. Another thing that makes this team dangerous is the fact that they have been here before, making it to the College World Series in 2014 and 2015. If this team can get hot, they could make serious noise in the SEC Tournament.
South Carolina’s Chances
Barring an incredible run, South Carolina is not a contender, a shocking fall from grace from the preseason #5 team in the nation. A win against a talented Vanderbilt team is unlikely, and even if Carolina beats them, a good Kentucky team will be waiting. This could very well be the end of the season, capping off a campaign of disappointment and falling short of expectations. Here’s a equally depressing fact for you: in the last twenty seasons, only two times has USC had a losing record in the SEC. That would be this year and 2015. Nice.
Bracket and How To Watch
All games will stream live on WatchESPN.com and on the ESPN app.
How to Watch South Carolina vs. Vanderbilt
When: 10:30 on Tuesday morning.
Where: Hoover Met Stadium in Hoover, Alabama.
Where to Watch: SEC Network, WatchESPN.
In a crucial single-elimination game, it is likely that South Carolina needs a win here to keep their postseason hopes alive. With the season on the line, this game is the biggest of the season.
How to Watch the Tournament