Heading into the final full month of college baseball, with 40-50 games of tape and evidence on each team, there is still so much to be resolved. One weekend of surprising results can be just that — or turn into a hot streak/tailspin for the team in question.
The Men's College World Series could feature eight teams that would shock no one just as easily as it could host a number of squads who looked dead in the water just weeks before.
There's plenty left to learn this season, even if the postseason is just around the corner. Here are three burning questions left to be answered:
Tennessee's late-season surge: Real or not?
I'd be far from the first person to point out that the Vols have endured a less-than-spectacular 2023 as a whole. A team that won over 50 games last season and looked to have retooled to run it back sputtered out of the gates and even dropped out of the D1Baseball top 25 as recently as mid-April.
Yet the past two weekends have seen Tennessee go on its best run of wins since its relatively easy non-conference schedule. Seven wins in a row that included sweeps of No. 4 Vanderbilt and Mississippi State. The Vols scored over 10 runs in five of those games while the pitching staff has looked much more the part of late. It's the arms that Tennessee was meant to lean on this season more than the bats — so are we seeing their fortunes finally turn around for good?
Maybe Tennessee is getting hot at the right time and finding its groove ahead of the SEC Tournament down in Hoover, Alabama. We will learn a lot more about the Vols down the stretch, first when they finally hit the road again for a series against Georgia next weekend — the same Bulldogs that swept No. 5 Arkansas the last time they played at home — before they host No. 15 Kentucky and face an ominous trip to Columbia to take on No. 3 South Carolina.
Perhaps the run to Omaha the program was favored to make last season will come to fruition in 2023, or will it be a second year watching from Rocky Top?
Who will be left standing from the Pac-12?
It's a four-way race out west for conference supremacy between No. 8 Stanford, No. 17 Arizona State, No. 22 Oregon State and No. 23 Oregon. Just in the next week, all four teams will meet someone else in that group as the Cardinal travels to Tempe and the Beavers host their rival Ducks (even if just for one midweek clash).
Unfortunately, this weekend will be the last time any of the top four meet for the rest of the regular season before the second-annual Pac-12 Tournament (what a wonderful addition that has been). All that will be available to try and separate these clubs will be mutual opponents and past results.
Arizona State won the series against Oregon State but dropped two of three to Oregon the next weekend.
Preseason favorites Stanford swept the Beavers but also lost a series to the Ducks.
So Oregon should be the favorite, right? Well, ask Oregon State, who beat them twice in Eugene just a few weeks ago.
It's all up in the air on the Pacific. All four teams could make a run in the conference tournament and position themselves nicely for a deep run in June.
Michigan State, Big Ten champions?
Yes — you read that correctly. The same Spartan team that was left out of the Big Ten preseason poll is currently in second place, just a game behind preseason favorites Maryland. It must be noted that their conference schedule looks quite light when you consider they have yet to play third-place Indiana and an Iowa team that has already eclipsed 30 wins.
Still, the fact that Sparty is even in the conversation this late into the season is novel. No one player can change the fortune of a team, but Brock Vradenburg's 2023 has been stellar, leading his team in batting average (.442), home runs (12) and RBIs (56). Behind him are four other Spartans hitting over .300 with a pitching staff that has kept opponents to a .257 average all year.
Like Tennessee, the month of May will be very telling of how seriously we ought to take the Spartans. Two high-stakes series and the luck of avoiding Maryland. But unlike the Vols, there were no expectations for this team coming into the season.
Maybe Indiana, Iowa and a potential tournament meeting with Maryland will expose Michigan State, or maybe we'll find out it's time to stop sleeping on the Spartans