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Live From Clearwater: Big East Baseball Tournament Preview

The Bulls take on Rutgers in the opener of the championship. An NCAA bid hangs in the balance this week.

USF (35-20, 17-7 Big East) enters the eight team field as the #4 seed, looking to end their 11-year NCAA drought at their last Big East Baseball Championship in Clearwater. It's double elimination, so The Bat Sports Game 3 Tournament Rule (Copyright VoodooFive) is certainly in play here. You can lose one of your first two games, but it makes the hill to climb to win the title much higher.

Here's the field:

#3 Pitt (RPI 65) def. #6 St. John's (RPI 148) 10-2

#7 Notre Dame (RPI 46) vs. #2 Seton Hall (RPI 38) (currently happening)

#1 Louisville (RPI 13) vs. #8 Connecticut (RPI 99) (theoretically 5pm, but we're already behind)

#4 USF (RPI 61) vs. #5 Rutgers (RPI 68) (theoretically 8pm, but there's no way we're out of here before midnight)

The winners and losers of the UL-UConn game and the USF-Rutgers game will play tomorrow. Of course winning the winner's bracket game tomorrow is huge, because then the losing opponent (a team there's a 66% chance you already beat in one of your first two games) has to beat you twice on Saturday to advance to the one-game final.

The Bulls start Jimmy Herget, who beat RU last Friday 11-4 as part of the Bulls taking two of three from the Scarlet Knights in their final regular season series. Herget, last night named the Big East Freshman of the Year, coasted in a 5 inning start surrendering just two runs after the Bulls jumped out to a 9-0 lead after two innings. The bullpen conceded only two runs over the last four to allow Herget some rest heading into the tournament, and he should also be available for the final on Sunday if the Bulls can advance. Rutgers skipper Fred Hill will have an interesting decision as to whether to start ace Rob Smorol against the Bulls, as he got shelled for seven earned runs in just 1.1 innings of work last Friday vs. USF.

Louisville will be the heavy favorite tonight vs. UConn, setting up a likely rematch of the opening game of the 2013 season for both teams. USF lost 10-1 to Louisville in Bright House Field in what was a non-conference game, but the Bulls certainly aren't the same team they were in February.

Clearwater is certainly home of the NCAA bubble this week, as any of the top four seeds in the tournament could advance to the dance without winning the automatic bid, but no one besides Louisville could be considered a lock either. Teams will be playing their way in and out of the bracket all week long here. This latest projection from has Louisville and Seton Hall in, with Pitt and USF in the last 10 out.

We'll be here all week, enjoying the free press box food and air conditioning (and Frenchy's Tiki Bar in left field... try the margaritas), as well as some great baseball. This is a gorgeous place to watch baseball, and probably the nicest spring training facility in Florida. Let's hope The American decides to keep this tournament here forever.