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NCAA Tournament Preview: Michigan Baseball faces stiff competition in South Bend regional

Michigan kicks things off

NCAA Baseball: College World Series Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan Baseball has made the NCAA Tournament for the second tourney in a row and will have a chance to defend their status as National Runners-Up. To do so, however, they’ll have to mount another incredible, improbable run from being one of the last four teams the committee put in for the second straight time.

It won’t be an easy task to start, either, as the Wolverines will have to travel to the home of the #10 overall seed Notre Dame along with UConn and Central Michigan. Notre Dame will predictably be a pretty heavy favorite in this one, but it’s not out of the question that this weekend could get a little interesting. Here’s a quick look at what to expect from the four teams in South Bend:

1 Seed: Notre Dame

If there was one word to sum up Notre Dame this season, it has to be “dominant.” In a really good ACC Conference that sent eight teams to the NCAA tournament, the Irish lost only one series all season en route to a regular-season conference championship. They’re no slouch on offense, but definitely get by on the strength of their very good pitching staff and exceptional defense. If there’s one thing that exemplifies the latter (besides being the NCAA leaders in fielding percentage,) it’s the fact that the Irish finished last in the ACC in strikeouts per nine innings but first in runs allowed per nine innings. That means a TON of balls in play being turned into outs and it should bode well for Notre Dame playing on their familiar home turf. They’ll look to suppress offenses using a deep staff and that stellar defense and push runs across with a solid offense led by stud power bat and All-ACC First Teamer Niko Kavadas en route to holding serve and making Super Regionals.

2 Seed: Connecticut

After a slow start to the season, the Big East regular-season and tournament champion Huskies tore through the conference powered by a fantastic offense and some power arms. At the dish, UConn led the Big East in almost every offensive category from average and slugging to homers and runs batted in while scoring over a run and a half more per game than any other team. A deep, relentless offense that has four .300+ average hitters is led by Big East Player of the Year Kyler Fedko and his insane .411/.498/.697 slash line. But I did mention power arms, too, and that’s because UConn also led the Big East in ERA and strikeouts behind a great 1-2 duo in transfers Austin Peterson and Ben Casparius and an electric anchor on the back end in Caleb Wurster. There’s also solid depth behind those top names that makes UConn dangerous not just right out of the gate, but throughout the whole weekend.

3 Seed: Michigan

The story of Michigan in 2021 is consistency. The entire season, the Wolverines were steady at the dish and on the mound without having many exceptional performances. The lineup is a grind to get through for pitchers, leading the Big Ten in runs scored and OPS, but doesn’t have a regular standout that opposing staffs have to gameplan around. The pitching staff has a couple of really good starters at the front in Steven Hajjar and Cameron Weston along with dynamic closer Willie Weiss at the back end of the pen, but otherwise is a collection of solid arms that will each excel in different spots. The path forward for the Wolverines is going to be avoiding mistakes on the mound and in the field to stay in games while getting timely hits from all parts of the lineup, but that’s certainly easier said than done.

4 Seed: Central Michigan

Like the Big Ten, the MAC did not have a conference tournament this season and thus the Chippewas won their bid to the NCAA Tournament by taking the regular-season title by two games in a two-horse race with Ball State. They did it primarily on the strength of two fantastic arms at the front of the rotation leading the Chips to the MAC lead in ERA, runs allowed, and WHIP. Those arms, Jordan Patty and MAC Pitcher of the Year Andrew Taylor have a seven-inning perfect game and a minuscule 1.21 ERA to their names, respectively, this season. In the postseason, having two arms like that to lead the way can do a lot for your chances to make a little noise, especially as a 4-seed. To do so, they’ll have to score some runs and will most likely try to do it through attrition. CMU can hit some (.282 average) and get on base (MAC-leading .417 OBP,) but does not have much pop in the lineup (.377 slugging percentage) to deliver the big blows it might take to pull enough wild upsets this weekend. Still, those arms should make for some intriguing matchups that can’t be outright ignored as you might normally do for the bottom team in a regional.