Sweet 16 Baseketball Bracket

While we’ve been in basketball remission after a busy tournament weekend, John Nolan is here to save the day. Our intrepid broadcasting and media relations assistant has dug deep into the archives to bring us the Sweet 16 Baseketball Bracket. John has analyzed the baseball fortunes of the current NCAA basketball Sweet 16 participants. Enjoy.

The NCAA Tournament field is down to 16 teams — coincidentally, the same number of days left until Opening Day at Parkview Field on April 11. So tying the two together, here’s a look at the baseball backgrounds of the remaining schools in March Madness, and an analysis of who would reach Atlanta if these games were played on the diamond instead of the court.

MIDWEST

No. 1 Louisville v No. 12 Oregon

Starting with the tournament’s top seed, the Cardinals may be the odds-on favorite to cut down the nets in Atlanta, but their baseball past isn’t as strong. Through the years, U of L has produced 67 players in affiliated pro ball. However, you may not have heard of any of them. Perhaps the most successful Louisville baseball alum is Sean Green. No, not Shawn Green. Sean Green, as in the reliever who broke into the bigs with the Mariners in 2006 and has since pitched for the Mets, Brewers, and most recently for the Rangers Triple-A affiliate. You could find more former Louisville Cardinals in the majors soon, though. The program has appeared in five consecutive NCAA Tournaments, including a run to the College World Series in 2007. That’s after not making its first ever NCAA Tournament until 2002.

This Shawn Green’s alma mater, Stanford, lost to Alabama in the second round of the NIT.

Meanwhile, the Ducks almost certainly have more uniform combinations than they do NCAA Tournament berths. Oregon’s only made baseball’s NCAA Tournament four times, with a College World Series trip in 1954, although, like Louisville, Oregon is trending upwards with two trips in the last three years. Also similarly, there aren’t many Ducks who have made a name for themselves as big leaguers. However, one did: Joe Gordon, who was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009 after a 13-year career as a star second baseman with the Yankees and Indians from 1938-50.

Wouldn’t you know it that both sides are currently off to great starts to the 2013 season? Baseball America has Louisville ranked No. 10, and Oregon isn’t far behind at No. 12.

The Pick: Louisville

No. 2 Duke v No. 3 Michigan State

Maybe the most compelling Sweet 16 matchup doesn’t taste as good when you switch sports.

Baseball has its share of famous Dukes. From the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Snider to the present day Zach, who pitches for the Nats. However, neither went to Duke University. How about this: In the time since Duke baseball’s last NCAA Tournament appearance in 1961, the Blue Devils basketball team has gone dancing 35 times. That includes a current run of 18 straight bids under Mike Krzyzewski.

That isn’t to say some ex-Dukies won’t ring a bell, though. For one, there’s Greg Burke who pitched in Fort Wayne in 2006 and last season was in the Orioles’ organization. Plus, the past two seasons the TinCaps had reliever Dennis O’Grady. But there’s also the real-life “Crash” Davis (whose name was the inspiration for Kevin Costner’s character in Bull Durham), Dodgers starter Chris Capuano, recently-retired reliever Scott Schoeneweis, and outfielder-turned-Astros Director of Player Development Quinton McCracken.

The Hollywood version of Duke’s “Crash” Davis was played by Kevin Costner, who attended Cal State Fullerton. The Titans went just 14-18 in basketball this season, but their baseball team is No. 5 in the country and has won four national titles.

Michigan State’s reputation for winning in baseball isn’t much stronger than Duke’s. The Spartans have reached five NCAA Tournaments — two more than the Blue Devils. But last year was actually Sparty’s first time in the field of 64 since the 70s. When it comes to name recognition, however, the green and white boast the likes of two-time all-star Mark Mulder, Hall of Famer Robin Roberts, and ’88 World Series hero/current Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson.

The Pick: Michigan State

No. 1 Louisville v No. 3 Michigan State

Like the potential battle in Indy, it’s a tough call. One’s a rising program. The other’s history has some star power.

The Pick: Louisville

WEST

No. 9 Wichita State v No. 13 LaSalle

Not many had this one filled out in their brackets last week. In baseball? It would only be half-shocking (pun intended). That’s because in Wichita State, you have a program with the fourth highest winning percentage in NCAA Division I history at 68-percent. LaSalle baseball, on the other hand, is more than a Southwest Philly Floater away from catching your attention.

The Shockers won the 1989 NCAA Championship and have been to 27 NCAA Tournaments in total with seven College World Series appearances (tied for 18th most). To compare that to hoops, only Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Kentucky, Connecticut, Michigan State, and Arizona have reached the Elite at least seven times. So not surprisingly, Wichita State’s list of alums is long and impressive. Among their fifty-plus all-Americans are Joe Carter, Fort Wayne native and Northrop High grad Eric Wedge, Darren Dreifort, Doug Mirabelli, Casey Blake, Braden Looper, and Mike Pelfrey. (Mets fans are allowed to criticize the use of “impressive” next to those last two names.)

Apparently Bart Simpson doubles as Wichita State’s mascot WuShock.

Conversely, the Explorers have only had three alums ever play in a big league game, and none since 1992. Fortunately for basketball fans, Friday night on the hardwood shouldn’t be as lop-sided as this hardball matchup.

The Pick: Wichita State

No. 6 Arizona v No. 2 Ohio State

Another example here of the seeding for basketball belying the baseball quality.

The Wildcats are the reigning national champions — their fourth title in program history. Only USC, LSU, Texas, and Arizona State have claimed more. Needless to say, Arizona has had standout talent pass through over the years: former Padres closer Trevor Hoffman, J.T. Snow, Shelley Duncan, Scott Erickson, and Terry Francona to name a few. And you can’t forget Padres catcher Nick Hundley, who played in Fort Wayne in 2005 and ’06.

For the purposes of this analysis, though, we must also highlight Kenny Lofton, whose major league career spanned 17 years with 11 teams. But did you know that the outfielder actually went to Arizona to play basketball? That’s right, Lute Olsen signed Lofton as an undersized but speedy point guard. Lofton was the backup point guard on the Wildcats’ Final Four team in 1988 and started for the ’89 squad that reached the Sweet 16. It wasn’t until his junior year that Lofton tried out for the baseball team at Arizona. In fact, the six-time MLB All-Star took only one official at-bat in college, but his potential stood out to scouts and led him to being drafted. The rest, as they say, is history.

Gotta love the shorts.

Gotta love the shorts.

Coincidentally, the Buckeyes have an interesting baseball-basketball connection of their own. In 1950, Fred Taylor became the first Ohio State baseball player to be named an all-American. He went on to play sparingly for the Washington Senators for three seasons. A few years after his baseball playing days, Taylor, who also played basketball for the Buckeyes, returned to Columbus as an assistant hoops coach. A year later, in 1959, he became Ohio State’s head basketball coach. The rookie head coach proceeded to lead his alma mater to the 1960 NCAA championship, thanks to a roster that included John Havlicek and Jerry Lucas, as well as a bench player named Bob Knight. Taylor also took the Buckeyes to the title game in ’61 and ’62.

Taylor, though, isn’t the only Ohio State product to reach the majors. While the list of Buckeyes in the bigs doesn’t match Arizona, it still counts the likes of current-Indian Nick Swisher and former Dodgers/Senators great from the 60s and 70s, Frank Howard. Even without too many other big names, Ohio State has managed to reach the NCAA Tournament 19 times, even winning the College World Series in ’66. But the Buckeyes haven’t been back to the World Series since ’67.

The Pick: Arizona

No. 9 Wichita State v No. 6 Arizona

In a pairing of two teams with rich traditions, you can’t go wrong. But four titles tops one.

The Pick: Arizona

So that’s half of the bracket. Hope you enjoyed the illogical logic. Hopefully it beats thinking you know what you’re picking on your own. Join us again tomorrow to find out who will emerge from the South and East regions.

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