The Advocate’s SEC baseball tournament preview _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- LSU junior Aaron Nola pitches against Mississippi State

Players to watch

A.J. Reed, Kentucky DH/LHP

The 6-foot-4, 240-pound junior is likely the nation’s best all-around player. He leads the SEC in slugging (.788), on-base percentage (.492), RBIs (70) and homers (23) and is tied in average (.359). He’s also 10-2 with a 2.11 ERA.

Aaron Nola, LSU RHP

You know this guy. The junior is projected to be a top-10 pick in the MLB draft next month. He finished the regular season leading the SEC in strikeouts (120) and opposing batting average (.172).

Grayson Greiner, South Carolina C

A 6-foot-5 junior, Greiner is fifth in the league in slugging and is third in RBIs with 50. He has eight home runs, fourth in the SEC, and he has been a reliable presence behind the plate.

Chris Ellis, Ole Miss RHP

In his first year as a weekend starter, Ellis has shined. The Birmingham, Alabama, native is 9-0 with a 2.12 ERA. He hasn’t been overpowering (he has allowed 85 hits in 89 innings), but he has given up just 21 earned runs.

Numbers to know

18-4: LSU coach Paul Mainieri’s record in the SEC tournament.

17: Years the SEC tournament has been played in Hoover’s Metropolitan Stadium.

11: SEC tournament participants with a winning record.

10: LSU’s SEC tournament championships, which leads the league.

Team capsules

1. Florida

Record: 37-19, 21-9 SEC

RPI: 2

SEC TOURNEY titles, last: 3, 2011

The scoop: The Gators don’t do any one thing great. In fact, they’re not in the top four in the league in any of the three main categories: ERA, batting average and fielding percentage. That said, they won the league with two more wins than the next team. How’d they do it? Florida was 11-3 in one-run SEC games.

NCAA tournament picture: The Gators should be one of the eight national seeds no matter what happens in Hoover.

2. Ole Miss

Record: 40-16, 19-11 SEC

RPI: 13

SEC tourney titles, last: 5, 2006

The scoop: The Rebels’ Nos. 1 and 2 starters have not lost a game, a remarkable feat seeing as neither was a weekend starter last season. Chris Ellis is 9-0, and Christian Trent, a former LSU player, is 8-0. That’s coupled with a league-leading .304 batting average.

NCAA TOURNAMENT PICTURE: The Rebels are in the national seed conversation. One or two wins could get the job done.

3. LSU

Record: 40-14-1, 17-11-1 SEC

RPI: 16

SEC tourney titles, last: 10, 2013

The scoop: The streaking Tigers have won four straight, a stretch in which coach Paul Mainieri’s team has scored 56 runs on 61 hits. LSU has a shot to win its first two games — with Jared Poché and then Aaron Nola pitching — and get a bye Friday into Saturday’s semis.

NCAA tournament picture: The Tigers are on the bubble of hosting an NCAA regional and need a couple of wins to secure one — maybe.

4. South Carolina

Record: 42-14, 18-12 SEC

RPI: 8

SEC tourney titles, last: 1, 2004

The scoop: The Gamecocks have fought through a slew of injuries to starters, overcoming the nicks to get one of the top four seeds in the league and that key first-round bye past the single-elimination round. USC leads the SEC in ERA and has a pair of stud hitters in Grayson Greiner and Joey Pankake.

NCAA tournament picture: A few wins and the Gamecocks could leap off the regional host bubble and into national seed talk.

5. Mississippi State

Record: 35-20, 18-12 SEC

RPI: 30

SEC tourney titles, last: 7, 2012

The scoop: The Bulldogs began the season as a consensus top-five team only to falter in nonconference play. They recovered to win the most SEC games at the school since the 1990s. Top hitters Brett Pirtle and Seth Heck lead a team that leads the SEC with a .980 fielding percentage.

NCAA tournament picture: Coach John Cohen’s team likely needs to get to the weekend (meaning three wins) to have a shot at an NCAA host bid.

6. Vanderbilt

Record: 40-16, 17-13 SEC

RPI: 6

SEC tourney titles, last: 2, 2007

The scoop: The Commodores dropped three straight SEC series midway through the season before rebounding to win series over Georgia, Missouri and Florida. Vandy’s 498 Ks lead the SEC.

NCAA tournament picture: The Dores — like LSU, South Carolina and Mississippi State — are scrapping to win a few games to get a host bid.

7. Arkansas

Record: 35-21, 16-14 SEC

RPI: 41

SEC tourney titles: None

The scoop: The Razorbacks have won series over South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Alabama, mostly relying on a pitching staff that has the second-best ERA in the league at 2.41. Arkansas’ pitching has allowed the fewest hits (360) in the SEC.

NCAA tournament picture: On the bubble for a regional, Arkansas closed the regular season with series wins over Texas A&M and Missouri.

8. Alabama

Record: 34-21, 15-14 SEC

RPI: 24

SEC tourney titles, last: 7, 2003

The scoop: The Tide has lost 10 of its past 16 games. The leader of the SEC West much of the year, Alabama finishing a whopping four games behind first-place Ole Miss in the division after the late slide. But the Tide is strong on the mound with Spencer Turnbull (2.28 ERA) leading the charge.

NCAA tournament picture: Bama’s stock has taken a hit. The Tide might have to win it all this week to host a regional.

9. Kentucky

Record: 32-22, 14-16 SEC

RPI: 22

SEC tourney titles: None

The scoop: Maybe the nation’s most dynamic player, A.J. Reed — his 3.59 batting average and 2.11 ERA — leads the Wildcats into Hoover. The Cats are an explosive team, leading the SEC in home runs (57), slugging (.457) and runs (430).

NCAA tournament picture: The Wildcats seem to be squarely in an NCAA regional field, but they can improve their stock with a weekend run.

10. Texas A&M

Record: 33-23, 14-16 SEC

RPI: 33

SEC tourney titles: None

The scoop: The Aggies join Ole Miss as the only teams with two players in the top 10 in the league in batting average: Nick Banks (.341) and Cole Lankford (.339). No. 1 hurler Grayson Long (6-2, 3.07) is a solid ace. Pitcher Daniel Mengden (4-7, 3.41) has struggled but has good stuff.

NCAA tournament picture: A&M has key series wins over MSU, LSU, Vandy and Florida but lost to Auburn and Georgia. Still, the Aggies appear to be safely in a regional.

11. Tennessee

Record: 31-22, 12-18 SEC

RPI: 45

SEC tourney titles, last: 3, 1995

The scoop: The Volunteers are toward the bottom of the SEC in ERA, but they’ve shown some serious pop at times. Still, they lost five of their last six SEC series after upsetting Vanderbilt on April 6 in a rubber match.

NCAA tournament picture: The Vols can play themselves into the field with two or three wins.

12. Georgia

Record: 26-28-1, 11-18-1 SEC

RPI: 56

SEC tourney titles: None

The scoop: Under first-year coach David Perno, the Bulldogs have been competitive. They won four SEC series, including one over South Carolina. But the numbers aren’t good. Georgia is 13th in batting average and last in ERA in the SEC.

NCAA tournament picture: The Bulldogs are out of a regional. Their only shot is winning the SEC tournament.