The NCAA Regionals start on Friday with the Hawkeyes starting their tournament off against the Houston Cougars at 7:05 p.m. on ESPNU. The Hawkeyes will have their hands full in the regional - according to D1Baseball, Iowa has an RPI of 83. Meanwhile, the other three teams in the regional (Houston, Baylor, and Texas A&M), have a combined RPI of 83. Essentially, this is a mark on Iowa’s weak schedule, but it just shows how well-tested their opponents will be in this regional.
Luckily enough, the NCAA Regionals happen to be double elimination, so if the Hawkeyes stumble somewhere along the way, they’ll have an opportunity to play themselves back into it from the other side. The winner of the Houston Regional goes on to the Super Regionals, which is a Best-of-3 series against the winner of the Chapel Hill Regional (North Carolina, Florida Gulf Coast, Michigan, and Davidson).
*All rankings and RPI from D1baseball.com.
#15 Houston Cougars (40-19, RPI: 17)
The Cougars are a #1 seed and the clear best team in their own regional, but they’ve been especially hot as of late. They made quick work of their opponents in the AAC Tournament, winning all four of their games by a combined 18 runs. They’ve also won their last six games and 10 of their last 12. In fact, they haven’t had any pronounced struggles all year long - they suffered one losing streak of three-games at the end of April but for the most part have been able to avoid falling into a deep rut.
To start with their pitching staff, they have a bunch of great arms that they can likely ride to the Super Regionals. They’ll probably trot AAC Pitcher of the Year Trey Cumbie to the mound against the Hawkeyes in the first game of the regional, but the legitimacy of their staff doesn’t stop there.
Look at that. With a few exceptions, everyone on that staff is really good, but because of the depth of their bullpen, you probably won’t see the guys at the bottom of that list unless Houston feels confident in their lead. They have three bonafide starters and a couple guys who could start and be effective if needed. Iowa has the bats to do some damage against them (hell, they knocked around the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year in the conference tourney), but whether or not they have the bats to wipe out all Houston’s arms is a different question.
Offensively, Houston might be the team in this regional that’s better than the Hawkeyes. They don’t necessarily have a Jake Adams, but they do have AAC Player of the Year Jake Scheiner on their team, who hit a mere .347 with 18 doubles, 17 home runs, and 57 RBI. After that, there’s a pretty big drop off, but you could say the same about Iowa behind Jake Adams as well. The Cougars just get guys on base and get them over until they’ve crushed your hopes and dreams. They have 11 guys who regularly see playing time with an on-base percentage of .360 or higher and have hit 55 home runs as a team this year. They’ve also hit an absurd 25 triples on the year. Pair that with a definite hitter’s ballpark, and they’ll be a tough matchup if their pitching lives up to its billing.
Baylor Bears (34-21, RPI: 20)
Baylor is similar to Houston offensively, but they fail to compare on the defensive side of things, which is why they could actually be a really good matchup for Iowa in Houston. The Bears looked like they were heating up at the right time heading into the Big 12 Tournament with seven consecutive wins, but lost their final two games of the regular season to Kansas State and then both of its conference tournament games. Their performance in these streaks is like night and day, too - during their seven-game winning streak, they scored 84 runs, but in their season ending four-game losing streak, they scored just 15 runs, including only two in the Big 12 Tournament. Which team will show up in the regional? Well,, it hard to say.
Let’s talk about their offense before we get into an interesting pitching staff. I already touched on the fact that it’s similar to Houston’s - they have a season batting average of .296, which is the highest in the regional, and also a high team on-base percentage to go along with that. They don’t, however, have anyone who is especially prone to hitting the long ball. They hit 49 as a team in 2017 with two players that share the team lead with 10, while a plethora of others have just a handful.
Now let’s get into the pitching staff. Here is a quick look at how their staff statistics look.
They do have some really good pitchers on this staff. Troy Montemayor is the anchor of what is actually a pretty good bullpen - it’s not as deep as Houston’s bullpen, but the Bears have their fair share of good arms that can help lock down a late lead. However, their starting pitching is really suspect after Big 12 Newcomer of the Year and likely Game 1 starter Montana Parsons. Cody Bradford and Nick Lewis tied Parsons for number of starts, but they didn’t have the same results, as they pitched to the tune of a 4.91 and 6.10 ERA, respectively. If the Hawkeyes draw Baylor at any point this weekend, there’s a good chance that Jake Adams and Co. will be able to rough the Bears up before they can get to their solid bullpen.
Texas A&M Aggies (36-21, RPI: 46)
Last up, we have the Aggies. They really backed into the regional, having lost 7 of their last 9 regular season games and suffering a first round SEC Tournament exit to Mizzou. They did play some pretty stout competition during that stretch, but for a team that as good as A&M was, it’s still a disappointing way to end the year. Offensively, they’re the weakest team in this regional, but they might give Houston a run for the strongest pitching staff.
The Aggies have the lowest team batting average, total runs scored, home runs, and on-base percentage in the Houston Regional. They are, however, led by SEC Freshman of the Year Braden Shewmake offensively - the freshman hit .343 with 16 doubles, 10 home runs, and 64 RBI on the year, which is definitely nothing to scoff at. Behind him, there are a few players who hit for average, but none of them have a ton of pop in their aluminum bats. They have just other three players with over 10 or more doubles, while the highest home run total other than Shewmake’s is six. They’re probably not going to put up a whole lot of runs, but they might not have to.
Look at that staff. It’s wonderful. They have three really good starters in Brigham Hill, Corbin Martin, and Stephen Kolek, while Kaylor Chafin is dominant out of the ‘pen. This might be the best rotation Iowa’s seen all year, folks. Even the “duds” at the back of their bullpen are pretty decent and are better than some of the guys Iowa has to rely upon heavily over the course of the season. Their worst reliever by ERA (Probably John Doxakis and his 20 appearances) has a better ERA than almost half of Iowa’s staff. If anyone in this regional can shut down the Iowa offense, it’s the Aggies, and I wouldn’t necessarily count it out. With an offense as average as theirs was, this pitching staff had to be dominant to get to this point.