It's that time of year, folks—the College World Series is a few weeks away, the Major League Baseball draft is rapidly approaching and the college conference tournaments are kicking off.
In other words, all eyes are pointed toward college baseball right now.
More importantly, all eyes turn toward the powerful SEC and its conference tournament. With the top team in the nation, Vanderbilt, and five other Top-25 teams, this promises to be one of the most competitive tournaments in the country.
Let's break it down.
When: Tuesday, May 21, to Sunday, May 26
Where: Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, Hoover, Ala.
Format: Double elimination (with the exception of the first four games)
Notes: This is the first year the tournament will expand to 12 teams.
Schedule (All Times Central)
Tuesday, May 21
Game 1 9:30 a.m. No. 6 Ole Miss vs. No. 11 Kentucky FSN
Game 2 TBD No. 7 Alabama vs. No. 10 Auburn FSN
Game 3 4:30 p.m. No. 8 Florida vs. No. 9 Texas A&M CSS
Game 4 TBD No. 5 Mississippi State vs. No. 12 Missouri CSS
Wednesday, May 22
Game 5 9:30 a.m. No. 3 Arkansas vs. Game 1 Winner CSS
Game 6 TBD No. 2 LSU vs. Game 2 Winner CSS
Game 7 4:30 p.m. No. 1 Vanderbilt vs. Game 3 Winner CSS
Game 8 TBD No. 4 South Carolina vs. Game 4 Winner CSS
Thursday, May 23
Game 9 9:30 a.m. Game 5 Loser vs. Game 6 Loser SPSO
Game 10 TBD Game 7 Loser vs. Game 8 Loser SPSO
Game 11 4:30 p.m. Game 5 Winner vs. Game 6 Winner SPSO
Game 12 TBD Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner SPSO
Friday, May 24
Game 13 3:00 p.m. Game 9 Winner vs. Game 11 Loser CSS
Game 14 TBD Game 10 Winner vs. Game 12 Loser CSS
Saturday, May 25
Game 15 Noon Game 13 Winner vs. Game 11 Winner ESPNEWS
Game 16 TBD Game 14 Winner vs. Game 12 Winner ESPNEWS
Sunday, May 26
Game 17 3:30 p.m. Game 15 Winner vs. Game 16 Winner ESPN2
The favorites coming into the tournament will not be traditional powers like LSU or Florida, recent juggernaut South Carolina or an Arkansas team that made a deep run in last year's College World Series.
Nope, the favorite is Vanderbilt, which set an SEC record with 26 wins in the league this season (48-7, 26-3). The Commodores are led by second baseman Tony Kemp (.408) and are extremely balanced, leading the league in team batting average and backing that with one of the SEC's best pitching staffs.
They're also the top-ranked team in the nation in just about every poll. Then again, don't sleep on LSU, a team that is ranked either second or third in most polls. This is far from a two-team league, as Arkansas, South Carolina, Ole Miss and Mississippi State are all ranked in most Top-25 polls, but the clear favorites in this tournament are Vanderbilt and LSU.
If you are looking to do a little scouting at the tournament with the Major League Baseball draft a few weeks away, keep an eye on right-handed pitcher Ryne Stanek of Arkansas and outfielder Hunter Renfroe of Mississippi State.
Both should be top-15 picks in this year's draft.
Don't underestimate Missouri. The team may be just a 12-seed in this tournament, but the Tigers won the Big 12 tournament a year ago and could surprise some folks with a first-round upset over Mississippi State.
The first-day highlight will be league rivals Alabama and Auburn facing in the second game. Don't sleep on Alabama—the Crimson Tide are the only SEC team to beat both Vanderbilt and LSU this season. Then again, these rivals split the season series two games apiece, so anything can happen.
Who wins this tournament?
It may be unoriginal, but Vanderbilt was so dominant this season—and is so balanced in its lineup and pitching—that I'm not going to bet against the Commodores. I think chalk will hold here and they'll face LSU in the final.
As per your sleeper, I think Alabama is capable of making a deep run down in the loser's bracket. The Tide won't beat LSU in the second round, but should advance to the weekend after falling to the Tigers.
One of the biggest disappointments of the tournament will be traditional power Florida losing its first game to Texas A&M and dropping out of the tournament.