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Ole Miss baseball vs. Louisville: Preview, game times and online streaming

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Loaded with elite pitching talent, former Rebel assistant Dan McDonnell and the No. 2 Cardinals pose an early-season test for Mike Bianco's club.

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The disadvantage of facing an elite pitching staff in the second week of the season is obvious: batters are thrown into the fire before they've fully adjusted to live pitching and/or their coach has had time to get a feel for his lineup. The advantage, though, is that everyone gets an early sense of how this offense stacks up against something other than a mediocre C-USA staff.

So after blasting FIU last weekend and struggling some against Arkansas State on Wednesday, the Ole Miss bats now face what might be the best pitching staff in college baseball as No. 2 ranked Louisville rolls into Oxford for a weekend series. Bristling with a first-round MLB Draft pick, last year's national Freshman of the Year and a flame-throwing closer, Dan McDonnell's staff is absolutely loaded for 2016. Through four games against SIU Edwardsville and EKU, the undefeated Cards have allowed just seven runs and an opponent batting average of .187.

The offense isn't quite as dangerous, though it does return it's top three hitters from a season ago. And hell, you don't need to do much scoring when your pitchers are shutting everyone down.

This might be the best shot at a national championship that Dan McDonnell has had since trading an assistant job under Mike Bianco in Oxford for a the head gig in Louisville eight years ago. That's saying something considering McDonnell (as any Rebel baseball fan can begrudgingly tell you) has been to Omaha two of the last three years and was oh so close to making it three in a row last year.

How close? Here's the 11th-inning, super regional-deciding Cal State Fullerton home run that ended the Cards' 2015 season.

So yea, they have plenty of motivation this season.

2 big questions

1. Can Dan McDonnell keep showing up his old skipper?

Bianco has won a decent three of seven head-to-head matchups against McDonnell, but there's no doubt his former pupil has had more overall success in the eight years since they split.

Overall winning % Super regional trips Omaha trips
Bianco .617 4 1
McDonnell .698 5 3

Parsing through the intricacies of that comparison is another discussion entirely, but it's undeniable that McDonnell has the more impressive record. A Louisville series win will (warranted/realistic or not) unearth some of those old gripes that McDonnell should be the head man in Oxford.

2. Who's got the Funk?

McDonnell never expected to have Kyle Funkhouser, who was picked by the Dodgers in the first round of last summer's MLB Draft, as his Friday night ace this season. But Funkhouser turned down a signing bonus somewhere in the $2 million range to come back for his senior season, anchoring what might be the best pitching corps in college baseball.

Don't get it twisted: he didn't come back for love of the game or desire to win a championship with his team or some other romantic bullshit. Funkhouser freely admits he's back to improve his draft selection and, more importantly, the cash money that comes with it. Once thought to be a sure-fire top-10 pick, he tumbled to No. 35 after a disappointing junior campaign. Nevertheless, he might be the most talented pitcher the Rebs face this season.

It's not just him that Mike Bianco has to worry about. Saturday starter Brendan McKay was the national Freshman of the Year last season after going 9-3 with a 1.77 ERA. Sunday starter Drew Harrington was one of the top relief pitchers in the country in 2015, banging out a 0.29 ERA over 31 innings. Oh and Zack Burdi, one of the nation's top closers, waits on the back end with his 100 mph fastball.

The numbers

Complete Ole Miss statsComplete Louisville stats

Team pitching in 2015
Ole Miss Louisville
ERA 4.59 2.74
Strikeouts 402 582
Walks 163 239
Opponent average .269 .211
Team batting in 2015
Ole Miss Louisville
Runs per game 5.1 5.5
Batting average .265 .275
On-base % .359 .365
Slugging % .376 .389
Dingers 36 36
Steals-Attempts 52-78 127-170

How to watch

Friday

First pitch: 4 p.m. CT
TV: SEC Network PLUS
Online streaming: WatchESPN.com
Game-time weather: 49°, sunny, 0% chance of rain
Projected pitchers
Ole Miss: RHP Brady Bramlett (7-4, 3.74 ERA in 2015)
Louisville: RHP Kyle Funkhouser (8-5, 3.20 ERA in 2015)

Saturday

First pitch: 1:30 p.m. CT
TV: SEC Network PLUS
Online streaming: WatchESPN.com
Game-time weather: 59°, sunny, 0% chance of rain
Projected pitchers
Ole Miss: RHP Chad Smith (second D1 start)
Louisville: RHP Brendan McKay (9-3, 1.77 ERA in 2015)

Sunday

First pitch: 1:30 p.m. CT
TV: SEC Network PLUS
Online streaming: WatchESPN.com
Game-time weather: 57°, sunny, 10% chance of rain
Projected pitchers
Ole Miss: RHP Sean Johnson (second D1 start)
Louisville: RHP Drew Harrington (3-1, 0.29 ERA in 2015)