Chris Webb

10 Takes: Big Ten Tournament Day 3

With two teams eliminated from the Big Ten Tournament and two more set to go home after action on Friday, day three of action from TD Ameritrade Park was full of intense, breath-taking, post-season defining moments.

When the final outs where recorded, after Ohio State and Michigan resumed their rivalry, the Buckeyes turned back the Wolverines, 5-3, to stay alive, before Illinois knocked off Indiana for the second time in three days, winning 5-4.

Here’s a round up of the 10 leading storylines from action on Friday.

Big wins for Bucks and Illini

Although NCAA Tournament projections to begin the week had them in a regional, wins on Friday will mean Illinois and Ohio State leave Omaha with at worst 2-2 records. And with the .500 week, both teams have all but locked up an opportunity to continue their season next weekend. Ohio State’s 5-3 victory over Michigan was their 14th win over an RPI top 100 team, with Indiana’s 5-4 walk-off win against Indiana giving the Illini the season series in five games against the Hoosiers and evening their record to 7-7 against RPI top 50 teams. Ohio State’s 1-3 finish to the season, and dropping their first tournament game to Purdue caused slight concern, as well as a marquee series victory for Illinois. Both potential resume red flags have been alleviated as spots in the field of 64 have been secured.

It’s hot in Omaha

The first-pitch temperature for Michigan and Ohio State at 3:14 was 95 degrees. It was hot. It has been hot. It will continue to be extremely hot in Omaha. There’s nothing else to really add to that, it’s been blistering.

Call on Kinker

Ohio State head coach Greg Beals viewed a win over Michigan as being so vital to his team’s NCAA Tournament aspirations that after a three-inning, 50-pitch save on Thursday, Buckeye closer Seth Kinker was called on to get the final five outs on Friday. As he has done time and time again, showing why he has the unbridled trust from Beals, Kinker struck out four batters in 1.2 innings of scoreless work to record his 15th save of the year. The allowing just two hits over 4.2 innings, with seven punchouts, Kinker lowered his Big Ten-leading ERA to 1.49.

Coolen continues late-season flourish

A day after going 2-4 in OSU’s elimination game against Iowa, Coolen collected his first home run of the season, a solo blast in the sixth inning, to continue to pay dividends as a late-season lineup fixture for Beals. Highlighted by College Baseball Central’s Joe Healy, changes to find a fix to Ohio State’s underwhelming infield defense created an opportunity for Coolen to take over at first. And now, as the Bucks close in on a second regional in three years, Coolen’s bat has helped add depth to an already impressive offensive attack.

Michigan’s tough ends promises for bright future

In his postgame press conference, Michigan head coach Erik Bakich said he wasn’t going to try to make a case for the Wolverines to be in next week’s NCAA Tournament, that his team didn’t finish strong enough to warrant a spot nor grabbed enough marquee wins. But Bakich said his team will watch Monday’s announcement of the tournament field, with the thought in mind this will be the last time Michigan’s name is not announced on Memorial Day, as a team ticketed for a regional.

There is good reason for Bakich to be optimistic about the future.

Outside of senior first baseman Brock Keener, and center fielder Jonathan Engelmann, a likely high-round draft pick, Michigan’s starting lineup should return intact next year, as well as the Wolverine weekend rotation of Tommy Henry, Ben Dragani, and Karl Kaufmann, a sophomore-freshman-sophomore trio. A team that entered the final five games of the regular season atop the Big Ten standings, and were in contention for a regional berth a year after losing 11 players to the draft and five seniors to graduation, what would have been a major rebuilding year for many programs, wasn’t for Michigan.

“We put ourselves in a position, and as a coach you hope that all those pieces coming back next year will see, and remember that feeling of what it was like to be in first place and understand that championships and Michigan are synonymous — they go hand in hand. That’s the goal here is to win the Big Ten first before we start talking about things on a national scale. But the future is gonna be very bright because of the foundational year that we had, the toughness that went along with it.” -Erik Bakich

Indiana plays “soft”

Indiana held a 2-1 lead after two innings, then saw the score sit 3-1 in their favor through the first four innings. But even with a bullpen that is the perceived strength of the club, Indiana couldn’t hold on and fell to Illinois for the second time in Omaha to bow out of the tournament. It was a defeat that didn’t sit well with head coach Chris Lemonis nor senior outfielder Logan Sowers.

More than any team in Omaha, there wasn’t as much on the line for the Hoosiers. Their spot in a regional was safely set, a near-miracle was needed for them to be in a position to host. While other teams entered the week on the bubble, needed the auto-bid to continue their season, and Minnesota looks to secure their spot as being regional host, Lemonis thought he team could be relaxed, have fun, and just play, as their pursued the tournament title.

That didn’t happen, instead, Lemonis thought he team played soft. Both he and Sowers spoke to IU being better than they showed, with Sowers insisting there will be words shared in the locker room to get the team in gear, while Lemonis alluded to sharing a few words in their postgame huddle. After entering the week on the heels of a six-game winning streak, a 1-2 showing isn’t going to sit well with Indiana on their return to Bloomington, but it may be the shock to the system the team needs to turn the intensity up a notch to return to Omaha in two weeks.

Kaletha leaves Omaha with

A catalyst atop Indiana’s lineup for much of the season, junior center field Logan Kaletha saw his production tail off during May. Kaletha did draw three walks against Michigan State, but went six at-bats without recording a hit over the first two games, to drop his average to .271, down from .331 when Indiana was 28-6 prior to their series against Ohio State. A 2-for-5 effort against the Illini, including a game-tying solo home run to right field in the seventh, his eighth of the year, allows Kaletha to head into a regional with a little momentum, where he can be the ultimate table-setter in front of Matt Gorski, Sowers, and Luke Miller, creating a dynamic lineup capable of running through a regional, and beyond.

Spillane’s big blast

Following strikeouts in his first two at-bats, one wouldn’t have been wrong to wonder if it just wasn’t Bren Spillane’s week. At some point, even the best of the best have a slump. But then Spillane stepped to the plate with two on in the fifth and made all forget about his prior whiffs. In a 10-pitch at-bat, Spillane show a Tim Herrin fastball left-center, clearing the 375-foot mark, for his 23rd home run of the season, tying the contest. Now just three home runs shy of Illinois’ single-season mark, with his team’s back against the wall, Spillane showed why he was the Big Ten Player of the Year, potentially giving Illinois the hit they needed to not only play on Saturday, but next Saturday as well.

A total team effort the Illini

Where Spillane has been the linchpin to Illinois’ offense, and had the big blast the team needed to get back into the ball game, the winning run was a total team effort; from a team Dan Hartleb praised for their togetherness and desire to play for each other.

The bottom of the ninth started with a Jack Yalowitz single, a sacrifice bunt from Zac Taylor, before the game-winning double to deep center from Ben Troike. Where Yalowitz and Taylor entered the season as Illini’s top two draft prospects, not Spillane, the outfielders are respectively batting .221 and .228. While it isn’t atypical for the draft to be heavy on the minds of juniors and a lull in production occur, Hartleb stated any pressure the two placed upon themselves was due to wanting to be there and produce for the whole of the team. In a game which may have solidified their case as an NCAA Tournament, manufacturing the winning run, and doing whatever the team needed, was accomplished.

Optimism for different reason

Postseason press conferences can be tough when they follow an elimination game, but each coach who spoke on Friday expressed optimism for different reasons.

Even though their season has wrapped up for all intents and purposes, it was clear Bakich saw an incredibly bright future for the Wolverines, running off the players returning and the positions which will have the depth necessary to see Michigan return to the top of the conference table.

For Beals, the win over Michigan was an exclamation point on a resume which has the totality of showing a strong team from the start of the season to the end. Where prior years have seen the Buckeyes fall short of an at-large bid, there was confidence Ohio State has earned their spot, explicitly expressed when Beals said their usage of Kinker will be dialed back, in preparation of next week.

Similar to Beals, Dan Hartleb believed his club’s Friday win earned them the right to play another weekend. A spot in the NCAA Tournament is necessary for a return trip to Omaha in late June, but Hartleb’s joy in coaching this specific club, and that they will likely have another week together shone through.

And for Lemonis, there was disappointment in his team’s performance, but he knows the quality of his team and there was a hint of wanting to get back on the horse as soon as possible. Indiana didn’t play their best baseball, but with no concern of not making the NCAA Tournament the resiliency they have the opportunity show is something the fourth-year coach is looking forward to.

It wasn’t too long ago when the end of run at the Big Ten Tournament meant the end of a team’s season. But as this year’s affair is down to the final four teams, that’s not the case, which means very good teams are playing against each other, making for very good games.

Big Ten Announces Baseball All-Big Ten Honors and Individual Award Winners

Rosemont, Ill. — The Big Ten on Tuesday announced the 2018 baseball individual award winners and All-Big Ten teams, as selected by the conference coaches. Illinois’ Bren Spillane was named the Big Ten Player of the Year, Minnesota’s Patrick Fredrickson earned Pitcher and Freshman of the Year recognition and Minnesota head coach John Anderson was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year.

Spillane becomes the 10th Illinois standout to claim Big Ten Player of the Year honors, and the first since David Kerian in 2015. A first baseman for the Illini, Spillane ranks first in the Big Ten in batting average (.407), slugging percentage (.944), on base percentage (.512), runs batted in (57) and home runs (22).

Fredrickson becomes the third Minnesota hurler to earn Big Ten Pitcher of the Year accolades and the fourth student to capture Big Ten Freshman of the Year plaudits. In all games, the right-handed starter currently leads the Big Ten in opponent’s batting average (.207) and ranks second with a 1.80 ERA.

Anderson was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year for the seventh time, the most in Big Ten history. Anderson, who claimed the award for the first time since 2016, guided the Golden Gophers to their 24th Big Ten Championship this season.

The Big Ten also announced the Sportsmanship Award honorees from each institution. The students chosen are individuals who have distinguished themselves through sportsmanship and ethical behavior. These students must also be in good academic standing and have demonstrated good citizenship outside of the sports-competition setting.

The complete list of All-Big Ten teams and award winners can be found below.

Player of the Year: Bren Spillane, Illinois

Pitcher of the Year: Patrick Fredrickson, Minnesota

Freshman of the Year: Patrick Fredrickson, Minnesota

Coach of the Year: John Anderson, Minnesota

All-Big Ten First Team

C – Tyler Cropley, Iowa

1B – BREN SPILLANE, ILLINOIS

2B – Nick Dunn, Maryland

SS – TERRIN VAVRA, MINNESOTA

3B – Noah McGowan, Ohio State

OF – Matt Gorski, Indiana

OF – Robert Neustrom, Iowa

OF – Jonathan Engelmann, Michigan

SP – Jonathan Stiever, Indiana

SP – Nick Allgeyer, Iowa

SP – Patrick Fredrickson, Minnesota

RP – Max Meyer, Minnesota

DH – Dominic Clementi, Michigan

UTIL – Matt Lloyd, Indiana

All-Big Ten Second Team

C – Jesse Wilkening, Nebraska

1B – Scott Schreiber, Nebraska

2B – Michael Massey, Illinois

SS – Ben Troike, Illinois

3B – Micah Coffey, Minnesota

OF – Jordan Nwogu, Michigan

OF – Ben Mezzenga, Minnesota

OF – Dominic Canzone, Ohio State

SP – Pauly Milto, Indiana

SP – Tommy Henry, Michigan

SP – Reggie Meyer, Minnesota

RP – Seth Kinker, Ohio State

DH – Scotty Bradley, Indiana

UTIL – Kevin Biondic, Maryland

All-Big Ten Third Team*

C – Nick Dalesandro, Purdue

1B – Jacson McGowan, Purdue

2B – Luke Pettersen, Minnesota

SS – Jack Dunn, Northwestern

3B – Luke Miller, Indiana

OF – Doran Turchin, Illinois

OF – Logan Sowers, Indiana

OF – Tyler Cowles, Ohio State

SP – Ben Dragani, Michigan

SP – Karl Kauffmann, Michigan

SP – Tanner Andrews, Purdue

RP – Joey Gerber, Illinois

RP – Ross Learnard, Purdue

DH – Chris Whelan, Iowa

UTIL – Conner Pohl, Ohio State

All-Big Ten Freshman Team*

C – Gunner Hellstrom, Nebraska

1B – JESSE FRANKLIN, MICHIGAN

2B – Drew Ashley, Indiana

SS – Dan DiGeorgio, Rutgers

3B – Zach Iverson, Michigan State

OF – JORDAN NWOGU, MICHIGAN

OF – Jaxon Hallmark, Nebraska

OF – Dillon Dingler, Ohio State

OF – BEN NISLE, PURDUE

SP – Ben Dragani, Michigan

SP – Mason Erla, Michigan State

SP – PATRICK FREDRICKSON, MINNESOTA

SP – Trent Johnson, Purdue

RP – MAX MEYER, MINNESOTA

DH – Parker Hendershot, Penn State

UTIL – Zach Iverson, Michigan State

Sportsmanship Award Honorees

Jackson Douglas, Illinois

B.J. Sabol, Indiana

Austin Guzzo, Iowa

Billy Phillips, Maryland

Harrison Salter, Michigan

Kory Young, Michigan State

Micah Coffey, Minnesota

Mojo Hagge, Nebraska

J.R. Reimer, Northwestern

Adam Niemeyer, Ohio State

Jake Pilewicz, Penn State

Tanner Andrews, Purdue

Kyle Walker, Rutgers

* Additional honorees due to ties

Unanimous selections in ALL CAPS

What to watch for in Omaha

After a year hiatus, the Big Ten Tournament returns to Omaha, where it will be for four more years. College baseball’s grand stage is set to host what many believe will be the Big Ten’s best tournament, as seven teams are in the mix for an at-large berth to next week’s NCAA Tournament.

From potential regional hosts, to Golden Spike Award semifinalists, to record-setting players on nearly every team, here’s the 10 leading storylines to follow this week in Omaha.

The Bren Spillane Show

Illinois’ 10th Big Ten Player of the Year is having a season rivaled by few, if any, in Illinois’ storied history. Spillane finished the regular season as the Big Ten’s Triple Crown winner, batting .407 with 22 home runs and 57 RBI. Regional projections from national outlets have Illinois safely in next week’s NCAA Tournament. But a big week by the Big Ten’s brightest star can make their case a slam dunk, by using his premium power to send a few balls out of TD Ameritrade Park.

Spartan speed

While Spillane has the power to hit home runs in any environment, TD Ameritrade Park is known for being tough on home run hitters. Perhaps better suited for teams with the ability to run, Michigan State enters the tournament as a potential dangerous No. 8 seed, thanks to their speed. The Spartans led the Big Ten in stolen bases and attempts, swiping 98 bags in 125 attempts. Sophomore outfielder Bryce Kelley paced Big Ten players with 31 steals, setting a new Michigan State single-season record.

Luke Miller’s power surge

Three home runs during a weekend sweep over Maryland helped Indiana junior third baseman Luke Miller grab the final Big Ten Player of the Week honor. After missing some time in the middle of the season due to injury, Miller is back being a force in the hear of IU’s lineup. Now leading the Hoosiers with 11 home runs, Miller has the type of bat that change the tide of a game in one swing, and do it again, game after game. Heading to Omaha on a six-game winning strike, IU looks poised to make a deep postseason run, spurred by one of the Big Ten’s most dangerous players getting hot.

Ohio State’s reliance on Seth Kinker

No Buckeye pitcher has appeared in more games over his career than senior right-hander Seth Kinker. No reliever in the eight-year tenure of Greg Beals has been as trusted as Kinker. Leading the Big Ten with a 1.62 ERA, Kinker has been Mr. Reliable for Beals and the Buckeyes, racking up 13 saves and a 6-1 record in 26 appearances. But those 26 outings have resulted in 55.2 innings pitched, as Kinker is more than a one-inning save. With few other Buckeyes showing the ability to close the door or escape a tight jam, how will Beals used Kinker? In past history is any indication, it’s a lot, Kinker pitched in five games during Ohio State’s run to the 2016 tournament title.

Minnesota’s freshmen pitchers

Minnesota has more than enough depth to pitch through the Big Ten Tournament, there isn’t a concern on how often a pitcher will be turned to, and how long he pitches. What is worth keeping in mind with the Big Ten championships is how their first-year pitchers perform in their first taste of postseason baseball. Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, Patrick Fredrickson, and fellow first-team All-Big Ten selection, closer Max Meyer, will be front and center as the pressure cranks up a notch, as too will Jake Stevenson and Sam Thoresen, fellow freshmen who will likely start Minnesota’s third and fourth games respectively, if Minnesota tracks towards their 10 tournament title.

Attendance

A loaded Big Ten Tournament field does not include the team nearest to Omaha. For the first time in their Big Ten history, Nebraska will not participate in the postseason tournament. A part of the return to Omaha was the attendance of the 2014 and 2016 tournaments, in large part due to Nebraska’s presence. Without the Huskers in the field, will Omaha still show up?

Hellerball

One caveat to a potential drop in attendance is Iowa’s making the tournament. Under Rick Heller, the Big Ten Tournament has provided some magical moments. Two years ago, Iowa almost shocked the conference, falling one game shy of winning the tournament as the No. 8 seed. Last year, the Hawkeyes did win the tournament, and reached the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years. It appears the automatic bid is Iowa’s key to the NCAA Tournament again, but it seems Iowa is comfortable fighting with their back against the wall. And if the Hawkeyes reach the weekend, they will undoubtedly have a homefield advantage as Hellerball is running deep in the heart of those in the Hawkeye State.

Who has a fourth starter?

No matter what, in this format with eight teams, a team must play a minimum of four games to win the tournament. The Big Ten experienced some of the worst spring weather in recent memory, seeing games cancelled week after week. As a result, a team may not have a fourth starter as polished as previous seasons, where the ability to play numerous midweek games would help build depth in the rotation. Some teams, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, have more than one option available after their traditional weekend three. Others, Michigan State, and Ohio State, come to mind first, may utilize Johnny Wholestaff if they have a deep tournament run.

Does momentum matter?

The postseason is often called a new season. Starting today, the records reset, all eight teams have a 0-0 record, and there is a clean table. But does the end of the regular season matter? Does a teams form carry over? If so, that’s good news for Indiana and Purdue, who respectively start the tournament on a six-game winning streak and victors in 18 of their last 20, and not so good news for Michigan and Ohio State, teams who finished the regular season in six and four games, respectively.

The out of town scoreboard

Yes, it is true, one should focus on only the things which they can control. For teams in Omaha this week, that means effort, confidence, execution. But for more than a few teams it will be worth finding a way to send positive vibes into the environment, and wish a few teams good luck throughout the country. It appears Iowa, Michigan, and Purdue are on the NCAA Tournament bubble. For them, along with a few wins this week, it would be nice if favorites in other conference tournaments win, that no bids are stolen. There will be enough to watch in Omaha to keep fans interested and engaged through the weekend, keeping track of scores around the country is the cherry on the cake of conference tournament chaos.

The Weekend 10

And just like that the regular season has come to an end. With Big Ten Tournament bids on the line, teams fighting for NCAA Tournament berths, and, unfortunately, the last round of collegiate at-bats and pitches for some players in the conference, from Rutgers to Iowa, and campuses in-between, big performances were found throughout the Big Ten.

Here’s the 10 weekend performances that caught the eye of 10 Innings.

Iowa Jr. LHP Nick Allgeyer

Allgeyer’s ledger held at 5-4, but the junior southpaw twirled a gem to open Iowa’s series against Penn State. Over seven innings, Allgeyer kept the Nittany Lions from crossing home, scattering five hits in a scoreless outing. Six Penn State batters went down on strikes, to two drawing walks, as Allgeyer ran his season total to 86 punchouts in 90 innings.

Purdue Sr. RHP Tanner Andrews

The final start of Andrews career at Alexander Field was a memorable. Helping Purdue take control of a key weekend series against Michigan, the senior pitched 7.1 innings of shutout baseball on Thursday. Holding the Wolverines to six hits and two walks, Andrews used five strikeouts in 107 pitches to move to 6-4 on the year, and lower his ERA to 2.71.

Ohio State Sr. 1B Bo Coolen

Providing Greg Beals with a late-season burst, Coolen went 3-for-5 with three doubles in Ohio State’s series-opening win against Michigan State on Thursday. The Buckeye first baseman scored a run and drove in two, before picking up two more hits over the weekend’s final two games.

Iowa Soph. SS Kyle Crowl

Crowl only went collected a single and a double over five at-bats, scoring three runs against Penn State. But Hawkeye had back-to-back games where he drew four walks, and added a hit by pitch in the weekend finale to reach base 11 times. It may not be the most offensive weekend, but it was an impressive weekend of plate discipline and pitch recognition by Crowl.

Penn State Fr. RHP Bailey Dees

Making his fourth start of the season, Dees saved his best outing for last. Grabbing the ball to start Penn State’s opener at Iowa, Dees kept the Hawkeyes off of the scoreboard in his five-inning outing. The rookie allowed only three hits, issued four walks, and struck out six batters. The fine outing in Iowa City nets Dees this week’s 10 Innings’ Freshman of the Week nod.

Illinois Jr. LHP Andy Fisher

Fisher held Nebraska in check on Friday, allowing one run off six hits, in six innings of work. In his first season of action, after transferring from Eastern Illinois, Fisher closed the regular season with his sixth win in eight decisions, striking out six batters to one walk.

Minnesota Jr. RHP Reggie Meyer

Meyer has been solid atop the Gopher pitching staff all season, the lone veteran in a rotation rounded out by freshmen. Perhaps fittingly, the upperclassmen’s best game of the year was the gem that clinched the 24th Big Ten championship in Minnesota’s history. On the road at Rutgers, on Thursday, Meyer, the Big Ten and 10 Innings Pitcher of the Week, tossed an efficient eight innings, in holding the Scarlet Knights off the scoreboard. Tossing 93 pitches, and allowing only three hits, Meyer improved to 6-3 on the year, thanks to out five strikeouts against one walk.

Indiana Jr. 3B Luke Miller

The Hoosiers are hot heading to Omaha, using a six-game winning streak to cap the regular season. Helping fuel Indiana’s sweep of Maryland was an offensive outburst from junior third baseman Luke Miller. The Big Ten and 10 Innings Player of the Week, Miller recorded a multi-hit game in each of Indiana’s three wins over the Terps. The weekend started with Miller going 2-for-3 with two home runs, a walk, and four RBI on Thursday. On Friday, Miller picked up his 11th home run of the season in a 2-for-4 game, before going 3-for-4 on Saturday with an double and his sixth RBI of the weekend.

Michigan State Soph. RHP Mike Mokma

With their postseason hopes on the line, Michigan State sophomore Mike Mokma turned in a dominant outing, lifting the Spartans past Ohio State, 8-3. Moving to 2-4 on the year, Mokma logged seven innings of work, holding the Buckeyes to one run off six hits. Mokma needed just 79 pitches to toss seven innings, issuing just one walk, while punching out four Buckeye batters.

Nebraska Jr. DH Jesse Wilkening

The Huskers weren’t able to find a last-weekend miracle, falling short of qualifying for the Big Ten Tournament. It was in no part due to the performance of Jesse Wilkening. In three games in Champaign, the junior collected six hits in 12 at-bats, drawing a pair of walks in two other plate appearances, recording two doubles and a home run, en route to driving in three runs and scoring twice.

Appreciating John Anderson’s legacy

I think Nick Dalesandro has the brightest future of any Big Ten catcher since Kevin Plawecki. The Purdue backstop can catch, throw, run, and I believe he has more pop than his home run output would suggest. Watching Dalesandro on Saturday, I wondered how good Illinois would be with him behind the plate. For those unaware, Dalesandro’s father, Mark, was the 1990 Big Ten Player of the Year at Illinois.

Mark played 79 games in the big leagues, after being drafted in the 18th round of the 1990 MLB Draft. Nick will surely be drafted higher, with it yet to be seen if he will eclipse his dad’s big league service time. Surely a topic of discussion at some point in the Dalesandro household, it could be fun to debate who was the better player in college. Unfortunately, 28 years will separate the end of the two collegiate careers, leaving a void in impartial opinions.

But wait, there isn’t just one person who has seen the two Dalesandros. In fact, he would has also seen the father-son tandem of Darrin and Casey Fletcher of Illinois, and even Cal and C.J. Eldred at Iowa.

That’s Minnesota head coach John Anderson.

Anderson was named the head coach at his alma mater in the fall of 1981. As evident by coaching against the sons of players he previously faced in competition a generation ago, Anderson has seen a bit of baseball. In his time in Minneapolis, the conference has added four schools, saw one drop baseball. He’s witnessed an infusion of cash into the sport which has ballooned salaries, enhanced facilities, and brought college baseball closer to the money-generating sports of college basketball and football. In short, there’s been a bit of change in college baseball since Anderson’s first.

But what hasn’t changed is Minnesota being conference champions. In his 37th season, Minnesota’s two wins at Rutgers netted the program its 11th Big Ten title under Anderson, a tally which started in his first season in 1982.

Between this past weekend and the upcoming weekend, the college baseball world will celebrate the end of the decorated and storied careers of Mike Gillespie, Wayne Graham, and Jim Morris. Each of those three coaches have left a lasting impression on college baseball, respectively transforming Miami, Rice, and UC Irvine into blueblood programs. May has also seen Florida State’s Mike Martin pass the late and legendary head coach Augie Garrido as the winningest coach in college baseball history. With the celebrations, grand sendoffs, and reflections, it’s been great to hear the stories of college baseball’s leading coaches, how they have been a vital part in the growth of the sport, and how many are indebted to their service.

Not to take away from the very deserved rounds of celebration, but I think we would do well to take a step back and do a better good of appreciating sustained success before it unfortunately wanes. While Gillespie, Graham, and Morris have reach some of college baseball’s highest highs, their respective programs are not as strong in the current as the past, and the thank yous are a bit bittersweet, yearning for once was that is so far away.

Fortunately for Anderson and Minnesota, the current is as bright as the past, if not brighter, with the program is knocking on the door of a top 10 ranking. There isn’t a decline in sight.

Minnesota’s forthcoming, Big Ten-leading, 32nd NCAA Tournament appearance, 19th under Anderson, should bring the program its first regional at home in the tournament’s since 2000. In additional to bringing NCAA Tournament play back to a Big Ten campus for the first time since 2015, the Gophers have claimed two of the last three Big Ten championships, and are one 2017 win away from having a three-peat. The Big Ten, by the way, is a conference that has sent 13 teams to the NCAA Tournament over the prior three seasons.

The Big Ten in 2018 isn’t the Big Ten of 1988, or even 2008, when Minnesota, Ohio State, Michigan, and Illinois passed around the conference championship. The Big Ten is deeper than ever, the stakes are higher than ever, and yet Minnesota is right there.

It would be silly, and it was not a call worth attempting to make, to try to have Anderson pat himself on the back, raving about the job he’s and his staff has done over the last three years. That’s not who he is. There would be deflection, humility, and words expressed of how his players and staffs have allowed his teams to enjoy the success they have. And, for him, his staff, and players, there is no time to reflect on what’s been accomplished when there is still work to be done; this Minnesota team is not content with just a conference championship, they want to reach the College World Series for the first time since 1977, a Minnesota team Anderson was on.

But, as his win-loss record now stands at 1,281-858-3, as a third hand is needed to display all of the conference championship rings, as Big Ten foes, father and son alike, look up at Minnesota in the standings, it is just, fair, and necessary for those outside of the Minnesota program to congratulate, appreciate, and draw attention to what Anderson, the presumptive seven-time Big Ten Coach of the Year has done.

As Gillespie, Graham, and Morris leave the game, there aren’t many left around like Anderson, let’s appreciate that before its too late and make sure his name is be echoed right alongside those legends of the sport.

May 17-19 Weekend Observations

The regular season came to an end with a dramatic weekend throughout the Big Ten. With the conference championship decided on the season’s penultimate day, and a fight to the finish for the eighth and final spot in the Big Ten Tournament, stakes were in every series.

On hand for three of those series, here’s what was observed in Bloomington, Champaign, and West Lafayette, followed by quick hits from around the conference.

Maryland at Indiana

The leading storyline heading into the series between Maryland and Indiana was the Terps controlling their destiny in pursuit of the Big Ten Tournament. Hanging on to the tournament’s final seed, Maryland held the head-to-head tiebreaker against Michigan state, who also entered the weekend the same 9-11 mark in conference play. Secondary, though not in the mind of Chris Lemonis, was Indiana’s desire to round into form, as they entered the postseason. With little doubt the Hoosiers will be an at-large team in the NCAA Tournament, finding a way to hit on all cylinders would be timely for a club that appears to have the pieces on paper to make a deep postseason run. In the end, the Hoosiers (37-15, 14-9) showed their process, adding a weekend sweep on top of a big midweek win at Louisville to head to Omaha hot, a place where Maryland (24-30, 9-14) will not be traveling to, as their season came to an end.

Luke Miller’s promising power display

On Thursday, after Maryland’s Zach Jancarski gave the Terps a 2-0 lead with a home run to left in the top of the second, IU junior third baseman Luke Miller answered with a solo shot to left field in the bottom of the inning. Then, with Indiana trailing 5-3 in the bottom of the eighth, Miller hit a three-run home run to right field, giving Indiana their first lead of the game, en route to a 6-5 victory. On Friday, Miller added a home run to center field, providing the final run in Indiana’s 5-1 victory. Now pacing Indiana with 11 home runs, Miller’s performance comes at a time when big talent has played a big role in postseason success in recent years.

In 2016, it was Ronnie Dawson for Ohio State. Last year, Jake Adams produced home run after home run in the postseason. As much as pitching and defense may win regular season titles, the teams which have shown a bit of muscle have fared favorably in recent years. Illinois’ Bren Spillane, more on him later, is drawing attention for his eye-popping season and 22 home runs, but scouts and opposing coaches in the Big Ten feel Miller has the most raw power in the conference. It’s power that can carry Indiana through Omaha, and help the club find their way back to TD Ameritrade three weeks later.

Indiana baseball is ingrained in the Bloomington culture

It’s been five years since Indiana made their run to Omaha, capturing the attention of the nation behind Kyle Schwarber, Sam Travis, Aaron Slegers, Joey DeNato, and company. There isn’t a member of Indiana’s College World Series team still in Bloomington, but on Thursday, with the athletic department passed out commemorative banners honoring the 2013 season, it was evident that baseball is there to stay in Btown. After 2,114 fans poured into Bart Kaufman Field for the series opener, the turnout was 1,790 on Friday, then 2,765 in the regular season finale, for a weekend average of 2,223. Attendance figures like that don’t happen by chance, especially when games are moved up and pushed back due to weather, but by conscious decisions. From the young to old, students and alumni, Indiana baseball has become entrenched into the fabric of life in Bloomington, where the program receives the type of support necessary to stay among the best in the country. And as Indiana has all but wrapped up a fifth regional in sixth years, it’s safe to say the Hoosiers are among the best programs in the country.

It was just that type of year for Maryland

An inning before Miller’s second home run of the game, Maryland held a 4-2 lead. Unfortunately for the Terps, storms in the area forced a rain delay of 1:50 with two outs in the top of the seventh, and ended the outing of right-handed pitcher Hunter Parsons. Outside of Miller’s second-inning home run, Parsons had been effective, scattering five hits, needing just 77 pitches to get through six innings. Once play resumed, Maryland’s bullpen was unable to hold the lead, dealing the Terps a tough defeat in the series opener, which the club never seemed able to rebound from. In a nutshell, the final three innings of Thursday’s contest seems to sum up the Maryland season. The Terps had shown streaks of playing good baseball, but weren’t able to get over the hump and live up to the potential they showed on paper. Rare did Maryland get blown out, instead there were games throughout with a defining play or moment that spelled doom. More will be shared on Maryland and what first-year head coach Rob Vaughn learned later this week.

 

Nebraska at Illinois

A little more than 150 miles northwest of Bloomington, the series between Nebraska and Illinois had much of the same elements. Like Maryland, Nebraska was fighting to reach the Big Ten Tournament as the last seed in, although unlike the Terps they needed quite the help and did not control their own destiny. For the host Illini, coming off of a weekend win at Michigan by most accounts put them in the NCAA Tournament. Winning the weekend against the Cornhuskers would send them into postseason play with momentum, as they look to play well into June. A sweep didn’t occur in Champaign as Nebraska salvaged their weekend with a win in their season finale, but Illinois showed a deep lineup on Friday, anchored by the conference player of the year.

Spillane continues shock and awe show

He didn’t match Miller with three home runs on the weekend, but Spillane hit home runs in the final two games of the series, running his season total to 22, four off of Illinois’ single-season record.

Friday’s contest was a microcosm of Spillane. In his first at-bat, Spillane struck out swinging, which he did again in the third inning. But on his second strikeout, Spillane showed the speed which has allowed him to steal 14 stolen bases, reaching first on the wild pitch. In the fourth inning, Nebraska intentionally walked Spillane, to load the bases. In his final at-bat, Spillane sent the first pitch of the sixth inning over the right field wall at Illinois Field for his 21st home run. Three official at-bats, respect from the opposing team, a run, an RBI, and four total bases.

The amount of strikeouts Spillane has is a red flag for scouts, 51 in 158 at-bats. But the opposite field power is a point in his favor. Regardless of how evaluators view him, it’s a joy, unless you’re the opposing team, to wait for the moment to happen, then have it happen, as one of Illinois’ best individual seasons ever winds down.

But the Illini aren’t Spillane and a bag of schmoes

Spillane is the big threat in the Illini lineup, but Dan Hartleb’s club has the ability to beat you with multiple players. Joining Spillane in homering during the 13-6 rout over the Huskers was Zac Taylor, pulling his 10th home run of the season out to left. As the team collected 15 hits, Michael Massey and Doran Turchin contributed doubles. In addition to those four players, Ben Troike continues to reach base in every game, while Jack Yalowitz is still capable of showing in flashes the ability which had him enter the season projected as one of the Big Ten’s top outfielders. Friday’s contest showed that even when the opposition does well to contain Spillane, Illinois has multiple players who can step up, and beat you with contact, speed, and power. The starting 6-9 hitters combined to go 9-for-17 with four RBI and five runs.

Wilkening’s plate potential turns into production

Although injuries have limited his time behind the plate, Nebraska catcher Jesse Wilkening has put together an outstanding season. On Friday, in a 2-for-4 game, Wilkening hit his ninth home run of the season, as he finished the year with a .372 average, 14 doubles, .445 on-base percentage, .588 slugging mark, and team-best 56 RBI. It was the type of offensive season many predicted when Wilkening was a highly sought recruit out of Indiana in 2015. A 28th-round draft pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks three years ago, Wilkening hit .270 as a freshman, then .247 last year. Wilkening had previously shown the ability to be a good receiver and defensive backstop, but the offense had yet to develop. It did this year in a big way, giving Nebraska a potent 1-2 threat in support of first baseman Scott Schreiber. Unfortunately too many injuries on the mound created a pitching situation which made Nebraska’s solid offensive season an afterthought. But at least for Wilkening, he enjoyed the type of season to put him back on scouts’ radars, and showcased what made him one of Darin Erstad’s top recruits.

 

Michigan at Purdue

Wrapping up the weekend back in Indiana, by the time action began on Saturday, ignoring the four outs needed to complete Friday’s suspended contest, Purdue had secured second place in the Big Ten, and couldn’t catch Minnesota. Michigan had lost a second consecutive series to leave their NCAA Tournament status fully in the air. On paper, whichever way the result unfolded would seem to have mattered little. But as Purdue capped a weekend sweep with a 2-1 victory, the two teams separated in the Big Ten standings by just one game, are heading into postseason going in opposite directions.

Purdue’s mental makeup shines

Purdue head coach Mark Wasikowski praised his teams toughness following Saturday’s victory. Sometimes mental toughness is hard to put into words, but for every at Alexander Field on the sun-soaked day, it was clear Purdue has a bit of fortitude.

In the first inning, after striking out the leadoff batter, Purdue starter Ryan Beard allowed a single, issued a walk, then it a batter to load the bases. A third straight free base drove in a run and it appeared Purdue’s Senior Day would be a sour one. But the left-hander struck out the next two batters to limit the damage to one run. From the second inning on, until he was relieved with two outs in the sixth, Beard only allowed one Wolverine to reach second.

Two more examples came in the ninth, when closer Ross Learnard was called upon to close his third game of the weekend. He did just that, reaching 15 saves, which sets a new single-season record at Purdue. But a final element of toughness aided Learnard’s save. With a runner on first base and two outs, Michigan’s Jordan Nwogu pulled a rocket down the third base line. On the short hop, Purdue third baseman Evan Warden dove to smother the ball. Off the hop, the ball hit Warden in the mouth, leaving him bloodied and lying face down in the dirt, but the ball did not end up in the corner for a tying double, which it appeared ticketed. Michigan’s Jack Blomgren reached third on the play, but stayed there, as a fielder’s choice one batter later ended the game.

The parts are in place to sustain success in West Lafayette

In a cruel twist of luck, Purdue’s Alexander Field opened the season after the Boilermakers earned the right to host a regional. And up until now, the joys of the 2012 season, and what Purdue enjoyed as a program, and its fan, were a distant memory. But taking in the action on Saturday, one cannot help but see Purdue has the pieces in place to continue to enjoy the success the program is enjoying in Wasikowski’s second season.

From a facility standpoint, few places in the Big Ten, if any, can go toe-to-toe with the look, feel, and amenities of Alexander Field, for player, fans, and press alike. West Lafayette is located in a state with a strong prep baseball presence, and not far from the hotbed that is Chicagoland. But most importantly, the Purdue players, in how they carry themselves before and after games, their play in the field, their at-bats, and how their pitchers perform, are consistent, 1-35. That shows a complete buy-in into the message Wasikowski is preaching and are a 180-degree reversal from where they were just two years ago. The nature of the Big Ten, with the depth and unbalanced schedule, makes predicting future success tough, but there are the necessary foundation pieces in place for Purdue to continue to trend up.

Michigan’s underclassmen have Omaha-potential

Finishing the regular season on a 1-5 skid, a second consecutive regional appearance may have fell out of Michigan’s grip. But to be in a position where that thought is even entertained is a testament to the job Erik Bakich and his staff has done recruiting. Last year, after a Big Ten-leading 42-win season, Michigan saw 11 players drafted and five other players graduate from the program. In prior years, such roster turnover would have a team going into the final weekend of the regular season fighting for a spot in the Big Ten Tournament, not sit one game out of first-place. Many would say Michigan has benefited from a favorable in-conference schedule. But not every team beats the teams they’re supposed to, and it is extremely impressive for a team loaded with underclassmen to reel off 20 games in a row.

While there may be pain in potentially missing the NCAA Tournament this season, it’s clear the future is bright in Ann Arbor, with a core of underclassmen that should be thinking beyond just a regional. Every Michigan starting pitching will return next season. As too will the team’s catcher, shortstop, DH, corner outfielder, and a do-it-all in Jesse Franklin. Although Indiana was starting to perform like a top 25 team at the end of 2012, and Michigan has fallen from the rankings, Blomgren, Franklin, Nwogu, Ben Dragani, and company have the feel of that 2012 first-year core of Schwarber, Travis, Kyle Hart, and Scott Effross. Blomgren shows the ability of being the Big Ten’s best defensive shortstop, Nwogo has big time power, and Franklin has the all-around game and moxie to leave Ann Arbor with a Player of the Year honor in his bag. Add sophomores Tommy Henry and Karl Kauffmann, who sandwich Dragani in the rotation, and special days may not be too far down the road for Michigan.

Big Ten Releases 2018 Baseball Tournament Bracket

Rosemont, Ill— The conference office announced the bracket for the 2018 Big Ten Baseball Tournament, held May 23-27 at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.

The eight-team, double-elimination tournament begins Wednesday, May 23, with first-round games and continues through Sunday’s championship game on May 27. The tournament champion will earn the conference’s automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.

The first pitch of the 2018 Big Ten Tournament will take place at 9 a.m. (CT) Wednesday when No. 3 Michigan takes on sixth-seeded Iowa. Second-seeded Purdue will take the field at 1 p.m. on Wednesday against No. 7 Ohio State. The tournament will continue at 5 p.m. when No. 1 Minnesota plays No. 8 Michigan State. The final game on Wednesday will feature No. 4 Illinois and No. 5 Indiana at 9 p.m.

Once again this season, BTN will televise all games of the Big Ten Baseball Tournament live, with each game also available on the BTN2Go platform, either online at btn2go.com or through the BTN2Go app. The full bracket can be found attached.

What’s on the line

It’s the final weekend of the regular season for Big Ten teams. With weekend action kicking off on Thursday, and running through Saturday, in advance of next week’s conference tournament, a lot is on the line, with every conference series having postseason implications. Here’s a rundown of what’s at steak, conference championship and tournament spots, and who is seeking what as the season is set to end for five teams.

Who can win the Big Ten championship?

Three teams remain in the hunt for the conference championship. Minnesota sits atop the Big Ten table with a 16-4 conference record, followed by Michigan at 15-5 and Purdue at 14-6. Heading into their weekend set at Rutgers, the Gophers control their own destiny in a bid for a second conference championship in three years. Win two games in Piscataway and Minnesota claims at least a share of the title.

If one prefers chaos, it is possible for a three-way tie unfold, in large part due to Michigan and Purdue squaring off in West Lafayette. First, for each to respectively claim a portion of the title, Michigan must win one more game than Minnesota does over the weekend to grab a share of the crown, while Purdue will need to win two more games. If Purdue takes the series against Michigan, 2-1, and Rutgers sweeps Minnesota, the Big Ten standings will have Michigan, Minnesota, and Purdue all at 16-7.

For tiebreaking purposes, the weekend winner between Michigan and Purdue will have the head-to-head tiebreaker secured, while Minnesota, thanks to a two-game sweep in April, holds the tiebreaker over Purdue. Weekend results will settle the tie between Michigan and Minnesota, if necessary, coming down to records against common Big Ten opponents as the two did not play this season.

Who makes the Big Ten Tournament?

In addition to Michigan, Minnesota, and Purdue, Illinois and Ohio State have punched their tickets to the conference tournament in Omaha next week. Northwestern and Penn State will have to wait until 2019 for postseason action, leaving Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan State, and Nebraska vying for the last three spots.

Currently, the remaining three seeds would go to, in order, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland. Those three control their own destiny. But, as Indiana and Maryland square off, there is light for Michigan State, who hosts Ohio State, and Nebraska, who travels to Illinois. Safely in the Big Ten tournament, and not in the running for the Big Ten title, there isn’t as much on the line this weekend for the Buckeyes or Illini, especially for Ohio State as they are sitting pretty comfortable as an at-large team for the NCAA Tournament. That may work to the advantage of the Spartans and Huskers.

Michigan State’s 9-11 Big Ten mark is tied with Maryland, but the Terrapins hold the head-to-head tiebreaker, and in turn would make the Big Ten Tournament if the two finish with the same record. Michigan State’s situation is straightforward: win one more game this weekend than Maryland does.

Nebraska, 1.5 games behind the cut, needs a bit more help, and almost needs a weekend sweep. Nebraska’s head-to-head win over Maryland is almost rendered moot, as the Huskers have lost two conference games, where Maryland has only had one game cancelled, bringing winning percentage into the picture. If Nebraska were to win two games in Champaign, their winning percentage would be .409. That would require both Maryland and Michigan State being swept, producing .391 winning percentages for the Huskers to play in Omaha next weekend. A Nebraska sweep gets the team to a 10-12 conference mark, and .454 winning percentage, where 1-2 weekends by Maryland and Michigan State, at minimum would be needed. If Nebraska gets to 10-12, it is possible they could tie Iowa, if they can’t catch one of Maryland or Michigan State, but that would require a sweep at the hands of Penn State.

For Iowa and Indiana to clinch their postseason berths, each team only needs one victory.

Rutgers’ 7-14 conference mark leaves them with the longest shot, but mathetically in the mix. If Rutgers can spoil Minnesota’s title bid and sweep the Gophers, getting to 10-14, the Scarlet Knights would need Nebraska to win less than three games, have a Indiana sweep Maryland and Ohio State sweep Michigan State. That would get Joe Litterio’s club the eighth seed next week.

With every series holding significance, least we forget there seven teams are in the mix for the NCAA Tournament of varying degrees (Minnesota a potential host, and the bubble likely holding Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, and Purdue), it should be an intense weekend in the Big Ten, from New Jersey to Iowa, a fitting finale.

April 27 Power Rankings

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.

Previous rankings: Week 1Week 2Week 3Week 4Week 5, March 30

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.

Breaking down the NCAA Tournament picture

A little over one month away from the Memorial Day unveiling of the 2018 NCAA Tournament field, media outlets are starting to churn out weekly NCAA Tournament projections and discuss whose stock is rising or climbing. The Big Ten is drawing attention for having six teams with realistic regional odds, where if all were to make the tournament would set a conference record.

Whether it ends up six teams, or five, as was the case in 2015 and 2017, or even just four, it is becoming a May fixture to have a half-dozen teams pursuit a regional bid. This year, with respect to Purdue who is still hanging around on the outer edge of the bubble, the spotlight is on Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio State as they prepare to via for a coveted spot in the field of 64 over the last four weeks.

To get you up to speed on where the six teams stand, here’s an overview of their seasons to date, their remaining schedules and what their postseason picture looks like as of today, ahead of the weekend where the six teams are set to square off against each other, as Illinois travels to Indiana, Michigan heads to Iowa, and Ohio State welcomes Minnesota.

References

Boyd’s World RPI Needs Report

NCAA Official RPI

Warren Nolan’s Big Ten page

(Opponent’s number parenthesis represent Warren Nolan RPI)

Illinois

Record: 24-12 overall, 9-3 in Big Ten (3rd)

Warren Nolan RPI: 58

Strength of Schedule: 113

W-L Against RPI Top 50: 4-4

W-L Against RPI Top 100: 6-6

Losses against RPI > 150: Four

Remaining schedule: April 27-29 @ Indiana (26), May 1 vs. Southern Illinois (128), May 4-6 vs. Ohio State (39), May 11-13 @ Michigan (53), May 17-19 vs. Nebraska (126).

In a nutshell: The Illini have dropped four of their last five games, placing their RPI in the upper-50s, a precarious position. Illinois’ sweep of Pac-12 opponents in the Dairy Queen Classic is starting to look better with Arizona (40) turning around their season and UCLA (31) remaining a strong team, and the team has a split of two games at Coastal Carolina (25) to work with. But, in their lone weekend games against an RPI top 50 team since Minneapolis, Illinois dropped two of three games against Iowa. If there is a slight concern in addition to their RPI, it’s the lack of a signature weekend series win. The good news is that multiple such opportunities await the Illini. Series at Indiana and Michigan, while hosting Ohio State in-between, will allow Dan Hartleb’s team to go over 20 games against RPI top 100 teams.  Winning two of their next three weekends, which would also likely lead to a top-four finish in the Big Ten, should allow the Illini to return to NCAA play for the first time since 2015. According to Boyd’s World’s RPI Needs, which breaks down needed win-loss combinations to reach various RPI benchmarks, assuming all other teams in college baseball maintain their current winning percentage, 10 wins will have the Illini approach an RPI of 32, with several combinations to reach eight wins getting them in the top 45.

 

Indiana

Record: 29-8, 7-4

Warren Nolan RPI: 26

Strength of Schedule: 126

W-L Against RPI Top 50: 4-4

W-L Against RPI Top 100: 9-5

Losses against RPI > 150: One

Remaining schedule: April 25 @ Purdue (84) , April 27-29 vs. Illinois (58), May 4-6 @ Minnesota (38), May 8 vs. Kentucky (18), May 11-13 @ Nebraska (126), May 15 @ Louisville (41), May 17-19 vs. Maryland (119).

In a nutshell: Indiana has been the highest ranked Big Ten team all season. The preseason favorite in the eyes of the conference coaches, the Hoosiers have the conference’s top RPI, spurred by a Big Ten-leading 29 wins. It is a bit premature to say the Hoosiers are a lock for the NCAA Tournament, especially with a tough slate over the next four weeks, but Chris Lemonis’ club should be viewed as safely in the field of 64. Now, where it gets interesting for IU is whether their resume will warrant a spot as a regional host. Currently their RPI would suggest no, an absence of a weekend series win over a top 50 club is slight knock on IU’s season to date, but Indiana will have six conference games to add to their current 14 games against teams in the RPI top 100, with three midweek games against rivals, two on the road, at Purdue and Louisville (41), with the Cardinals joining the Kentucky Wildcats (18) as likely regional-bound clubs where wins would add bullets on Indiana’s resume. If Indiana can go 13-2 over their final 15 games, Boyd’s World suggest a top 16 RPI is in the picture, which would likely net a third Bloomington Regional in six years.

 

Iowa

Record: 23-13, 7-6

Warren Nolan RPI: 47

Strength of Schedule: 67

W-L Against RPI Top 50: 4-4

W-L Against RPI Top 100: 7-9

Losses against RPI > 150: Two

Remaining schedule: April 25 vs. Milwaukee (187), April 27-29 vs. Michigan (53), May 1 vs. Missouri (29), May 2 vs. Western Illinois (288) , May 4-6 vs. Oklahoma State (34), May 11-13 @ Northwestern (235), May 15 @ Western Illinois (288), May 17-19 vs. Penn State (206).

In a nutshell: After being swept in a three-game series at UNLV (51), March 9-11, the odds that the Hawkeyes would appear in a second consecutive regional appeared long, at best. But since St. Patrick’s Day, Iowa is 14-7, with series victories over Illinois and Ohio State, while splitting an abbreviated two game series with Indiana. Iowa’s turnaround has been powered by the return of leadoff batter Chris Whelan, making the team Iowa was over the first month a shell of it’s current self. Iowa is coming off of a weekend defeat at Minnesota, but are set to welcome Michigan to Iowa City this weekend. Iowa is the lone team of the Big Ten’s six regional hopefuls to face the other five teams, a tough task which is doesn’t include playing host to Oklahoma State (34) next weekend during their conference by weekend. Already with the best strength of schedule of these six teams, Iowa will have more opportunities to strengthen its case to be in the field of 64, before finishing with consecutive series against the conference’s last-place clubs. Northwestern and Penn State may offer a break in competition but poor records and 200+ RPIs where that may set back Iowa’s schedule strength a tick.

 

Michigan

Record: 24-11, 11-0

Warren Nolan RPI: 53

Strength of Schedule: 167

W-L Against RPI Top 50: 1-4

W-L Against RPI Top 100: 3-6

Losses against RPI > 150: Three

Remaining schedule: April 27-29 @ Iowa (47), May 1 vs. Eastern Michigan (181), May 2 @ Eastern Michigan (181), May 4-6 @ Rutgers (139), May 8 @ Central Michigan (225), May 9 @ Michigan State (203), May 11-13 vs. Illinois (58), May 17-19 @ Purdue (84)

In a nutshell: The Wolverines are drawing national attention with a current 20-game winning streak, the second-longest winning streak in the country this season. Unfortunately for Michigan’s NCAA Tournament chances, the month-long run hasn’t included any games against teams in the RPI’s top 100, with 15 being played against teams whose RPI is somewhere in the 200s. The competition Michigan has faced is reflected in their strength of schedule. The Wolverines do have a win over Stanford, the RPI’s top-rated team, but outside of the four-game set in Palo Alto the Michigan has played only one other game against a top 50 team. That will change this weekend with their series at Iowa, and potentially in mid-May when they welcome Illinois to Ann Arbor. U-M’s perfect Big Ten record has them in prime position to claim a conference-leading 36th Big Ten championship, but their conference slate to date, opponents Michigan State, Northwestern, Maryland, and Penn State are a combined 12-42 in Big Ten play, has them squarely bubble for their 24th NCAA Tournament appearance.

 

Minnesota

Record: 25-11, 9-2

Warren Nolan RPI: 38

Strength of Schedule: 96

W-L Against RPI Top 50: 6-6

W-L Against RPI Top 100: 12-9

Losses against RPI > 150: Zero

Remaining schedule: April 25 vs. South Dakota State (244), April 27-29 @ Ohio State (39), May 1 vs. Concordia-St. Paul (N/A), May 4-6 vs. Indiana (26), May 11-13 vs. Michigan State (203), May 15 @ St. John’s (48), May 17-19 @ Rutgers (139)

In a nutshell: The Gophers would have liked a better showing in the Dairy Queen Classic they hosted, only able to come away with one victory, although the win over Arizona (40) has aged well. Likewise, seeing where Creighton (33) stands in the RPI picture, it would have been beneficial to have won that home series following the DQ Classic. But the form the Gophers have showed since early March has them heading towards a second NCAA Tournament appearance in three years, and currently ranked in polls. As they join IU with a number next to their name, its similarly too early to say they’re a lock for the NCAA Tournament, but Minnesota can start dream about hosting a regional. Already with the most games against the RPI top 100, the conference’s best mark in such games, series victories over TCU (75), St. John’s (48), and Iowa, a steadily falling RPI, and no losses against RPI 150+ teams, Minnesota is compiling a pretty impressive resume. That’s with series yet to come against Ohio State and Indiana. Winning one of the two next weeks should all but wrap up a bid, where taking both may mean Minnesota in home during the first weekend of June, in the good way as a regional host. And the Gophers are two games back on Michigan, a conference championship would be icing on the cake.

 

Ohio State

Record: 27-11, 8-4

Warren Nolan RPI: 39

Strength of Schedule: 106

W-L Against RPI Top 50: 5-6

W-L Against RPI Top 100: 5-6

Losses against RPI > 150: Three

Remaining schedule: April 27-29 vs. Minnesota (38), May 2 @ Ball State (179), May 4-6 @ Illinois (58), May 8-9 vs. Campbell (136), May 11-13 Purdue (84), May 15 @ Cincinnati (150), May 17-19 Michigan State (203).

In a nutshell: Likely the team least expected to be among the six, the Buckeyes are in a position to reach a regional for the second time in three seasons, a feat last accomplished in 2007-09. Ohio State has a solid strength of schedule, although they have yet to play a game against a team rated 51-100 in the RPI, and has taken care of business at home with a 12-3 mark to have their overall winning percentage rewarded with a high RPI. OSU’s non-conference slate helped put them in the discussion of the NCAA Tournament, winning a game against Southern Miss (32), and going 1-1 against Coastal Carolina (25) . Ohio State squandered a big opportunity in a game against Oregon State (7), allowing six last-at-bat runs in a 10-8 loss during the second weekend of the season. Any lingering “what-ifs” about that game were likely thrown away when the Buckeyes knocked off the Hoosiers this past weekend, securing a resume-anchoring win. Now, the Buckeyes have two more opportunities, with Minnesota becoming the second straight ranked team to visit Columbus, before heading to Champaign. Barring a late May collapse, grabbing one of the next two weekends should punch their ticket, where, like Minnesota, if Ohio State game win at least four of their next six conference games, maybe NCAA play returns to the Buckeye State for the first time since 2003.

Follow

Get the latest posts delivered to your mailbox: