BOZICH | Monday Muse: Louisville and Kentucky jostle for NCAA baseball position
Who needs the win more Tuesday night: Louisville or Kentucky baseball? Another former Cardinal player is getting closer to the big leagues. Who is Lee Corso's sleeper pick?
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Outside, it looks like three more shopping days until Christmas. Inside looks like the place to play baseball these days.
The calendar and weather refuse to sync. Baseball has enough trouble commanding the stage. Mr. Sun has not helped. It is the fervent wish of the Monday Muse that the projected forecast of 61 degrees and clear skies is fulfilled at 6 p.m. Tuesday when Kentucky and Louisville play baseball at Jim Patterson Stadium.
1. More Than Your Typical U of L-UK Baseball Game
The University of Louisville baseball team has hosted an NCAA Tournament regional five straight seasons. Kentucky was booked to play here in 2014. The Wildcats returned last season for Super Regional play. Louisville eliminated Kentucky both years.
The Cardinals have never been dispatched to Lexington for NCAA play.
Could that change this season? Are the Cardinals at risk of opening the tournament at Cliff Hagan Stadium? Or elsewhere.
It’s too soon to say, but it wouldn’t be an outrageous development. When Baseball America projected the NCAA field last week, it had the Cardinals opening at Ole Miss with Kentucky was bound for Indiana.
The Wildcats (25-11) rank ahead of the Cardinals (24-11) in at least four college baseball polls. UK sits ninth in the Baseball America Top 25 and No. 6 at D1Baseball.com. Louisville is unranked in those polls. The Wildcats are ninth in the coaches’ poll. Louisville is No. 27. The Wildcats sit 12th in the Ratings Percentage Index while Louisville is 37th.
UK defeated U of L 8-5 in Lexington two weeks ago. After losing early series to Arkansas and Alabama, the Wildcats have won their last two Southeastern Conference series against South Carolina and Georgia.
Louisville has won four straight games, allowing only four runs while sweeping a series at Virginia Tech last weekend.
Does Louisville need a victory to return to the discussion as one of 16 hosts for first-round NCAA play and avoid a potential assignment at Kentucky in June?
U of L coach Dan McDonnell was not concerned with that discussion Monday when he previewed the Kentucky game.
“When it all shakes out, it all shakes out,” McDonnell said “I don’t follow RPI. You win a game, lose a game and you go up two spots, you go down two spots.
“For me, that’s for people who live on the bubble. I don’t live on the bubble.
“We’re preparing to play in the postseason. We’re preparing to do damage in the post-season. So if that’s at home at Jim Patterson Stadium, great. If for some reason we don’t do enough, hey, we’d be a team that goes on the road.”
McDonnell’s point is understandable. Lots of baseball to play.
But a look at the U of L schedule shows only three games against teams ranked in the RPI Top 30 – Kentucky (12), Vanderbilt (20) and Indiana (26).
The Cardinals’ four remaining ACC series are against teams not currently projected to make the NCAA Tournament: Virginia, Boston College, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. Louisville's resume could use wins against Kentucky, Vanderbilt and IU.
“For both programs this could really springboard us down the home stretch,” McDonnell said.
2. The Next Card to the Big Leagues
Brendan McKay, Corey Ray, Will Smith and Zack Burdi top most lists of former University of Louisville baseball players likely to make the major leagues.
They might be beaten to The Show by a former Cardinal overlooked by many.
That guy is former U of L and New Albany High School left-hander Josh Rogers, who has quietly worked his way into the starting rotation for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, the Class AAA farm club of the New York Yankees.
The Yankees’ big-league pitching has been OK this season, but if general manager Brian Cashman needs a left-handed arm, Rogers is earning a look. In two starts, Rogers has 14 strikeouts while allowing only nine hits and three walks in 12 innings.
Not bad for a guy taken in the 11th round three years ago. Rogers is a bulldog. He'll pitch in the big leagues.
3. I’m Going Pro, Are You?
If you’re scoring at home, there are currently 56 underclassmen who have declared for the NBA Draft and hired an agent. That list includes Raymond Spalding and Deng Adel of Louisville as well as Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of Kentucky
There are at least another 80 underclassmen who have declared without an agent. That list includes Juwan Morgan of Indiana as well as P.J. Washington of Kentucky.
There are 60 spots in the 2018 NBA Draft, which will unfold June 21 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
I’m not great at math, but I don’t think those numbers work.
4. Steve Alford on the Ropes – Again
Over the final weeks of the U of L basketball coaching search, several names percolated into the discussion as a replacement for Rick Pitino and David Padgett. One was Steve Alford, the former Indiana star currently five seasons into his run at UCLA.
Alford never got much traction. Not surprising. He’s been a slightly above average coach with a modest NCAA Tournament resume. I sensed the Alford talk came from the Alford people more than Louisville people.
More evidence of the uncertainty around Alford came this weekend. Hardcore UCLA fans questioned Alford’s decision to dump assistant coach David Grace.
Last season, Ed Schilling departed Westwood to return home to Indiana. Now Grace was being replaced (by former UAB coach Murray Bartow), even though Grace was considered UCLA’s top recruiter.
UCLA fans are concerned. And they’re wondering what is going on with Steve Alford, whose seat was warm enough two seasons ago that he agreed to a salary cut.
5. This is The Sleeper SEC Team Lee Corso Likes
If you don’t think college football season is near, then you didn’t have to preseason magazine stories to file. I had four due last week.
That’s one reason I was not surprised to read that ESPN analyst Lee Corso has already made his pick for the sleeper SEC team for the 2018 season: Auburn.
I can’t remember the last time folks considered Auburn a sleeper. Vanderbilt? Sure. Arkansas? Maybe. Ole Miss? Perhaps.
But Auburn, which beat Alabama and Georgia while winning last season?
Make it Auburn. I'm not one to doubt Coach Corso.
6. How To Embrace Social Media
Some coaches wish Twitter would go the way of pay phones and hand-written airplane tickets. The forward-looking folks who run the football program at Temple University disagree.
The Owls are never going to fly in the Top 25 on a consistent basis, but at least the program is trying to separate from other pretenders.
During Temple’s spring game, the players performed with jerseys that featured the Twitter handles of the players, not their names, on the backs of their jerseys. By fall, maybe Temple can add Instragram accounts to the front.
Put me down for #NicelyPlayed, Owls.
7. Who Should Manage the Reds?
The Tampa Bay Rays are not trying to win this season. Neither are the Detroit Tigers. Or the Miami Marlins. You can add more teams to that list.
I’m not sure what the Cincinnati Reds are trying to accomplish, but they’re not playing as well the Rays (3-12), Tigers (4-9) and Marlins (4-11). They’ve just finished making the Phillies and Cardinals look like the 1927 Yankees.
Credit the Reds with a pair of wins in 15 games in a season that has screamed We Give Up from the opening pitch. At a 2-13 pace, the Reds are tracking toward at 22-win season.
Changing the manager won’t fix what has ailed the Reds. Their drafting and player development has been blah. They’ve saddled themselves with too many ugly contracts. They’re buried in a division where the Cubs, Brewers and Cardinals know what they’re doing.
But how much longer for Bryan Price?
8. Celebrating Secretariat’s Boswell
There was a time when America’s best sportswriters lined up to cover the Kentucky Derby – Red Smith, Jim Murray, Edwin Pope, Furman Bisher, Blackie Sherrod, Bill Lyon, Tom Callahan, Dave Kindred and Vic Ziegel is just a starter’s set.
As the media landscape shifted over the last 15 or so years, fewer national writers made their way to Churchill Downs. But the Derby, and the Triple Crown, had Bill Nack, a powerful story-teller who knew the personalities, secrets and rivalries – and invested the necessary reporting sweat to tell them.
Nack knew everybody. And everything. His words raced off the page with the boundless energy he showed working the barn area at every track I encountered him.
Nack is the guy who showed a generation of writers that one of the best times to go to the Derby barns was during the afternoon of the race, to observe the horses and the barn personnel. Forget the press box and betting windows. No stories there.
Nack was the guy who helped start the tradition of writers making the walk from the barns to the paddock before the Derby.
Nack did not write stories. He invested in them. Nack helped turn Secretariat into a national hero as well as a book and a movie.
But he wrote about more than horses. He wrote about life, as you’ll learn if you read his pieces about Sonny Liston, Bobby Fischer, Big Daddy Lipscomb, Rick Pitino or Secretariat.
The 2018 Derby won’t seem like the Derby without Nack, who lost his battle with cancer last weekend. He was 77.
Nack was steadfastly generous with his time and knowledge, especially about horse racing and boxing. I’ll miss huddling with him in the barn areas at Churchill, Pimlico and Belmont to learn what was really going on with the Triple Crown horses.
Rest in peace, my friend.
9. Poll Results I
Which player has earned the 2018 NBA Rookie of the Year Award?
Ben Simmons, Sixers: 15 percent
Donovan Mitchell, Jazz: 85 percent
10. Poll Results II
Louisville juniors Raymond Spalding and Deng Adel have hired agents and made themselves eligible for the 2018 NBA Draft. Will they be selected?
Just Spalding: 65.2 percent
No, they won’t: 25.3 percent
Yes, both players 8.6 percent
Just Adel: 1 percent
Copyright 2018 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.