KNOW THE FOES
Breaking down the five teams on LSU’s side of the bracket in Hoover
1. South Carolina: LSU won’t be in Hoover long if it can’t get past South Carolina in a do-or-die game on Tuesday night. The Gamecocks were the last team into the tournament, finishing one win ahead of Kentucky and Alabama for the No. 12 spot. If there’s one thing that makes South Carolina dangerous, it’s their power. Four Gamecocks finished the regular season with 10+ home runs.
2. Mississippi State: Should LSU get past South Carolina, the SEC West co-champions will be next on the schedule. The Bulldogs won 20 SEC games and figure to receive a national seed in the NCAA Tournament next week after a strong season, but LSU did go into Starkville and win two out of three during the regular season. The Bulldogs are led by a strong lineup and the one-two pitching punch of Ethan Small and JT Gunn.
3. Vanderbilt: Vanderbilt won the SEC outright with 23 league wins, two clear of second-place Georgia, and LSU will surely have to go through the Commodores at some point if they want to advance out of this bracket. Vanderbilt is led by two legitimate SEC Player of the Year candidates in Austin Martin (.432 BA, 71 R) and JJ Bleday (25 HR, 65 RBI).
4. Auburn: Any team with high-end starting pitching must be considered a threat to go on a run in the SEC Tournament, and Auburn certainly has that now that Jack Owen (4-2, 2.37 ERA) and Tanner Burns (4-3, 2.80 ERA) are healthy. LSU nearly swept Auburn to close out the regular season but had to settle for winning two out of three.
5. Tennessee: Though they finished just 14-16 in SEC play, Tennessee was one of the league’s pleasant surprises this season under second-year coach Tony Vietlo. The Volunteers rank near the middle of the league in most statistical categories, but they’re lineup features the dangerous combination of Alerick Soularie (.365 BA, 11 HR, 45 RBI) and Andre Lipcius (.307, 16 HR, 56 RBI).
1. Vanderbilt OF JJ Bleday: Bleday has developed into the most feared slugger in the SEC. He led the league with 25 home runs during the regular season, nine more than anybody else, and finished tied with teammate Ethan Paul for the league lead with 64 RBI. His slugging percentage (.748) was .100 points higher than the next best in the league.
2. Mississippi State OF Jake Mangum: The SEC’s new all-time hit king had himself another outstanding season as the catalyst for the highest-scoring lineup in the league. Mangum finished second in the SEC in batting average (.375) and third in runs scored (65). Nobody had more hits (95) than the speedy center fielder this season.
3. Arkansas SS Casey Martin: Like Vanderbilt, it’s hard to pick on dude out of an Arkansas lineup that’s chocked full of them. Heston Kjerstad could’ve been the pick here, but Martin had a monster season and is one of the best shortstops in the SEC. Martin belted 15 home runs this season and only Bleday accounted for more total bases (144) this season.
4. Tennessee 3B Andre Lipcius: A relative unknown before the season, the powerful third baseman burst onto the scene in 2019 and helped power a Tennessee team that surpassed most expectations. Lipcius hit .306 this season with 16 home runs (second to Bleday), 15 doubles and 56 RBI. He also stole 10 bases.
5. Florida OF Brady McConnell: It’s been a down year for Florida, who at this point is no lock to make the NCAA Tournament, but the Gators would already be dead and buried were it not for a monster season from McConnell. He hit .344 with 15 home runs and at times carried the Gator lineup all by himself while other struggled to produce.
1. Georgia RHP Emerson Hancock: Aside from a brief bout with arm soreness, the Georgia ace has been unstoppable this season. The sophomore went 8-2 for the Bulldogs this season and led the SEC in both ERA (1.31) and opposing batting average (.155).
2. Missouri LHP TJ Sikkema: LSU has never been able to do much with this nasty left-hander, and based on his 2019 season, the Tigers aren’t alone in that regard. Sikkema (1.32) finished behind only Hancock for the best ERA in the league.
3. Arkansas RHP Isaiah Campbell: Campbell has blossomed from an inconsistent No. 3 starter to a steady ace for the SEC West co-champions. He finished 10-1 with a 2.50 ERA and struck out 97 batters in 90 innings.
4. Mississippi State LHP Ethan Small: Nobody in the SEC punched out more hitters this season than Small (139), and he did it in just 83 innings of work. The Bulldog ace was 8-1 this season and pitched to an ERA of 1.84, good for third in the league.
5. Texas A&M LHP John Doxakis: Texas A&M has been the best pitching staff in the SEC this season from top to bottom, and Doxakis is the ringleader. He might now have the nastiest stuff on his own team (see: Asa Lacy), but the veteran lefty was 7-3 this season with a 2.01 ERA.