The opening weekend of the 2023 DI baseball season brought big power and some great individual performances as a primer for the months to come. With most teams four to five games into their schedule, more intriguing nonconference matchups are coming this weekend as the calendar approaches March. Here are three of the best matchups to watch, all including top-20 ball clubs.
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Best games to watch this weekend
No. 13 Maryland vs. No. 4 Ole Miss
The defending national champions had little adversity to face in their first four games of the season, but the Rebels' first test of the season will come with an injury scare. Ace Hunter Elliot experienced forearm soreness following his opening day start and has been pulled from Friday's game. In his place, reliever Jack Dougherty will step into his spot after a strong weekend of relief appearances. He'll be facing a Maryland lineup that, despite losing two of four games, has shown its ability to be explosive with eight home runs in four games, including three consecutive games with a grand slam.
Looking past the intrigue of a spot starter taking the mound for Ole Miss, the Terps will likely need to keep up with the Rebels' bats to win some games this weekend in Oxford. Ole Miss has racked up double-digit hits and runs in every game so far and smacked at least three homers in all but one. Though it won't be considered the same series, these teams will meet again the following weekend in a neutral-site clash in Minneapolis as part of the Cambria College Classic, so that's another one to look out for.
- Game 1: Fri., Feb. 24 at 5 p.m. (SECN+)
- Game 2: Sat., Feb. 25 at 2:30 p.m. (SECN+)
- Game 3: Sun., Feb. 26 at 2:30 p.m. (SECN+)
No. 12 North Carolina vs. No. 11 East Carolina
Here's an in-state matchup between two teams who reached the Super Regional stage in last year's tournament. The Tar Heels sputtered on opening day — allowing 10 runs to Seton Hall as the bullpen struggled — but have more than rebounded, outscoring opponents 39-6 in their four games since. Meanwhile, East Carolina exploded out the gates, getting better each day in its three-game sweep of George Washington before running into a bit of a wall against Campbell midweek.
If the heavyweight matchup doesn't reel you in, then maybe the atmosphere in Greenville will. Jim Perry Stadium at ECU has become notorious for the bounce and noise that the Pirates fanbase created during the postseason last year. Sure, we may be in February, but when the Tar Heels come to town, expect a June vibe to descend upon the ballpark this weekend. Interestingly, the three-game set will flip venues for Sunday's finale, moving to Chapel Hill and Boshamer Stadium.
- Game 1: Fri, Feb. 24 at 5 p.m. (Greenville, North Carolina - ESPN+)
- Game 2: Sat., Feb. 25 at 2 p.m. (Greenville, North Carolina - ESPN+)
- Game 3: Sun., Feb. 26 at 1 p.m. (Chapel Hill, North Carolina - ESPN+)
No. 17 UCLA vs. No. 10 Vanderbilt
The Commodores ran into the TCU buzzsaw in their season opener at the College Baseball Showdown, but their short memory served them well. Vandy had no issues scoring against Oklahoma State and Texas yet looked again midweek against Central Arkansas. It's hard to get a read on this team, but a three-game set against one of the Pac-12's best should be eye-opening.
Speaking of hard-to-get-a-read-on, UCLA has looked like a juggernaut — against Omaha and Pepperdine. Early season mismatches are the norm nowadays, so the jump in competition level to Vanderbilt will be telling. Both teams have more questions to answer in the box rather than on the mound. So perhaps this series will include a pitchers' duel or two. Even if a starting pitcher gets run off the mound quicker than expected, the bullpens are just as stout.
- Game 1: Fri., Feb. 24 at 5:30 p.m. (SECN+)
- Game 2: Sat., Feb. 25 at 2 p.m. (SECN+)
- Game 3: Sun., Feb. 26 at 1 p.m. (SECN+)
Games to keep on the radar in the near future
- Mississippi State at No. 18 Southern Miss, Feb. 28
- No. 4 Ole Miss vs. No. 13 Maryland, March 3 (Cambria College Classic — Minneapolis, Minnesota)
- No. 22 Miami (Fla.) at No. 7 Florida, March 3-5
- No. 18 Southern Miss at No. 4 Ole Miss, March 7