Quarter point review

Did you blink? Just like that we’re already a month into the season, reaching the quarter point of the 16-weekend NCAA college baseball schedule. The Big Ten has compiled a 98-81 record through the first four weeks, sitting fifth in conference RPI, for whatever value that holds at this point.

The Big Ten garnered headlines for taking five or nine games against the Pac-12 in the Dairy Queen Classic, led by a 3-0 showing from Illinois, leading to a split of 24 games against the Pac-12. Indiana has not fallen from the polls, in fact the Hoosiers’ positioning has improved across the board from their preseason pencilings. Mark Wasikowski continues to build up the Purdue program, Rutgers is off to its best start in a decade, while things aren’t as rosy from the two programs from Michigan.

All of that said, what has 10 Innings taken from the first month? Here are the thoughts of Blake Dowson and Chris Webb.

*All stats through March 12

Biggest Surprise

BD: Since we’re looking at “Biggest Surprise” as a good thing, I’m going to go with the Fighting Illini. Dan Hartleb and his squad has gotten off to better starts in the past (they’re 8-4 right now), but the blue bloodedness of the teams they have beat this year can’t be ignored: Coastal Carolina, UCLA, and Arizona have all fallen to the Illini, and all three of those teams have won national titles since 2012.

CW: The Ohio State offense. Last year, the Buckeyes finished 10th in the conference with a .260 average, ninth with a .395 slugging percentage, and eighth with a .356 on-base percentage. Through 15 games, those numbers are up to .301, .450 and .388. The offensive turn-up also hasn’t come against second-rate competition, either. The Buckeyes put up eight runs in a game against Oregon State, 15 in two games against Coastal Carolina, and nine against Southern Miss. With six regulars batting at least .300, the Buckeyes have averaged 6.6 runs and 10.6 hits in five games against ranked reams.

 

Biggest Disappointment

BD: Michigan has done nothing to disprove the notion they are one of the better teams in the Big Ten, but its start is less than inspiring at 4-10. Losing three of four to Stanford is excusable, losing two of three to Lipscomb is not.

CW: Top pitching prospects. Using Baseball America’s preseason top 2018 MLB Draft prospects list, it hasn’t been the best month for pitchers drawing the most scouting attention. Baseball America ranked the top prospects as Ryan Feltner, Brady Schnauel, Jonathan Stiever, Riley McCauley and Will Tribucher. Their seasons thus far:

Feltner- 1-0, 7.50 ERA, 20.2 IP, 10 BB, 20 SO

Schnauel- 2-2, 4.24, 17.0, 14, 19

Stiever- 1-1, 4.81, 24.1, 8 32

McCauley- 0-2, 4.71, 21.0, 8, 27

Tribucher- 0-2, 4.76, 5.2, 5, 8

 

Pitcher of the Month

BD: Purdue needs to get some love on this list. Tanner Andrews gets the nod here. He is two outs away from leading the league in innings right now (he’s at 27.1), and sports a 0.99 ERA through four starts. He’s also fourth in the league in strikeouts.

CW: Where the top pitching prospects have underwhelmed, Andrews has pitched himself into being a very good senior sign, a potential top-10 round draft pick. Undoubtedly, the conference’s top pitcher, Andrews has pitched at least six innings in every start, while allowing just three extra-base hits. With Andrews pitching the way he has, Mark Wasikowski can feel confident on Fridays going into every weekend.

 

Player of the Month

BD: This is tough between Jacson McGowan and Noah McGowan. And no, these two aren’t related. I’ll give the nod to Noah for what he has done to propel the Buckeyes. His .404 average with 12 extra-base hits to go along with a league-leading 24 RBI are right in the middle of an Ohio State order that has absolutely exploded.

CW: McGowan v. McGowan is shaping up to be the toughest POY race since 2013 when Kyle Schwarber and Justin Parr went head to head. The offensive numbers between the two first baseman are equally impressive.

Jacson: .408/.508/.837, 3 2B, 6 HR, 20 RBI,

Noah: .410/.486/.787,  6 2B, 1 3B, 5 HR, 24 RBI.

I’ll give the edge, barely, to Noah, as he can play first, second, and the outfield, adding an element of versatility, and being a bit more valuable, that beats out. Fortunately we have a May series between the two teams in Columbus, where they can decide this head-to-head on the field.

 

Best Team

BD: The consistency at Indiana is impressive. The Hoosiers are the highest-ranked team in the Big Ten in polls and in my mind. They sit at 11-4 with impressive wins over Kansas State, South Alabama, Coastal Carolina, three against San Diego, and two against Pacific.

CW: I think Illinois has played the best baseball thus far. The Illini are getting it done at the plate, with Ben Troike, Michael Massey and Bren Spillane, and figure to be a team nobody wants to see once Zac Taylor and Jack Yalowitz get going. The weekend rotation has settled in with newcomers Quinn Snarski and Andy Fisher leading the way, while Joey Gerber at the back of the bullpen has shown flashes of brilliance. Oh, and the team is fielding at an insane rate. Illinois has made a strong case to be the most complete team.

 

Most Impacting Injury

BD: It’s been tough for Iowa to ride any sort of momentum from last season’s Big Ten Tournament title without the Big Ten Tournament MVP, Chris Whelan. Besides the tournament, Whelan hit .309 overall last season with 25 RBI. An elbow injury has kept Whelan out of the middle of Iowa’s order this season, but he’s scheduled to debut this weekend.

CW: Chad Luensmann. Especially with how many pitchers Nebraska has lost since he went down in the offseason. As they start to get out of their annual early season slump, the Huskers should have on of the Big Ten’s top lineups, that will be title-defense worthy. Luis Alvrado has nicely stepped into the ace role, the same for Jake Hohensee as the team’s closer. But the Huskers are hurting in depth, where the junior right-hander had the ability to either be a long-inning reliever, lockdown down closer, or spot starter.

 

General Summation

BD: Through the first few weekends, the Big Ten looked like it was going to surprise a lot of people throughout college baseball. Minnesota, Illinois, and Michigan State all made statements at the DQ Classic. Purdue won six of its first seven, including a win over Notre Dame. Iowa won eight of its first nine games.

But things have slowed down a bit since. That same Iowa team has now lost four in a row,

Michigan has won two of nine, Michigan State is two for its last seven, and Northwestern squandered a big opportunity in Austin by losing three of four to the Longhorns.

Now comes time for Big Ten teams to start beating up on each other, meaning the conference as a whole can’t rise up too much. If one team is bolstering a resume, it came at the expense of another Big Ten team. Now is when we start to see who the contenders and pretenders are.

CW: It’s been a solid non-conference run for the Big Ten. There hasn’t been anything truly eye-catching, Indiana has held serve, as the top team should, and the showings of Illinois and Purdue aren’t that surprising, the teams had three and five respective 10 Innings’ preseason all-conference picks.

The conference had the potential to really make a statement with splits, but Ohio State saw Oregon State score six runs in their last at-bat and a walk-off three run home run prevented Michigan from splitting with Stanford. Iowa being swept by UNLV, Michigan’s o-for-Tony Gwynn Legacy, Nebraska dropping the series at Wichita State, and Michigan State being swept by Fresno State, are sore spots.

But Ohio State beat Southern Miss and split with Coastal Carolina, Rutgers is 8-6, Northwestern has road wins at Kansas and Texas, and the aforementioned Indiana series at San Diego, and Illinois’ perfect Dairy Queen Classic are certainly bright spots.

All in all, it’s been a month where a good, but not truly great conference, has shown depth and ability. With Indiana, the Big Ten has a likely regional host if the season ended today, joined in the field by Illinois and Ohio State, who both likely with multiple resume-highlighting wins. Maryland and Minnesota have done enough to head into two very important weeks, with Iowa, Nebraska, and Purdue beating who they should have beat to hang around enough. With only a week to go before conference play begins, it appears everything is inline for another half-dozen Big Ten teams to be in the mix for a regional bid.

Penn State Home Opener Postponed

University Park, Pa. — Due to forecasted cold temperatures, Penn State’s non-conference baseball game scheduled for Tuesday evening at 5 p.m. against Mount St. Mary’s on Medlar Field at Lubrano Park has been postponed, Penn State head coach Rob Cooper announced Tuesday afternoon.

The game has been rescheduled for Tuesday, April 17 at 6:30 p.m.

Fans with tickets for the Mount St. Mary’s game can redeem them at the State College Spikes box office for any other 2018 Penn State baseball game.

Penn State’s home opener is now scheduled for Friday at 5 p.m. against NJIT, which will also open a three-game series against the Highlanders. Schedule posters for the 2018 season will be given away at all three games, while Saturday (1 p.m.) will feature a “Luck of the Lions” prize raffle to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. The series is set to conclude Sunday starting at noon with youths ages 12 and under who wear their Little League Jersey able to receive FREE admission and then all kids can run the bases postgame.

Season, flex and single-game tickets for the 2018 season, presented by Family Clothesline, are available online at GoPSUsports.com or by calling the Medlar Field at Lubrano Park ticket office at 814-272-1711.

Week 4 Weekend Observations

The fourth weekend of the college baseball season is in the books. Yes, just like that, a month has already passed. With each team having a dozen games under their belts, any rust for winter practices confined to indoor facilities should be gone by now. As conference play grows nearer, the cream is starting to rise from the crop. And here’s what was observed from the past weekend as the picture becomes more and more clear as to the form teams really are.

Illini aren’t going away

Checking in at No. 24 in this week’s Baseball America poll, Illinois becomes the second team in the Big Ten to be ranked this year. The number next to their name comes on the heels of a seven-game winning streak that was stopped Sunday by Michigan State. Before the Spartans picked up a 4-2 win, Illinois had been clicking on all cylinders.

Between Feb. 24 and March 4, Dan Hartleb’s team had a run of six consecutive games without committing an error. Over the seven game winning streak, which included a sweep of the Dairy Queen Classic field, Illinois scored less than five runs just once, while allowing more than five runs just once.

A rotation of Quinn Snarskis, Andy Fisher, and Ty Weber holding a combined ERA of 3.19, a team doing a bit of everything offensively with a triple-slash of .261/.366/.438 with 17 stolen bases, and the Big Ten’s top fielding unit, Illinois hasn’t showed a true weakness. That’s a scary thought for future opponents as Jack Yalowitz (.222) and Zac Taylor (.189) have yet to get going.

Scarlet Knights make a statement

It might not have been the most attention-grabbing weekend, no ranked teams were defeated, wins weren’t gathered in a hostile environment, and there wasn’t a no-hitter or outrageous score were to carry the headline. But Rutgers’ weekend should make some take notice.

Rutgers played Army in Fort Myers, Fla., the third Big Ten opponent the Black Knights have faced this weekend. After splitting the first six games, going 1-2 against Michigan, a week before picking up a pair of wins at Maryland, Army was unable to grab a victory in three games against Rutgers. With the weekend sweep, Rutgers is off to a solid start at 8-6, a record which includes a pair last-inning stunning defeats to Boston College and St. Bonaventure.

When considering a close 7-6 loss to Indiana, and Rutgers’ run differential against Army of 17, compared to nine for Michigan and -1 for Maryland, more and more evidence is gathering that Rutgers will be in the mix for a spot in the Big Ten Tournament, that the desired offseason culture change is taking place.

Maryland remains a mystery

It’s been a season of streaks for Maryland. The Terps opened the season winning their first two games before dropping the next four. That skid was followed by a five-game winning steak. Maryland’s winning ways were stopped by back-to-back defeats, before picking up consecutive wins to grab the home series against Bryant. At 9-6, Maryland’s up-and-down season hasn’t derailed postseason dreams, but it has made it tough to gauge how good Rob Vaughn’s team is.

Is Maryland the team that 14 runs in its first two games at Tennessee, or closer to the team that scored 13 over the next four? Maryland beat Ball State 13-1, to run their winning streak to five games, then came up flat, falling 7-1 to Delaware. Mirroring the up/down nature of Maryland’s season is the performance of the expected top two contributors.

Junior second baseman Nick Dunn is batting .358 with five doubles and five home runs, pacing the club. Classmate outfielder Marty Costes, is off to a .151/.309/.264. As was the case this weekend, Dunn can carry the team to victory. But he can’t continually do it all by himself at the plate, getting Costes going will surely stabilize the Terrapins.

Indiana’s depth shows

The Hoosiers may have only scored eight runs in their 2-1, series victory over Pacific, but a detailed look at the box scores shows why Indiana is the Big Ten’s top-ranked team and favorite to win the conference title.

On Friday, in a 2-1 loss, Indiana received a 4-for-4, three-double game from first baseman/second baseman Matt Lloyd. On Saturday, each of Colby Stratten’s two hits were doubles. Then, on Sunday, Logan Sowers had a 3-for-4 day with three doubles, driving in three runs. Three different players with multi-extra-base games, which didn’t include top hitter Logan Kalthea or Luke Miller, who are 1-2 in slugging percentage at .577 and .574, respectively, shows how much of a headache the Indiana lineup can be.

Then, Indiana throws a very deep bullpen at opponents. Hoosier relievers combined to toss nine innings without allowing an earned run against Pacific, as four relievers who have appeared in at least three games continue to have a spotless 0.00. The depth at the plate and options on the mound backs up head coach Chris Lemonis’ assertion this is his deepest Indiana team.

Ohio State: Very Good O, Very Bad D

If you’re eighth-year head coach Greg Beals, there’s a lot to like about the 2018 Ohio State outfit. But there is also a very concern area.

After a .295/.364/.541 weekend at the Chanticleer Classic, Ohio State has a season triple-slash of .301/.388/.450. The Buckeyes’ slugging percentage is tops in the Big Ten, spurred by a conference-leading 16 home runs. Of the team’s 15 games, the Bucks have scored at least six runs 10 times, averaging a Big Ten-best 7.53 runs per game. Seniors Tyler Cowles and Noah McGown give Beals a potent 1-2 punch in the heart of the lineup.

The best in the Big Ten at plating runs, the Buckeyes are the worst in the field, helping the opposition score more unearned runs than any team. With 28 errors and a .951 fielding percentage, the Buckeye nine is the conference’s worst fielding unit, one that has allowed 26 unearned runs, almost two a game, to score. Ohio State has had only one error-less game, while 10 contests have seen the Bucks commit at least two errors. Most damaging, the Buckeyes allowed Oregon State, the top-ranked team in the country, to score six unearned runs on Feb. 23, in a 10-8 loss, before allowing #28 Coastal Carolina to score three unearned runs on Saturday, in another 10-8 defeat.

Minnesota can’t cash in at U.S. Bank

The construction of U.S. Bank Stadium, the home of the Minnesota Vikings, and use of the facility to play baseball games was to give Minnesota an asset. Instead of traveling to all parts of the country over the first month of the season, Minnesota could play games at home, in Minneapolis. Unfortunately the Gophers showing inside of the home of Super Bowl XVII have been troublesome than rewarding.

Through 10 games, Minnesota is 6-4 at home. Considering two of the four losses are to UCLA and Washington, the record isn’t that bad. But Minnesota’s offense has produced only four games where the team has scored more than three runs. Before Sunday’s 15-1 triumph over Creighton, the team averaged 3.1 runs per game, while allowing four runs per contest to the visitors.

The next eight games for Minnesota come on the run, including three at No. 11 TCU and three at reigning Big Ten champion Nebraska. The stretch of eight games will go a long way in determining Minnesota’s postseason fate, and considering the team’s struggles inside spacious U.S. Bank Stadium, it may be beneficial they come on the road, especially with the weight RPI formula.

Illinois Home Opener Moved to Wednesday

Champaign, Ill. — The Illinois baseball team’s home opener against Milwaukee has been moved to Wednesday at 3 p.m. The game was originally scheduled for Tuesday.

Illinois is off to an 8-4 start and has won seven of its last eight games. The Illini own wins over top-25 ranked opponents UCLA and Coastal Carolina.

The Weekend 10

Big Ten play is around the corner, giving teams just one more weekend to tune up and fire on all cylinders before the race for the conference championship beings. Who’s showing their in peak form? This week’s Weekend 10 has a few repeat standout pitchers.

Here’s the rundown.

 

Nebraska Jr. INF Angelo Altavilla

In a weekend where Nebraska scored 47 runs, Altavilla was at the forefront of the Husker attack. Picking up seven hits in 13 at-bats, for a .538 batting average, Altavilla scored eight runs and drove in five teammates. Using six walks, the junior posted a .624 on-base percentage.

Nebraska Sr. RHP Luis Alvarado

After a 14-8, series-opening loss to Cal Poly dropped Nebraska to 6-6 on the season, their ace delivered a leading performance. Spurring a three-game winning streak to take the weekend series, Alvarado pitched seven innings of scoreless baseball, scattering five hits, surrendering one walk, and striking out eight batters. Earning Nebraska’s first 10 Innings weekly honor, the pitcher of the week lowered his season ERA to 2.08, while leveling his record to 1-1.

Purdue Sr. RHP Tanner Andrews

Purdue ace Tanner Andrews continues to have a stronghold on Big Ten Pitcher of the Year honors. Andrews’ latest gem came Friday night at Tulane, where the right-hander scattered four hits over 7.2 innings, allowing one run. Andrews’ ERA rose to 0.99 on the year, in his seven-strikeout, two-walk effort.

Rutgers Jr. OF Luke Bowerbank

Rutgers was able to do something conference peers Maryland and Michigan were unable to: sweep Army. A big part of the Scarlet Knights’ sweep of the Black Knights was the play of outfielder Luke Bowerbank. In three games, Bowerbank went 6-for-12, scoring four runs, driving in five runs, picking up a double and stolen base.

Ohio State Sr. OF Tyler Cowles

Cowles helped a high-powered Ohio State offense split two games against both, Coastal Carolina and High Point, with a memorable weekend. Over 16 at-bats, Cowles collected a pair of singles, three doubles and two home runs, to bat .500 with a 1.063 slugging percentage. Cowles’ five RBI led the Buckeyes on the weekend and the senior added two walks and a stolen base.

Maryland Jr. 2B Nick Dunn

As a Cape Cod All-Star, much was expected of Dunn entering his junior season. One of the Big Ten’s top draft prospects, Dunn’s production has justified the hype. Leading the Terps to a series victory over Bryant, Dunn picked up seven hits in 13 at-bats, collected a pair of doubles, drove in five runs and crossed home five times. The big weekend has Dunn’s average up to .358 this season.

Michigan State Fr. RHP Mason Erla

For a second time in three weeks, Erla is 10 Innings’ Freshman of the Week, logging another scoreless start, this time against a conference foe. Bringing Illinois’ seven-game winning streak to a halt, Erla allowed just one hit, and worked around five walks, to hold the Illini to one run over 6.1 innings. With five strikeouts, Erla moved to 2-0 on the year in Michigan State’s 4-2 victory.

Nebraska Sr. 2B Zac Repinski

Repinski was responsible for nine of Nebraska’s 51 hits against Cal Poly, posting a .529 average. Behind three doubles, Repinski matched Alvarado with five RBI, while leading the Huskers with 10 runs. Repinski added a stolen base and sacrifice fly, to fill up the weekend stats next to his .571 on-base percentage and .706 slugging mark.

Indiana Jr. RHP Jonathan Stiever

Stiever did not record a decision in Indiana’s Friday content against Pacific, but the Hoosier turned in his best performance of the season and kept IU in a tight contest throughout his start. Over eight innings, Stiever allowed just one run off five hits, all singles, striking out 12 batters against two walks. Pacific earned the 2-1 win with a unearned run in the ninth inning.

Illinois Jr. OF Doran Turchin

Earning 10 Innings Player of the Week honors, Turchin found his way on base early and often in Illinois’ three games. Recording 15 plate appearance, Turchin picked up five hits and drew seven walks. With two doubles and a home run, the junior batted .625 and slugged 1.250, next to a whopping .800 on-base percentage. Turchin struck out just once, and did this:

 

 

March 8-11 Weekend Preview

Big test awaits Iowa out west

(The lights of Las Vegas will be the backdrop of this weekend's marquee series)

Blake Dowson-

Before the season started, Iowa-UNLV wasn’t circled as a weekend series to watch by many people. But as the Hawkeyes heads west to Las Vegas this weekend, plenty of eyes will be on Earl Wilson Stadium, as two teams garnering votes in the most recent USA Today Coaches Poll square off.

Iowa head coach Rick Heller has been tasked with replacing much of the production in his order this year, but the Hawkeyes haven’t skipped a beat.

Despite all that, the Hawkeyes have shot out to a 8-2 start, their best since 2015. On top of that, Heller said his team hasn’t played its best ball yet.

But the Hawkeyes haven’t played anyone the caliber of UNLV thus far, although they might not have expected for their series in Las Vegas to be a marquee matchup this early in the season.

“Things have gone well overall from the start,” he said. “We’re still searching for our identity offensively. We had two really big losses [Jake Adams and Mason McCoy], so we knew we were going to be a different team. We haven’t really hit our stride yet offensively...As a team, our best days are down the road.”

Although Iowa has been without many of its contributors from last year, it did get one key contributor back from an injury, that being Friday starter Nick Allgeyer.

The lefty underwent Tommy John surgery after the 2016 season and missed all of 2017, but is back as the ace of Iowa’s staff. Through three starts (all wins), he’s logged 18.2 innings while serving up an ERA under 1.00.

Allgeyer did good work for the Hawkeyes in 2016 before the injury with a 3.44 ERA in 36.2 innings, but it was mostly out of the bullpen. His three starts this year have tripled the number of career starts he had made at Iowa. With a number of rotation spots up for grabs this year, Allgeyer cementing himself as a reliable arm early in the season does wonders for Heller’s confidence.

The Hawkeye head coach said Allgeyer isn’t unlike the rest of the team, in the fact that he’s not yet at his best. That’s to be expected from a guy returning from major surgery.

“Having Nick on Friday, you know you’re going to get a quality start,” he said. “He’s a tough guy. He’s really going to battle. His command has been solid. Everything that we had hoped for with him coming back has come true so far. But he hasn’t been his best yet.”

Allgeyer will have to deal with a revamped UNLV lineup, one that boasts six guys hitting over .300 and two - Kyle Isbel and Max Smith - hitting over .400 through 13 games.

The Rebels have hit .315 as a team as they have bulldozed their way through their early schedule, sweeping Fresno State and picking up a win against Oregon. That Fresno State team has logged a four-game sweep over Michigan State and three wins against Houston Baptist, and is still receiving poll votes.

On top of the offensive outburst, the Rebels have cut their team ERA in half, from 6.54 a year ago to 3.13 this season.

In the two schools’ first-ever meetings last year, Iowa swept UNLV in Iowa City, though those three games were decided by a total of five runs. That was sort of the theme of UNLV’s season in 2017, Heller pointed out. In total, the Rebels lost 11 games by two runs or less. This season, they have already won five games by two runs or less.

“All of us felt like they [UNLV] were close last year. They could’ve won all three games last year [in Iowa City], and they ended up losing all three,” Heller said. “They’ve got two starting pitchers back, a lot of quality pitchers, and they’ve added talent to that team. They lost a couple hitters, but they’ve got four or five guys back that maybe weren’t their main guys last year...They’re well coached, and they play hard for Coach [Stan] Stolte. They’ve been rolling.”

This series didn’t look like much before the season started. It definitely didn’t look like a matchup that would be between two teams with a combined 19-4 record and NCAA implications on the line.

Both teams now have an opportunity to bolster their resume early in the season against a quality opponent.

The atmosphere will be plenty hot in the desert this weekend.

 

Required reading

Spillane leads Illini to hot start  -Gavin Good, The Daily Illini

Phillips returns strong from cancer -Walter Villa, D1Baseball.com

Jahn given chance to reset with Ohio State -Colin Gay, The Lantern

What to Watch For

Familiar foes

Around the Big Ten, action will to take place where the two opponents are quite familiar with the Big Ten.

Ohio State's two games against Coastal Carolina marks the fourth consecutive weekend the Chanticleers will take on a Big Ten opponent. So far Coastal Carolina is 1-3 against the conference, splitting two games against Illinois, and losing to Indiana and Maryland.

Army is 3-3 against the Big Ten thus far, and has three more games against a conference club. The Scarlet Knights of Rutgers will take on the Black Knights, in a three-game series in Fort Myers.

To keep an eye on for future reference, Penn State's desert opponent, Grand Canyon, will travel to Illinois in April. And Michigan's competition in the Music City, Lipscomb, will travel to West Lafayette in two weeks.

And for good measure, Illinois and Michigan State, after participating in the Dairy Queen Classic, square off for two games in Greenville, South Carolina, as the two do not meet during the conference season.

Taking care of business

More games are starting to pop up on Big Ten campuses. As such, the need to secure victories become more crucial.

This weekend, Indiana hosts Pacific, Minnesota welcomes Creighton, Bryant travels to Maryland, and Nebraska takes on Cal Poly in Lincoln. The four are teams that figure to be in the hunt for a regional berth, a group that needs to make sure they take care of business this weekend.

Each of the four Big Ten teams should be viewed as the favorite in their respective series. Wins will not only push them towards the magical 40-win mark, but they avoid the costly home loss which is weighted in the RPI formula. None of the four opponents figure to give the respective Big Ten club a boost in strength of schedule, so it is important they control the portion of the RPI formula they can control: winning. For the Big Ten to continue to be a three, four, five, potential six-bid conference, these weekends are just as important as weekends like last week, where Indiana took down San Diego, Illinois swept through the Dairy Queen Classic and Ohio State knocked off a ranked Southern Miss club.

Heavy workload ahead

A handful of Big Ten universities are set to begin spring break, meaning heavy workloads are on deck for a few baseball teams. Here's a look at is set to start a week of baseball, baseball, and more baseball.

Indiana, Minnesota, and Purdue- Eight games over the next 10 days.

Nebraska- Nine games over 11 days.

Ohio State- Nine games over the next 10.

 

By the numbers

.994- Illinois leads the Big Ten, and sits second in the nation, with a .994 fielding percentage. In 340 chances, the Illini have committed only two errors.

1.000- Purdue's Jacson McGowan leads the Big Ten with a 1.000 slugging percentage, meaning the junior first baseman has as many total bases on the season as official at-bats: 38. McGowan ranks in the top three in: average, on-base percentage, slugging, home runs, RBI, and total bases.

14- Iowa's Big Ten-leading 2.73 ERA is a result of holding the opposition to just 14 extra-base hits on the year. By comparison, every other Big Ten team has surrendered at least 14 doubles.

March 8 Power Rankings

Several teams across the conference picked up big victories over the weekend. From Illinois going 3-0 in the Dairy Queen Classic, to Indiana taking three out of four games against San Diego, the weekend saw Big Ten teams garner national attention with impressive performances.

With only two weekends left before Big Ten play begins, conference teams are half-way through their non-conference weekends. And for some, keeping the Big Ten bye week in mind, there are still noteworthy out of conference games to come. This week’s power rankings takes a look at each team’s most important non-conference showdowns.

Previous power rankings: Week 1, Week 2

#1 Indiana (9-3) Last Week: 1

IU’s series at San Diego is the highlight of their non-conference slate. Left for the Hoosiers on non-Big Ten weekends are series at home against Pacific, Northern Illinois and Butler. Anything less than a 7-2 showing over those three weekends would be a shock, neither of the three teams should pose much a threat. As Indiana positions itself for a potential regional bid, avoiding bad series defeats will become important. Of the three, a series loss to Northern Illinois would be the worst, making it the most important remaining non-conference schedule for Indiana.

#2 Purdue (8-2) LW: 2

Purdue heads down to Tulane this weekend for three games against the Green Wave. Although their record stands at only 6-7, three losses have been to Ole Miss with another two against Cal State-Fullerton. Tulane’s record should improve as they head into American Athletic Conference play, potentially creating a quality non-conference weekend opponent, which is the only thing missing from Purdue’s strong start.

#3 Illinois (6-3) LW: 7

If Illinois’ five-game winning streak, which included victories over two currently ranked teams, is a sign of what’s to come for the Illinois, Dan Hartleb has a team capable of ending a two-year NCAA Tournament drought. For that to happen, Illinois will need to avoid dropping games against teams that can sink their RPI. During their Big Ten bye week, Illinois hosts Grand Canyon, April 20-22. Grand Canyon has struggled to a 3-8 start in their first season as a Division I program, and could be a late-season dream killer if Illinois overlooks the Antelopes.

#4 Iowa (8-2) LW: 4

Iowa has racked up eight wins over their first 10 games, kicking off Rick Heller’s fifth season in Iowa in good form. But the quality of wins hasn’t quite matched the quantity. That will change soon. A three-game set at 12-2 UNLV kicks off the back-half of Iowa’s non-conference slate, but that still isn’t the series to circle. Between May 4-6, the Hawkeyes take on Oklahoma State during their Big Ten bye week. The Cowboys are the type of strong, non-conference opponent that can add a bullet to a postseason

#5 Minnesota (10-4) LW: 3

The marquee matchup for the Gophers may be the Big Ten series of the year. Minnesota heads down to TCU for three games against the four-time reigning College World Series participant. Minnesota has a team capable of appearing in a second regional in three years, and a series victory over the Horned Frogs will carry a lot of weight come May on whether John Anderson’s team is included in the field of 64.

#6 Maryland (7-4) LW: 8

With a series victory against traditional power North Carolina under its belt, East Carolina figures to be a tough opponent for the Terps. Maryland welcomes ECU to College Park, March 16-18, in a series that can help Maryland regain some of the attention the club garnered in the preseason. An uneven start has seen Maryland follow a four-game losing streak with a current five-game run, if their strong showings continue against the Pirates, finishing in the top half of the Big Ten should keep Maryland in the NCAA Tournament picture.

#7 Ohio State (7-4) LW: 5

To this point, the non-conference portion of Ohio State’s schedule can be considered a push. Ohio State dropped two games against No. 2 Oregon State, allowing a six-run last at-bat to decide the fate of the first, before rebounding to game a victory over a ranked Southern Miss team last weekend. This weekend, Ohio State has two more games against a ranked team, taking on Coastal Carolina. This weekend presents the last golden chance for the Bucks to bolster a regional resume with wins over a top team.

#8 Nebraska (6-5) LW: 6

Nebraska welcomes Nevada to Lincoln, April 26-28, during their conference bye week. The Wolfpack may not be the toughest foe, but the series comes before Nebraska finishes the season hosting Maryland and Indiana in back-to-back weeks, then ending with a series at Illinois. Based on how national pundits view the Terps, Hoosiers and Illini, that may be the toughest in-conference stretch a team faces. One that could push Nebraska to a fourth regional in five years or shut down their title defense hopes. Getting a little momentum and picking up expected wins can set May’s tone.

#9 Michigan (3-8) LW: 11

There isn’t a non-conference opponent remaining on Michigan’s schedule in the quality of Stanford. But after Michigan went 1-3 in Palo Alto, the Wolverines have only three wins in 11 contests this. This weekend’s three-game series at Lipcombs is important for U-M to start to turn the tide, rebound from a 2-7 stretch and gather momentum as they start their home slate and soon after conference schedule.

#10 Michigan State (3-8) LW: 10

Michigan State has faced stiff competition over the first three weeks of the season. With the exception of two games against in-conference peer Illinois this weekend, the non-conference slates winds down with lesser competition dotting the schedule. But that doesn’t make the games against less important. If MSU can go on a run, the team’s strength of schedule may help boost their RPI. If so, it is imperative the Spartans take care of Niagara in a four-game set, March 15-18, to avoid RPI-killing defeats.

#11 Penn State (4-5) LW: 9

The Nittany Lions host Xavier during their Big Ten bye week, May 10-12. The Musketeers have appeared in back-to-back regional championships, making the NCAA Tournament in three of the last four seasons. Stepping outside of the Big Ten in the penultimate weekend, and taking on a solid opponent, may allow Penn State to enter its final series at Iowa with the needed focus to reach the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since 2012.

#12 Rutgers (5-6) LW: 12

Army, Rutgers upcoming weekend opponent, has given the Big Ten fits; the Black Knights grabbed a game in their season-opening series against Michigan, then took two of three at Maryland. But it’s Florida Gulf Coast, Rutgers’ final weekend opponent before Big Ten play begins, who hosts the Scarlet Knights in a series worth watching. The Osprey are coming off of an NCAA Tournament season, and a hot start has them in position to do the same in 2018. Rutgers’ weekend in Fort Myers will provide a good barometer of the club in Joe Litterio’s fifth season.

#13 Northwestern (3-7) LW: 13

For the Wildcats, they don’t occur over one weekend, but the Wildcats have a road game at Notre Dame on April 11, before hosting the Irish on May 15. If Northwestern’s program continues to build under Spencer Allen, an Irish-Wildcat I-80 rivalry can blossom into one of the region’s best inter-conference matchups.

 

10 Innings Extra: DQ Classic Showcases B1G Stature

Special to 10 Innings

If one were on a quest to find the most compelling piece of evidence that Big Ten baseball is healthier than ever and reaching new heights annually, they would have choices.

Perhaps the most obvious piece of evidence is the sheer number of teams the league can expect to put into regionals year after year.

Between 1999 (when the NCAA Tournament field expanded to its current 64-team format) and 2014, the most teams the Big Ten placed in a regional was three; occurring in 2005, 2007, and 2009. Since, the conference has placed three or more teams into regionals each of the last three years, including five teams in both 2015 and 2017.

Simply put, the conference has gone from being a one or two-bid league that would get three teams in their better years, to a league that expects to have multiple regional teams each year, with a chance to get more than one-third of their league teams into regionals in their best years.

A better indicator of the overall health of the conference, though, might be the diversity of the teams that get into regionals from the Big Ten. Between 1999 and 2010, for example, of the 22 instances of a Big Ten team getting into regionals, 19 were Michigan, Ohio State, or Minnesota.

In the years since, they’ve had 21 postseason appearances spread across nine different programs. It’s clearly more than just a select few programs making waves on behalf of the league at this point.

The ceiling has also been raised on the quality of the teams that are getting into regionals. With Purdue hosting in 2012, Indiana hosting in both 2013 and 2014, with the Hoosiers earning a national seed in ’14, and Illinois hosting both a regional and a super regional in 2015 as a national seed, the Big Ten hosted regionals for four consecutive seasons, which would have been inconceivable as recently as six or seven years ago. And Indiana, of course, got to Omaha in 2013, giving the league its first College World Series team since Michigan in 1984.

If one were looking for qualitative pieces of evidence, there are those too, such as the boom in facility construction across the league. Just about every team in the league has seen massive renovations (or complete rebuilds) of their facilities in recent years, and that includes some impressive indoor facility improvements.

Of course, one could also look at this weekend’s DQ Baseball Classic as evidence of the Big Ten’s rising presence in the national college baseball landscape.

The Pac-12 teams didn’t just show up to get some games in a unique environment like US Bank Stadium and to get some practice navigating through piles of snow on every sidewalk in the city. They’re here because they know they’re going to get three quality games that will challenge their teams and serve as positives on a postseason resume.

And in fact, the coach of the Pac-12 program in this tournament with the highest expectations is the one who started it all from his league’s perspective.

When Minnesota head coach John Anderson hatched the idea to reinvent the DQ Classic as a league challenge tournament, he called up UCLA head coach John Savage, pitched him the idea, and then asked if he could get a couple of other Pac-12 teams involved.

“I always liked the idea of trying to have a challenge, especially against some of the other power five conferences,” Anderson said. “If we’re trying to improve our image as a conference, and we’re trying to change that perception that’s out there to some degree, you have to get people from some of these conferences, you have to get together with them and play.

“And I think that’s how you improve your image,” Anderson continued. “I think that’s how you change people’s opinions, and also for your own players on your own team, they get a glimpse of what the national picture looks like and how you compare and what you need to do and improve.”

So, as it was over the weekend, a tournament featured a top-15 team from out west in UCLA and two other Pac-12 teams in Arizona and Washington that harbor very real postseason aspirations.

It was a tournament, frankly, that might have been difficult to see taking place at all in a previous iteration of the Big Ten, when the league wasn’t as widely respected as it is now.

Dan Hartleb, the head coach at Illinois for the last 13 seasons, and an assistant at the school for 15 years prior to that, would know about as well as anyone how far the league has come in a short time.

“I think, for both leagues, it’s a really, really good concept,” Hartleb said of the tournament. “It’s really, really important for our league. I feel really strongly, over the past five or six years, our league has really risen, and we have much better players in the league, the coaches are really good. I’m impressed with where we’ve gone.”

Hartleb’s Illinois team highlighted the weekend from a Big Ten standpoint, as they were crowned champions of the event after going 3-0, with close, hard-fought wins over UCLA and Arizona to begin the weekend before earning a comfortable win over Washington to clinch the title on Sunday.

The Illini played the cleanest, most consistent baseball of the weekend, but the event was marked by quality performances all around from the Big Ten representatives, with both Minnesota and Michigan State capturing victories, each in walk-off fashion.

Overall, the Big Ten won the challenge against their Pac-12 foes five wins to four, helping to prove what Anderson has suspected about the comparison between the two leagues.

“I don’t think there’s a big difference between the Pac-12 and the Big Ten currently with where we are today as a conference, the players in this league, the coaches, I don’t think the gap is as wide as some people think it is,” he said.

“I’ll say this, an Oregon State, they played the game at a pretty high level last year, they’re doing it again this year, I think they (the Pac-12) might have an elite team or two up there sometimes that maybe are better than our top team, but I don’t think, as a conference as a whole, there’s a big difference across the conference from top bottom. I don’t.”

Anderson’s hope is that this tournament will continue to be a showcase of what the Big Ten can do on a national scale against teams from power conferences, without having to travel south or west to do so.

“Usually when we play them (other power conference teams), we have to play them on the road early in the year,” he said. “This was an opportunity where we didn’t have to play them in their ballpark, and we could get them (here), and at least in Illinois and Michigan State’s case, on a neutral site situation, and have a chance to play them in a different environment than you normally do, which, I think, is a fair environment.”

In part thanks to the Final Four being in Minneapolis in 2019, the DQ Baseball Classic will be forced to take a year off, but the plan is for it to pick back up in 2020, with Iowa and Purdue representing the Big Ten against teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference. The 2020 edition, in fact, is just the start of Anderson’s hopes for the event.

“We’re going to do the ACC in 2020, and I think it’ll be good,” Anderson said. “I’d like to be able to have it at one of the Pac-12 schools, and then come back here. We could do it in both places in the same year if you wanted to. One year there, one year here, whatever you want to do. I think it’s just great for college baseball. I think it’s good for our conferences to do this. No question about it.”

If that sounds wide-eyed and optimistic about the future of what the DQ Baseball Classic can be, think about how wide-eyed and optimistic it might have sounded in the past for the Big Ten to say that they wanted to get five teams into the postseason.

And look where they are now.

The Weekend 10

Between the Dairy Queen Classic, road series at ranked opponents San Diego, Stanford and Texas, it was a big weekend in the Big Ten. Who came up with the best and biggest performances? Here’s a look.

Michigan State Soph. CF Justin Antoncic

Anchoring the Spartan lineup in the three-hole, Antoncic paced a Michigan State lineup that appears to be turning the corner after their showing in the Dairy Queen Classic. In MSU’s 4-3 win over Arizona, Antoncic went 3-for-4, a part of a .462 weekend which included two doubles and hist first career home run.

Maryland Sr. 1B/RHP Kevin Biondic

Biondic did a bit of everything for Maryland this weekend, earning this week’s nod as the 10 Innings’ Player of the Week. At the plate, Biondic batted .533, collecting two doubles, a triple, and a home run, en route to driving in nine RBI. In the Terps’ 11-4 victory over Ball State, on Sunday, Biondic drove seven runs, a day after earning the save in Maryland’s 7-6 win over Coastal Carolina. On Friday, Biondic pitched a scoreless inning in Maryland’s 11-4 win over Radford.

Purdue Jr. C Nick Dalesandro

Leading a Purdue outfit that scored 29 runs in three games, Dalesandro recorded a base hit in eight of 11 at-bats, recording a pair of doubles, four RBI and scored three runs. Dalesandro also showed his ability from behind the plate, throwing out three runners on the bases in Purdue’s Sunday contest at Stetson.

Indiana Soph. OF Matt Gorski

Gorski powered an Indiana lineup that took three of four games, on the road, against San Diego. A part of a team that batted .329 on the weekend, Gorski led all Hoosiers with nine hits over 17 at-bats, to bat .529. With a double and a triple on the weekend, Gorski drove in five runs.

Rutgers Fr. LHP Eric Heatter

For the second time in three weeks, Eric Heatter is 10 Innings’ Freshman of the Week. Against Old Dominion, the Scarlet Knight rookie pitched seven innings of scoreless baseball, scattered four hits and struck out six batters, while walking two. Old Dominion rallied with four runs in the ninth to win, 4-3, leaving Heatter with a no-decision, after the freshman lowered his ERA to 1.59 over 17 innings to start his career.

Michigan Soph. LHP Tommy Henry

Henry did not receive a decision in Michigan’s 3-2 loss against Stanford, in the first game of their Saturday doubleheader, but the southpaw’s performance earned him this week’s top pitcher honor. At No. 5 Stanford, Henry held the Cardinal to five hits over a career-high, seven scoreless innings, striking out five batters while only walking one.

Michigan Soph. RHP Karl Kauffmann

Michigan did win the nightcap of Saturday’s doubleheader, due in large part to another strong start, this time by Henry’s classmate, Kauffmann. In 6.2 innings, Kauffmann struck out 10 batters, keeping the Cardinal off the scoreboard while scattering three hits and issuing five walks. Kauffmann’s strong start lead to the first loss for Stanford this season, in Michigan’s 5-0 victory.

Purdue Jr. 1B Jacson McGowan

McGowan saw an 11-game hit streak end on Sunday, but the Boilermaker put together a weekend that has him the conference’s player of the year front-runner. McGowan picked up two of McGowan’s five hits over nine at-bats were home runs, the slugger drew four walks, drove in six runs and crossed home six times. For the season, McGowan has a triple-slash of .447/.533/1.000.

Illinois Soph. 2B Michael Massey

The Dairy Queen Classic MVP, Massey tortured Pac-12 pitching to lead Illinois to a 3-0 weekend and the tournament title. Massey collected two hits in every game, finishing the weekend 6-for-12, with half of his knocks being two-baggers, to slug .750 in Minneapolis.

Illinois Soph. RHP Ryan Thompson

Joining Massey on the All-Tournament Team, Thompson was received the victory in Illinois’ first two games. Against UCLA, Massey came into a bases loaded, one-out situation. Against Arizona, the reliever stepped on the mound with a runner at first, no outs and the game tied, 3-3. Thompson did not allow a base runner over his four innings of work.

March 2-4 Weekend Preview

Webb's Words: Sit back and enjoy a very big weekend

I planned on being in Palo Alto this weekend for Michigan's series at Stanford. It was after a long debate, I also wanted to be in Minneapolis for the Dairy Queen Classic, and I also wanted to be in San Diego for Indiana's series against USD. Unfortunately I can't be at three places at once, and last month I booked a flight to San Francisco. Wanting to visit northern California for the first time, wanting to walk around Stanford's campus, ideally enjoy good weather, and see a competitive four-game series, tilted the scales in the favor of Michigan-Stanford.

Unfortunately matters at home have kept me from traveling anywhere this weekend. But as I sit back and scan the weekend ahead for the Big Ten, that isn't a bad thing. In fact, it's probably the best possible outcome, this is a weekend to sit back and enjoy what is set to take place in the Big Ten.

From Florida, to the Twin Cities, down to Texas and out to California, there are big games and big series up and down the conference. The Dairy Queen Classic has No. 11 UCLA, a traditional power in Arizona, and Washington taking on Illinois, Michigan State, and Minnesota. Down in Texas, Spencer Allen takes Northwestern to Austin, where the Wildcats can take in an incredible environment and see what it's like to be a college baseball blueblood in No. 21 Texas, as they look to continue building up the program in Evanston. Ohio State has a contest against No. 17 Southern Mississippi in Pensacola, Fla. In California, No. 5 Stanford and No. 30 San Diego respectively await the Wolverines and Hoosiers. Even Nebraska's series at Wichita State, and Iowa heading to UAB, represent quality series.

I cannot remember a weekend where this many big games littered one weekend for Big Ten programs. And as the conference seeks to build off of placing five teams in regionals for the second time in three years, this is a weekend that can go a long way in ensuring another handful of teams are in the field of 64.

Further wetting the appetite for this weekend's games, Northwestern's games against Texas will be on the Longhorn Channel, Saturday's Ohio State-Southern Mississippi will be shown on Cox Sports and Sunday's Michigan-Stanford finale will be on the Pac-12 Network.

It would have been great to see the Golden Gate bridge, hop around Silicone Valley, ride a trolley, and rack up more Delta SkyMiles. But I'll be just fine to sit back, open the laptop, grab the iPad, have too many tabs of Gametracker open, find a television at the appropriate time and enjoy an incredible weekend of Big Ten action.

Wildcats look to sustain momentum, stand against blueblood Longhorns

(Photo courtesy Northwestern Athletics)

Blake Dowson-

Things haven’t gone quite as planned for the Northwestern baseball team so far this season, but an early 2-4 record isn’t anything to panic over.

The Wildcats found themselves in the Big Ten Tournament title game last year, just one win away from the NCAA Tournament. Now the task is for the Wildcats to show they can consistently find themselves in that position, and ultimately end an NCAA Tournament drought that dates back to 1957.

“We have to prove we can be a consistent club,” Northwestern head coach Spencer Allen said. “We want to be one of the top eight teams in the Big Ten every year. It’s a dog fight. There are good baseball teams left out of the Big Ten tournament every year. We want consistency, and to prove that last year wasn’t just a flash in the pan.”

One way to see how you stack up with the top dogs in the Big Ten? Schedule an early-season trip to Austin, Texas to take on the Texas Longhorns. One way to prove you belong at the top of the conference? Come away with a couple wins against the perennial power Longhorns.

Scheduling teams like Texas is important to Allen; he says he’s not into the false confidence a team gets by beating up on a bunch of second-rate programs.

“One, we want to figure out what we’re about,” he said. “I’m not into the false confidence of a great preseason record when you’re not playing anyone. Rutgers is playing miami, Michigan State is going out west. Nebraska always schedules tough. So the conference feels the same way. Two, I want our guys to be excited to go play. They’ll remember this trip. The opportunity to go play at Texas in front of a couple thousand fans is special.”

Allen and the Wildcats will have to try to keep pace with a Longhorn order that produced 20 runs in a three-game series against LSU in Baton Rouge. On the offensive side, it starts and ends with junior Willie Bourbon.

Bourbon, a junior this year for the Wildcats, is off to a great start, hitting .375 with an absurd 1.385 OPS. Bourbon has hit two doubles, two triples, three home runs, and has driven in 10 runs, while no other Northwestern hitter has driven in over three.

“Willie has been a three-year starter now,” Allen said. “As a freshman, I think he struck out 73 times. I’m happy for him because he stayed with it. He kept working.”

Bourbon will need his pitching staff to keep Texas somewhat in check, however, and that’s something the Wildcats have struggled with this year.

Northwestern has given up 51 runs in six games this season, adding up to a team ERA of 7.96 and opponents’ batting average of .333. Those numbers won’t win many games, especially when Northwestern runs into good pitching, like it did against Kansas and again this weekend against Texas and the entire Big Ten season.

This weekend poses a critical opportunity to get the pitching staff back on track against a really good team.

“Number one, we need to get a little bit more quality starts,” Allen said of his staff. “Getting guys into the sixth inning, starting the seventh. We need more consistency out of the bullpen. I think those are a couple things. We just need a little bit more [out of everyone].”

A 2-4 record or not, Allen said he’s happy with where his team is at. He said there is no sense of urgency this weekend to win games, just an urgency to get consistent.

If his team does that, he said they are on the right track.

“It’s everything to do with how we’re playing...Kansas this [past] weekend, they threw two or three second round draft picks. They were really good. I’m looking at how we’re playing. We need to tighten things up on the pitching staff. We’ve been facing some good arms, and I’m happy with where we’re at.”

What to watch for

Pacific Coast series

Three big series will take place in California this weekend, each with a varying degree of importance.

In San Diego, Indiana looks to lend further credence to their stature as one of the country's top teams and potential regional host. The 17th-ranked Hoosiers have a four-game set at No. 30 San Diego, providing Chris Lemonis' club with an opportunity to capture a resume-highlighting series. After dropping their season opener to Oklahoma, the Hoosiers have reeled off six consecutive victories. Wins over Coastal Carolina and South Alabama should hold up nicely as the season progresses, but the weekend set at San Diego was thought to be the non-conference highlight of IU's schedule, and, with USD opening the season 7-2, sweeping through last weekend's Tony Gwynn Legacy with victories over Arizona, Arkansas and Michigan, it is indeed the defining series of Indiana's pre-Big Ten slate. Indiana's powerful offense will be tested by a Torero staff which is holding the opposition to a .221 average.

Up the Pacific Coast Highway, driving through Orange, Los Angeles, and Ventura counties, Penn State has a Saturday through Monday series at UC Santa Barbara. The Nittany Lions head to the Golden State at 3-3, after going 0-3 last weekend in Cary, N.C., falling twice by one run. Looking to turn the tide themselves, Santa Barbara enters the weekend at 2-6 on the young season. The Guachos have allowed at least six runs in eight of their contests and could be the opponent Penn State needs, as the Nittany Lions are batting just .204 on the season. The series may not hold the significance of the clash in San Diego, but it's important Penn State shows an ability to bounce back from a tough weekend if the team is to reach the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since 2012.

Further north, in the Bay Area, Michigan has a four-game series at Stanford. The Wolverines have dropped four games in a row, sitting at 2-5 on the season, while the fifth-ranked Cardinal have yet to lose a game, looking to build on an 0-8 start. In the offseason, Michigan head coach Erik Bakich turned down an offer to become Stanford's head coach. Any thoughts surrounding a homecoming for the northern California native is secondary to Bakich, as he looks to get his team back on track, while squaring off against on the country's best teams. Stanford holds a 2.12 team ERA, a stinginess that will be tough on Michigan, who enters the weekend with a .219 team average. If Michigan can come away with a pair of victories, they will still have 12 weekends to show this is a reload season, a weekend split at Stanford may be as good of a showing as any conference team. If the Cardinal keep the Wolverines out of the win column and drop the Maize and Blue to 2-9, it's hard to see the 2018 season as anything but a rebuilding season.

Dairy Queen Classic

The stakes are obviously high for Big Ten teams in this week's Dairy Queen Classic which is doubling as second round of Big Ten/Pac-12 challenges.

With U.S. Bank Stadium, Minnesota's second home to Siebert Field, welcoming conference brethren Illinois and Michigan State, and Arizona, UCLA and Washington from the Pac-12, three days of three inter-sectional showdowns will take place. For each Big Ten team, the first weekend of March has the chance to set the tone for the rest of the season.

The Illini are 3-3 on the season, after winning their final two games of last weekend, knocking off Coastal Carolina and VCU. It's been an up-and-down season for Illinois, the offense has been there for a few games, then disappeared. Liekwise, stout pitching will arise for a game then be hard to find the rest of the weekend. Three good-to-very good teams will test Illinois' ability to get all gears going at the same time. Illinois has missed the last two Big Ten Tournaments, on the heels of appearing in two regionals in three years. To get back to their 2011-2015 run, Illinois will need to pitch, field and hit, and all there areas will be tested this weekend.

For the Spartans, an 0-5 start to the season has quickly faded with Michigan State's two wins to cap their weekend at Pepperdine. Now, can Michigan State's momentum continue? Michigan State's weekend rotation of Riley McCauley, Ethan Landon and Mason Erla have been the conference's best rotation out of the gate. The trio have combined to pitch 32 innings, have struck out 41 batters while only walking five hitters. The anchor that has held Michigan State back is a .208 team average, Jake Boss' team has yet to score more than five runs in a game, three contests saw them score just one run, with three others having the production top out at four runs. By comparison, MSU's 20 runs on the season is just one more than how many runs Ohio State's Noah McGowan has driven in. Is this the weekend the Green and White bats get going? It'll be a tall task. UCLA enters the weekend with a 1.88 ERA, Arizona is second in the Pac-12 at 2.01 and Washington checks in at an impressive 2.43.

The host Gophers may be the team best able to take on the Pac-12 trio, and also the one with the most to gain this weekend.

Minnesota's roster is littered with three and four-year starters. Alex Boxwell, Micah Coffey, Toby Hanson, Luke Pettersen, and Terrin Vavra were all key contributors in Minnesota's 2016 Big Ten championship team. With eight of nine starters back, and a schedule that'll give Minnesota many opportunities to capture impressive victories, this was viewed as a season where the elements could line up for the Gophers to reach their first super regional. That quest starts in earnest this weekend. Ranked 11th, UCLA is one of three ranked opponents Minnesota will face in March. In two weeks Minnesota travels to No. 7 TCU. The following weekend the Gophers host reigning Big Ten champion Nebraska to kick off conference play, the following week it's No. 23 St. John's turn to travel to the Twin Cities. Compiling a 7-2 weekend in February, Minnesota is off to a strong start, avoiding troubling losses that can stymie regional hopes before aspirations can take flight. Now, behind an offense batting .327, the Gophers can add quality wins to a stout record, and kick off a daunting month in grand style. Arizona's .221 average and Washington's .257, may provide the kind of opponent, good but not overly powerful, that will help a young Minnesota pitching staff encounter confidence-building success that will pay dividends throughout the month and, ideally for John Anderson, a long postseason.

Feltner back in the spotlight

For a second consecutive weekend, Ohio State junior right-handed pitcher Ryan Feltner will toe the rubber against one of the country's best teams. Joining Ohio State in the Cox Diamond Invitational are Eastern Michigan, Nicholls State and No. 17 Southern Mississippi. A Last week, Feltner pitched six innings against No. 2 Oregon State, allowing four runs off six hits, striking out six batter while issuing two walks. Feltner received a no-decision as Oregon State rallied to a 10-8 victory with six runs in the bottom of the eighth. At 5-3, the Buckeyes have started the season solidly, there isn't a marquee victory, but two of the three losses are likely to a national seed in Oregon State. The game against Southern Mississippi gives the team another opportunity to secure a strong non-conference victory as look to return to the NCAA Tournament, and will have their top prospect on the mound as they do so.

Burke Granger-

After turning heads in the Michigan State bullpen over the past two seasons, McCauley is making the transition to the rotation as a junior. Serving as the Spartan closer last year, McCauley posted a 17.18 strikesouts per nine innings pitched, to go with a 2.10 ERA and nine saves. Carrying that momentum into the Cape Cod League, McCauley earned All-Star honors by continuing to miss bats with a 15.51 strikeouts per nine innings pitched and 1.92 ERA for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox.

Undersized, but athletically built, at 5’11” and 205 pounds, McCauley’s frame offers little by way of future projection. In short bursts, McCauley’s fastball is an above average-to-plus pitch at 92-94 MPH, though an AL scout disclosed that the right-hander has trouble maintaining that velocity as a starter.

McCauley’s best pitch is a late-breaking low-80s slider with two-plane break and 10-to-4 movement. Though he’s able to generate swings and misses with both pitches, control has been a challenge throughout his collegiate career, evidenced by a 4.07 walks per nine innings pitched rate. These factors combined with the lack of a third offering were reasons the scout cited for projecting McCauley’s future home in a bullpen as a professional.

A member of our a preseason 10 Innings first-team selection, McCauley’s move to the rotation has provided mixed results thus far. He was brilliant on opening weekend against Fresno State, allowing one run off two hits with 12 strikeouts and two walks, but he was hit hard last weekend against Pepperdine, being struck for five runs off 11 hits in 4.2 innings, striking out six batters and walking two.

As Michigan State looks to build off of their weekend win at Pepperdine, McCauley will take the ball to start the Dairy Queen Classic in Minneapolis this weekend against Washington.

10 Innings' Scouting Grades

Fastball- 55/60

Slider- 60/65

Control- 40/50

After spending three seasons as Iowa's director of baseball operations, Desi Druschel stepped into the role of pitching coach, following the transition of assistant Scott Brickman to a role within the university's Iowa Foundation. At the forefront of the Hawkeyes embracing of technology, which has aided the program's revival, Druschel now leads a pitching unit head coach Rick Heller called the deepest he has had in his time in Iowa City. Here's Druschel in this week's Coachspeak.

In your time on the staff with Coach Brickman, what did you learn from him that you absolutely were going to continue implementing and carry on?

Specific to baseball, Scott was really good with the running game and had some great strategies to contain that critical part of the game. He was also a master at pitch-calling and use of off-speed pitches.

I’m always trying to figure out what makes people successful – what are the traits they possess that are major players in their success. Scott’s biggest trait is he is the ultimate listener. Couple that with his calm demeanor and those are the two things that made him as successful as he was. While we certainly continue with many of his baseball specific attributes it is these more holistic traits that I’ve benefited from the most. Scott is also still in town, knows the staff and is a great resource.

The Hawkeye program has gained national attention for its acceptance and use of technology. How have you personally embraced the continued development of technology, knowing it is an ever-changing, ever-improving field?

Whether it be professional, college, high school or youth baseball, technology is playing a heavy hand in it all. Some form of tech has become affordable for nearly everyone.

At our level and the professional level more expensive technology is now become more common. Through donors and Coach Heller’s willingness to invest, we have had the opportunity to be at the forefront of technological advances with Trackman, Pitchgrader, HitTrax, Senaptec, Rapsodo, BATS!, Synergy and other forms. As director of operations. I spent a great deal of time with the implementation of all of these different pieces of equipment. I got my hands dirty and have learned so much. It’s exciting to be able to implement technology in my current position.

A big thing now is that technology has become so popular that having the knowledge and background to implement effectively is the latest skill sought for programs and organizations. Having an understanding of what the data says and the ability to bring it to the field without sacrificing best skill acquisition practices is where the real challenge lies.

The technology is so good that I’ve come to the point where I’m reliant on it. And there is more coming. Every Power 5 conference team, probably nearly every Division I team will have Synergy next season. I’ve got my eye on a couple things for the offseason too.

I’ve always been interested in this kind of stuff so needless to say I’m enjoying seeing it become a major component of college and professional baseball

Iowa has appeared in two regionals in three years, success not seen in a generation. What steps do you take to not be content with what's already occurred and fight back complacency?

Our entire staff is from Iowa, we understand what the Tigerhawk means in our state. We have all followed the Hawks our entire lives. Personally I feel a great responsibility to all of those Hawk fans out there.

While Coach Heller has resurrected Iowa baseball and breathed life and enthusiasm into the program, I don’t think anybody is satisfied with where were are at. We are certainly proud of what the program has done but have so much more to accomplish. Complacency is a real thing; there is no doubt we have to deal with it on a regular basis. But I don’t think it’s what Coach Heller or the program is about. All of our staff could be described as scrappers and complacency is just not the way we live our lives.

Personally I’ve got a couple people to serve as checks as I don’t ever want to be described as an entitled person or coach. With all of the resources and recent program success it is easy to envision complacency or entitlement.

When you have a weekend rotation that needs entirely replaced, is there excitement in seeing who steps up and fills role or is that overwhelmed by the anxiety of the uncertainty?

All of the above! While there is some anxiety and certainly uncertainty there is also a great deal of excitement. We have probably the deepest pitching staff since Coach Heller took over the program. There have been guys working really hard, more or less waiting in the weeds for a shot. We’ve also had several guys come into the program with serious arm injuries sustained after commitment but before enrollment. Coach Heller stuck with those guys and they have been training diligently, just waiting for an opportunity. Long story short, we have capable guys on staff, 1-15. The early part of the season will determine how the roles are filled for league play.

Your one-sentence, elevator pitch to who you are as a coach:

I think one of the reasons why Coach Heller gave me this opportunity is that we are similar in a lot of ways, player development is what I’m about and what the program is about.