Friday, March 22, 2013

Weekend preview: Teams ready for MW play

This is the final tune-up weekend before Mountain West Conference play begins in six days, and teams are preparing in vastly different ways.

UNLV and Boise State are in Las Vegas as part of a quality field in the Rebel Classic, which features Texas Tech and nationally-ranked Tulsa.  New Mexico hosts a 3-team mini invitational that includes Oklahoma State.  Nevada eases into the conference season with a second straight home tournament against a light, 3-team field, and Colorado State hosts a tourney against three teams from the East, each of whom has played its entire season so far on the road.

San Diego State and Fresno State are taking the weekend off.  The Aztecs are currently in the middle of an odd, 11-day layoff and won't play again until MW action begins on Thursday.  Fresno State is coming off a win two nights ago against Pacific, and will play a Monday doubleheader at Cal Poly before starting conference play Thursday.

Nevada (17-12)

Santa Clara (3-20), Saturday, 12:30 pm PDT
Idaho State (9-14), Saturday, 3 pm PDT
Idaho State, Sunday, 12:30 pm PDT
Santa Clara, Sunday, 3 pm PDT

Outlook:  The Wolf Pack will look to bounce back from two surprising losses to Idaho State earlier this season. The Bengals are 9-14 on the year and defeated Nevada at two different neutral-site tournaments in February.  Here's guessing it doesn't happen a third time ... not in Reno, and not against a Nevada team that has won seven straight games, though not exactly against a murderer's row of competition.  Santa Clara continues to be one of the worst teams in the nation year and year, and this one is no different.  The Broncos are 3-20 and have lost 11 of their past 12.  What does it say about this field when one of Santa Clara's three wins this season came over Idaho State back on February 24?  The Pack could face Broncos pitcher Carissa Theis, someone they defeated in the 2010 season when Theis pitched for former WAC rival New Mexico State. Nevada should enter Mountain West play on an 11-game winning streak.

Colorado State (14-14)

Ball State (13-10), Friday, 1:30 pm MDT
Columbia (8-9), Friday, 3:45 pm MDT
Columbia, Saturday, 1:30 pm MDT
Ball State, Sunday, 11:15 am MDT

Outlook:  The Rams defeated Marist 17-0 Thursday in the opening game of the Colorado State Spring Tournament, which was originally supposed to get underway today.  With possible snow in the forecast for this weekend, CSU made a Thursday morning decision to face Marist Thursday afternoon.  With 124 people in attendance, the Rams sent the reeling Red Foxes to their eighth straight loss.  Ball State and Columbia will be the opponents the next two days, and Colorado State could be looking at a 5-0 weekend and an 18-14 record when it enters Mountain West play at home next week versus UNLV.  The Cardinals provide the biggest test and they helped knock North Carolina from the national rankings this week, beating UNC at the Louisville tourney where the Tar Heels went 1-3.  Since March 1, no Rams pitcher aside from Kacie McCarthy has won a game, but she has won six to improve to 11-6 on the season. 

Boise State (13-15)

Texas Tech (25-9), Saturday, 9 am PDT
Texas Tech, Saturday, 11:15 am PDT
Tulsa (23-5), Sunday, 9 am PDT
Tulsa, Sunday, 11:15 am PDT

Outlook:  Texas Tech was shut out by San Diego State last weekend and has lost to Colorado State this season as well.  The Red Raiders built what appears to be an impressive 25-9 record, but once you delve into who they've played, the cracks appear.  This is clearly a team that built a gaudy record against weak competition, and is nowhere near as good as its record would suggest.  Texas Tech has lost to the likes of Jackson State, McNeese State, IPFW and Sam Houston State, among others.  The Red Raiders have five wins (yes, five) over Missouri-Kansas City, and they are a program that relies heavily on their Big 12 affiliation to get them into the NCAA Tournament each season.  Boise State can, and probably should, defeat Texas Tech at least once this weekend. Tulsa is another story.  The Golden Hurricane are the real deal.  In fact, if they were wearing jerseys labeled Oklahoma State or Texas Tech instead of Tulsa across the front, this would be a Top 10-ranked team. Instead, TU shows up as the nation's No. 18 team and probably under ranked.  Tulsa has played a rigorous schedule that includes two road wins at Florida State, a win over Texas in Austin, and victories over Hofstra, Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Purdue and North Carolina.  The Golden Hurricane has won 10 straight and 18 of its past 20 games, with both losses during that stretch coming in extra innings.  A win by Boise State over Tulsa would rank as one of the Mountain West's signature non-conference wins this season.  The fact BSU gets to face them twice in one day only helps the Broncos' chances.

New Mexico (14-18)

Oklahoma State (19-13), Friday, 4 pm MDT
Oklahoma State, Friday, 6 pm MDT
Siena (5-8), Saturday, 2 pm MDT
Siena, Sunday, 11 am MDT

Outlook:  The Lobos this month joined Fresno State and San Diego State as Mountain West teams who have seen their star players go down with season-ending injuries.  The Aztecs lost outstanding All-American Hayley Miles just before the season began, and the Bulldogs lost All-WAC second baseman Brooke Ortiz -- their leading hitter at .361 -- in February.  New Mexico's Chelsea Anaya, an all-conference pick and the No. 2 hitter (.367) on the Lobos squad, is now added to that list after breaking her collarbone in a game against Yale in Seattle less than two weeks ago.  Oklahoma State arrives with a big name, but is a far cry from the team that reached the Women's College World Series two seasons ago.  The Cowgirls lost at home Wednesday to North Texas, and have lost games this season to traditional lightweights Seattle and Utah Valley.  OSU lost seven straight games earlier this season against its strongest opponents and then won 12 in a row against weak competition (three games vs. Santa Clara? really?).  New Mexico -- at home, especially -- should win at least once against the Cowgirls this weekend, if not twice.  The Lobos should be looking at a pair of run-rule wins over a bad Siena team, which has given up nine or more runs in losses to Central Connecticut State, East Tennessee State and Maryland-Eastern Shore.  The latter team -- Maryland-Eastern Shore -- went 0-34 last season and finished last in the nation (289th of 289 teams) in the RPI, yet still managed to crush Siena 11-4.

UNLV (12-17)

Tulsa (23-5), Friday, 4:15 pm PDT
Texas Tech (25-9), Friday, 6:30 pm PDT
Tulsa, Saturday, 1:30 pm PDT

Outlook:  The Rebels, like Boise State, will face Tulsa and Texas Tech this weekend.  How Amanda Oliveto goes is how UNLV will go this weekend.  Oliveto's strong junior season continued last week as she tossed the fourth no-hitter of her career in a win over UMass.  She has defeated both Louisville and Virginia Tech this season, and lost a chance at another monster win when UCLA came from behind in the seventh to defeat the Rebels two weeks ago in Long Beach.  It will be interesting to see how many games Oliveto will pitch this weekend.  The temptation could be to send her to the circle in all three, and that just may turn out to be the case.  While the junior has 10 victories this season, no other pitcher on the squad has more than one.  Texas Tech handed Oliveto a loss on the season's opening weekend, also in Las Vegas.  By Saturday, UNLV will have played 18 home games, more than any team in the Mountain West thus far this season.