From Minnesota looking to host an NCAA Tournament regional, four teams fighting to solidify a resume worthy of garnering an at-large bid, and Michigan State needing to win or see their season end, a lot is at on the line this week as the Big Ten Tournament returns to Omaha.
With a deep tournament field making a path to the title difficult for all, here’s what each team needs to do to leave Omaha on Sunday as victors, and get ready to fight for a return trip to Omaha in two weeks.
If the Gophers can put it all together and have both their pitching staff and batting order clicking, they will be tough to beat in a double elimination format. Minnesota is always in the tournament, but has fallen short lately. Two years ago, they were bounced after scoring four total runs in two games. Last year they scored 35 runs over five games, but couldn’t put up enough zeroes on the mound.
Keep the underdog mentality, although you are tagged with the No. 2 seed. The Boilermakers haven’t had the amount of success they would have liked the past couple years. Of all the teams in this tournament, they probably have the biggest chip on their shoulder. Not to mention, they are firmly on the NCAA bubble. Play like the hunters, not the hunted.
The Wolverines need to find a way to string wins together away from home. An 18-3 home record boosted Michigan quite a bit this year, but the Big Ten Tournament isn’t being held in Ann Arbor. Erik Bakich’s club is 2-3 in neutral site games this year.
Can the Illini have someone other than Bren Spillane carry them in the order? Spillane shouldn’t see a single pitch to hit in this tournament. He’s been too good, and opposing pitchers would do well to stay away from him. Michael Massey has been really good this year, but it takes more than a 1-2 punch to win this tournament.
Minnesota won the regular season. Purdue was the surprise. Michigan and Ohio State both have scary lineups. But throughout the season, Indiana was the team constantly ranked in the top-15. There’s a reason for that: the Hoosiers boast seven hitters with at least six home runs and five hurlers that have posted a sub-3.50 ERA in more than 35 innings of work.
The Hawkeyes need to have the same amount of pitching depth they had a year ago, when they won the automatic bid. In 2017, Drake Robison tossed seven great innings in the championship game. The rotation is more stable with the return of Cole McDonald, but who is going to be that important fourth starter if Iowa makes another run?
The Buckeyes, more than any other team in Omaha, can hit their way to a Big Ten title. They scored almost seven runs per game this season. If those bats can put the Buckeyes into the lead into the middle-to-late innings and get Seth Kinker onto the mound, Ohio State could be the low seed that makes a run.
It’s possible to make a deep run through the tournament after losing the opener, but Michigan State’s first game against Minnesota feels really important. Win, and there is a lot of momentum to ride after knocking off the No. 1 seed. Lose, and you put yourself in a hole without much pitching depth. Win the opener.