A very big weekend is here for the Big Ten. With Illinois traveling to Indiana, Iowa hosting Michigan, and Minnesota taking on Ohio State in Columbus, there are three series between teams with sub-60 RPIs. As the NCAA Tournament picture starts to slowly come into focus, it’s a big weekend for teams pursuing a spot in the field of 64.
But the fun doesn’t stop there. Purdue hosts Rutgers, where 1.5 games separates the respective sixth and 9th-place positions in the Big Ten. In East Lansing, Michigan State’s current eight-place standing will be on the line against Maryland who is trying to claw back into the Big Ten Tournament picture, while Northwestern and Penn State square off as they look to build momentum in order to finish the season strong and continue their rebuilding process.
Who’s playing the best baseball heading into a crucial weekend all around? This week’s power rankings highlights each team’s best victory thus far, before each team has a shot to reel in additional impressive wins this weekend.
No. 1 Michigan (24-11 overall, 11-0 Big Ten) Previous: 5
Best win: March 3 at Stanford. It doesn’t get much bigger than this. Although the Wolverines opened the season 4-11, they showed they could compete with the best of the best. After a suffering a 3-2, walk-off loss, in game two of their series, Michigan rebounded to grab a 5-0 victory in the nightcap of their Saturday doubleheader at Stanford. The Cardinal check in at No. 2 in the RPI.
No. 2 Minnesota (26-11, 9-2) Pv: 4
Best win: March 30 vs. St. John’s. Minnesota opened March with a 1-2 showing in the Dairy Queen Classic, before falling twice at home to Creighton the next weekend. The Gophers squandered opportunities to pick up big weekend wins, and, as March closed, after dropping the first game at St. John’s, the same fate was before them. Minnesota rallied to win, 9-8, on March 30, before winning 6-3 in the finale, earning a weekend win against a RPI top 50 club.
No. 3 Ohio State (27-11, 8-4) Pv: 3
Best win: April 22 vs. Indiana. In back-to-back weekends in March, Ohio State knocked off Southern Miss and Coastal Carolina, two ranked teams. But it wasn’t until this past weekend when the Buckeyes made a statement. On Sunday, a 12-inning, 6-5 win over the Hoosiers gave Ohio State their first weekend over Indiana since 2011 and cemented the Buckeyes stature as a regional-worthy team.
No. 4 Purdue (21-16, 7-4) Pv: 10
Best win: April 25 vs. Indiana. Unfortunately for Indiana, their two most recent losses make the list. But for Purdue, their midweek triumph over Indiana leveled the season series at 2-2 games aside and kept the Boilermakers’ fringe NCAA Tournament hopes alive. But more than anything, an Alexander Field record crowd was broadcast to the nation on ESPNU, giving Mark Wasikowski’s rebuilding job incredible exposure.
No. 5 Indiana (29-9, 7-4) Pv: 1
Best win: Feb. 19 at Coastal Carolina. The Hoosiers entered the season with high expectations, which made their season-opening loss to Oklahoma a bit tough. But in Myrtle Beach, Indiana rallied to win their final three games of the weekend, capped by a win at Coastal Carolina, The win over the Chanticleers laid proof to Indiana being a top team and gives them a win over team in the RPI’s top 25.
No. 6 Iowa (24-13, 7-6) Pv: 6
Best win: April 22 at Minnesota. Another win from last weekend makes the list, this time it’s Iowa knocking off Minnesota, 5-3. Earlier in Big Ten play, Iowa compiled a combined 5-3 record against Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio State. But the Hawkeyes faced the possibility of a sweep by Minnesota, which would drop them below .500 in conference play, and may make their NCAA Tournament standing muddied. A sweep was averted with the win, a win that also moved Iowa to 4-4 against the RPI top 50, a strong mark.
No. 7 Illinois (24-12, 9-3) Pv: 2
Best win: March 2 vs. UCLA. This could be viewed as the win that brought Illinois back onto the national scene. In their first game of the Dairy Queen Classic, the Illini knocked off UCLA, 5-3. For the second time in three games, Illinois took down a ranked foe, and their showing against the Bruins started their weekend sweep of Pac-12 teams, which moved them to 6-3, in polls and back in the spotlight.
No. 8 Michigan State (15-21, 6-5) Pv: 13
Best win: March 4 vs. Arizona. A fourth win in Minneapolis makes the list. The last day of the showdown between Big Ten and Pac-12 clubs started with two teams yet to grab a victory on the weekend. For Michigan State, the Spartans had only two wins through their first nine games, before a 3-2 win over the Wildcats, who are 23-15 on the year, showed Jake Boss’ team shouldn’t be overlooked.
No. 9 Rutgers (22-15, 6-6) Pv: 7
Best win: March 17 at Florida Gulf Coast. The first three weeks of the season saw Rutgers go 5-6. Heading to Florida for six games over spring break, the Scarlet Knights were looking to break .500 and gain momentum in advance of their fourth Big Ten season. Rutgers did just that. Six consecutive wins in the Sunshine State were capped by a March 17, 6-3 win at Florida Gulf Coast, giving Joe Literrio’s squad a road series win against a team in the RPI’s top 50.
No. 10 Nebraska (17-22, 4-9) Pv: 8
Best win: March 4 at Wichita State. Although the Nebraska has picked up wins against Iowa and Minnesota, and grabbed a road victory at Ohio State, it’s been a tough year for the reigning Big Ten champions. The best win on Nebraska’s resume is 10-9 triumph over Wichita State, a win that avoided a sweep, beat a nearby neighbor, but also showed Nebraska could still spoil someone’s season, having the ability to beat a top 35 team.
No. 11 Maryland (17-23, 3-8) Pv: 9
Best win: March 3 at Coastal Carolina. A team many expected to content for the Big Ten championship and reach an NCAA Regional for the third time in four years, the 2018 season has been rough for the Terps under first-year head coach Rob Vaughn. But on March 3, as part of a perfect weekend in the Coastal Carolina Classic, the Terps knocked off the Chanticleers, 7-6, a victory against a team in the top 20 of the polls, one that may leave Maryland with thoughts of what-if.
No. 12 Penn State (9-25, 1-14) Pv: 11
Best win: March 24 at Rutgers. After a season-opening sweep of Elon, times have been tough for Penn State, winning just six of the next 31 games. But on March 25, the Nittany Lions picked up a road win at Rutgers, 9-3, securing a Big Ten victory, and showing Rob Cooper’s club can hold down a potent offense, and score a few wins against a quality team.
No. 13 Northwestern (10-24, 1-14) Pv: 12
Best win: March 2 at Texas. Wins have been hard to come by for the Wildcats, but in their pocket is a Texas-sized win. In their series opener against the Longhorns, Northwestern grabbed headlines with a 6-2 victory over the Big XII foe. As Spencer Allen continues build up the program in Evanston, getting a taste of winning on a big stage will surely help.