Smith on Sports: Never a dull moment in SEC baseball race
One thing we know at the halfway point of the Southeastern Conference baseball season is that we don't really know much of anything.
The standings are bunched up in both the Western and Eastern Divisions. That tells me there are several good teams in the conference and beat up on each other every weekend. There's never a dull moment.
That doesn't mean the records aren't good. In fact, there are some impressive marks to be found throughout the league and the rankings reflect that.
In the Collegiate Baseball poll, the one that I like to recognize most, there are two SEC teams in the top 10 with Arkansas at No. 9 and Auburn at No. 10, six in the top 20 with Kentucky at No. 11, LSU at No., 12, Mississippi State at No. 14 and Florida at No. 16, and eight in the top 20 with South Carolina at No. 21 and Vanderbilt coming in at No. 27.
Prior to the games of Tuesday night, the records for those squads were 29-8 for the Razorbacks, 27-11 for the Auburn Tigers, 25-12 for the Wildcats, 25-12 or the LSU Tigers, 25-13 for the Bulldogs, 24-12 for the Gators, 22-13 for the Gamecocks and 22-13 for the Commodores. Those were prior to Tuesday night's non-conference action.
There are no easy games in the SEC and Mississippi State coach Andy Cannizaro understands this better than anyone.
"There's no catching your breath," Cannizaro said on his radio show Monday night. "It's a fight every single day."
As far as the standings go, Arkansas has the best league record at 11-4 and is at the top of the Western Division, but hot on the Razorbacks heels are Auburn and MSU at 10-5 with LSU two games back at 9-6. Even Texas A&M at 8-7 and Ole Miss at 7-8 are within striking distance of first place if a couple of weekends go its way.
Kentucky, who lost two out of three games to the Bulldogs two weeks ago, has a two-game lead in the East with a 10-5 record. However, the Wildcats had better not go to sleep on Florida (8-7), South Carolina (8-7), Vanderbilt (7-8) and Missouri (7-8).
Former MSU assistant coach Nick Mingione has done a good job at Kentucky and he brought a very good team into Starkville for Super Bulldog Weekend. The Wildcats can get the job done in the East and we'll see if they do.
It would be crazy to have a pair of first-year coaches win their divisions, but that's exactly the position that Mingione and Cannizaro are in.
There is some work to do before Cannizaro's Bulldogs can reach the top in the West, but they are right there one game back.
After that first weekend and being swept by Arkansas, the first thought was it was going to be a long year for MSU. That turned around in a hurry for the Bulldogs with four-straight SEC series wins, including a pair of sweeps over Tennessee and Ole Miss.
State has some important series coming up and none more than this week's three-game set with Alabama at home. The Bulldogs don't need to look at the records of the Tide (2-13 in SEC and 14-22 overall) and just assume it's going to be three easy wins in the bag. That kind of mentality in this conference can get you beat.
MSU needs to go into this series like it has the last four with fight and determination to get the job done. If the Bulldogs do that, they'll be fine down the stretch of the season and have a real shot at defending their SEC championship.
Danny P. Smith is sports editor and columnist for the Starkville Daily News. The opinions in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Daily News or its staff.