Basketball season has to end eventually, hopefully later than sooner, and we're months away from the football team beginning it's Big East Championship season. So what to do in the mean time?
1. Form a dominant Connecticut based curling program in preparation for the 2014 Olympics.
2. Root for the baseball team to make a run at Big East title and a possible trip to Omaha.
Unfortunately I can't find any upcoming bonspeils in which to assert my curling prowess, so for now I'm going to attempt to preview the upcoming baseball season.
Why care about UConn baseball? The Huskies have been one win away from the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA regionals in two of the past three seasons. With a good part of their starting lineup returning and a challenging out-of-conference schedule, the Huskies have a chance at making their first regional since 1994. Bonus: It's one of the few places (and only men's sport) where you'll see the Huskies play would-be New England rival Boston College in the regular season.
2009 Record: 36-24, 14-13 Big East (Eliminated in Big East Title Game 11-3 by Louisville)
Just looking at wins and losses, the Huskies had a mediocre season. They made the most of their OOC schedule but had some trouble in the Big East regular season, getting swept by both West Virginia and St. John's at home, placing 6th in the conference. Despite that record, they finished strong going 9-2 over the last 11 games and ended up in the Big East title game, showcasing some Porter-esque dance moves along the way.
Hitting: If we know one thing it's that the Huskies will hit. They are bringing back nine hitters from a team that finished with a .318 batting average last season. George Springer and Mike Olt are the best of the group.
Springer is a Baseball America Pre-season All-Conference member, a Cape League all-star, and a top conference prospect for 2011. The sophomore was the team's best hitter last year (.358/.454/.679, 16 HR) and a coaches poll from College Baseball Insider listed him as one of the conference's best pure hitters.
Mike Olt is popping up on the draft boards after batting .301 with 8 home runs and 40 RBIs last year. Some projections have the third baseman going as high as the second round next June.
Also returning are Mike Nemeth, Pierre LePage, Joe Pavone and Matt Burnett, all of whom had plus .300 batting averages and over 24 RBIs last season.
Pitching: The biggest question this season is who's going to step up on the mound. The Huskies lost six pitchers to the MLB Draft and pro signings. Elliot Glynn will be the ace after going 5-4 with a 4.76 ERA in 12 starts last season and making the Cape League All-Star game over the summer. Sophomore Matt Barnes and his 95 mph fastball will be the No. 2 starter. According to Head Coach Jim Penders, the other starters will probably come from a pool of two tested veterans in junior lefty Greg Nappo, junior righty Bobby Van Woert and sophomore righty Dave Fischer. Freshman Pat Butler chose to come to UConn after getting drafted by the Twins and might challenge for a starting spot as well.
In terms of relief, they have to find a way to replace David Erickson's team-leading 12 saves, as well as his set-up man Dusty Odenbach (a member of the Chip Cannon best-baseball name all-stars). Sophomore Scott Oberg could step into the closer's role after leading the team with a 1.78 in 30.1 innings last year. Seniors Trent DeLazzler and Doug Jennings didn't get a lot of experience last year, but will have to step up this season. Freshmen Mike Zaccardo and Dan Feehan could see some appearances too.
Defense: The Huskies are bringing back their entire starting infield from last year. In the CBI poll, LePage was voted the league's best defensive infielder and Springer got some votes for top defensive outfielder. They finished last season 108th in the country with a .959 fielding average. I won't pretend to know much about defensive statistics but I'd assume the familiarity the players already have with each other would improve that number.
Schedule: The Huskies will face lot of tests on the road this season and they have to come out of the gate strong. Four of their first nine opponents made regionals in the NCAA Tournament last season (#13 Ohio State, Indiana, Minnesota, BC) and they'll be visiting perennial power houses Tennessee and USC. In conference, they'll have to play away games at conference favorite #16 Louisville (who they avoided in the regular season last year), USF and West Virginia. The Huskies get the projected conference bottom feeders at home, with Georgetown, Villanova, Seton Hall and Rutgers all visiting J.O. Christian Field.
Really, the tone of this season is going to be set in the first month. Baseball America is projecting UConn as an at large team, but the pitchers don't get off to a quick start and pull off some upsets at a couple of big names schools, its going to be hard for the team to make up the wins later in the season. That said, the schedule is very top heavy in terms of difficulty. If they can pull off those early upsets, they should cruise fairly easily through the second half of the season.
I'm excited for this season at least, though I think 2011 might be set up as a more successful year. A trip to the NCAA Regionals would be nice, anything past that would be icing. If UConn could produce a successful spring sport to bridge basketball and football seasons, I think we'd all be happy.
I'll leave you with this. UConn Alum and Hard Hittin' New Britain's own Jesse Carlson beating down some hack Yankee catcher.