Four Big Ten teams to play in 2018 NCAA Tournament

On Monday afternoon, the NCAA announced four Big Ten teams have been selected to play in the 2018 NCAA Tournament. The 2018 tournament marks the third time in four years at least four Big Ten teams will participate in a regional tying. The conference record of five was set in 2015 and tied last year.

Hours after winning their 10th Big Ten Tournament title, securing the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, Minnesota was announced on Sunday night as one of 16 host institutions for this weekend’s round of regional play. The Gophers were named the tournament’s No. 14 overall seed, before it was announced conference peers Indiana, Ohio State and Purdue, were tabbed as at-large selections, joining Minnesota in the 64-team tournament field.

For the fifth time in six years, Indiana is back in the NCAA Tournament. Heading to the Lone Star State as the No. 2 seed in the Austin Regional, where Texas is the top seed, The eighth time the Hoosiers will be on the road to Omaha, the Hoosiers were regional participants in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2017. Indiana enters regional play with a 38-17 record, including a 14-9 mark in the Big Ten to finish fifth.

Already safely in the field, and heading into the unveiling of the tournament field knowing they will be at home, Minnesota now knows they will be joined in the Minneapolis Regional by No. 2 UCLA, No. 3 Gonzaga, and No. 4 seed Canisius. at 41-13, the Big Ten regular season and tournament champions will be in their second regional in three years, playing at home during the regional round for the first time since 2000.

Late movement around the country saw Ohio State bow out of the Big Ten Tournament on the NCAA Tournament bubble team, but Greg Beals has the Buckeyes safely back in a regional for the second time in three years, heading to the Greenville Regional, as the No. 3 seed, where East Carolina is the host. A year after going 22-34, the 2018 NCAA Tournament is the first time since 2009 the 36-22 Buckeyes have earned an at-large big to the NCAA Tournament, their 21st overall appearance.

Rounding out the Big Ten’s contingent of NCAA Tournament teams is the club with the most unlikely appearance. Just two years after finishing 2-22 in the Big Ten, second-year head coach Mark Wasikowski guided the Boilermakers to a second-place finish in the regular season before finishing as runners-up in the Big Ten Tournament. Now, Purdue will look to further cement the program’s turnaround, selected as the No. 2 seed in the Chapel Hill Regional, hosted by North Carolina. Purdue heads to Chapel Hill with a 37-19 record, and one of the country’s hottest teams, winning 21 of their last 24 games.

The NCAA Tournament begins on Friday, June 1, on the 16 regional host sites. Regional play is a double-elimination format, among the four teams in each regional, with the winner advancing to next weekend’s best-of-three super regional. If all No. 1 seeds advances, the tournament’s top eight seeds will host super regional play. The NCAA will announce the sites of the super regionals on June 5, upon the completion of regional play.

The super regional winners will participate in the 2018 College World Series, held at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, the site of last week’s Big Ten Tournament. The last Big Ten team to reach the College World Series was Indiana in 2013. The Big Ten’s last national champion was Ohio State in 1966. Illinois, Indiana, and Purdue are in search of their first national championship, with Minnesota claiming three of the conference’s six titles, winning in 1956, 1960, and 1964. Michigan were national champions in 1953 and 1962.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Week 5 Weekend Observations

The final weekend before in-conference play beings was a good one for the Big Ten. There were seven home series, with Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio State all grabbing weekend sweeps, Penn State captured two of three, and Michigan State and Nebraska split their weekend sets. On the road, Minnesota grabbed national attention with their road victory at TCU and Rutgers picked up a pair of solid victories at Florida Gulf Coast. All told, only two of the 13 teams suffered weekend defeats.

What garnered the most attention from the strong weekend? Here’s the top weekend observations.

Spillane jumps to the front of POTY race

A lot of attention, and rightfully so, had been cast upon the law office-sounding duo of Ohio State’s Noah McGowan and Purdue’s Jacson McGowan. Both first baseman put together impressive first months at the plate, where numbers on pace to shatter school records helped lead their respective clubs to strong starts. But there’s been an offensive eruption over the last three weeks by Illinois first baseman Bren Spillane that has him on track to be Illinois’ third conference player of the year in six years. Following an 8-for-16 weekend, where the series opener at Southern Illinois produced three home runs, before a two-double, 4-for-4 effort capped the Saturday doubleheader, Spillane is second in the Big Ten in hitting (.419), first in slugging (.887), first in doubles (nine), second in home runs (six), second in total bases (55), fifth in on-base percentage (.471), fifth in RBI (21) and fifth in stolen bases (five). Putting himself in line to be an All-American over the first month, the next two months will show if Spillane can follow the feats of former Illini who were named Big Ten Player of the Year, Justin Parr (2013) and David Kerian (2015), and lead Illinois to a regional.

Kaletha is Indiana’s catalyst

With Matt Lloyd, Luke Miller, and Logan Sowers returning, Indiana was expected to have a strong offensive club. And through 19 games, Indiana is batting .286 with 42 doubles and 19 home runs, Chris Lemonis does indeed have a potent team at the plate. But it isn’t Lloyd, Miller, nor Sowers who is the driving force behind the high-powered Hoosiers offense, its newcomer Logan Kaletha. A transfer from John A. Logan College, the junior outfielder led Indiana in runs created heading into last weekend. As Indiana swept Northern Illinois, Kalthea went 5-for-13 with a double, home run, two RBI, three runs, a walk, and a stolen base. Atop Indiana’s lineup, Katleha has settled into being a dynamic leadoff batting, offering with hitting ability (.319 average), power (.580 slugging percentage) discipline (12 walks to 15 strikeouts), grit (12 plunkings) speed (five stolen bases). and for good measure sports a perfect fielding percentage.

Ohio State continues regional trajectory

Indiana has done nothing to dissuade any belief they are the Big Ten’s top team. Checking in at No. 15 in this week’s NCBWA poll, the first five weeks for the Hoosiers have justified their preseason top billing by conference coaches. But the Hoosiers aren’t the top rated Big Ten team by RPI, that would be Ohio State. According to Warren Nolan’s RPI formula, Ohio State’s RPI is 25 heading into Wednesday play. With only one-third of a season’s data in place, the RPI is very fluid and drastic fluctuations are common in March. But at 14-6, if the season ended today, the Greg Beals’ team would be in a regional. Riding a six-game winning streak, Ohio State has not suffered a losing weekend yet, the Buckeyes have picked up a pair of wins which figure to stand out on their resume (Coastal Carolina and Southern Miss), and started their home slate with three wins in three games. A solid win total, grabbing marquee victories as they come, and protecting the home field is the path to the postseason, and with their sweep of Cal State Northridge, the Buckeyes stayed on course.

Rookie Gophers grow up on big stage

Speaking of postseason resumes, Minnesota’s weekend victory at then No. 11 TCU will surely help the Gophers’ case to be in the field of 64 for a second time in three years. For those who have watched Big Ten baseball over the past few seasons, the upset may not have been that shocking. Minnesota is a game from being two-time reigning Big Ten champions, the Big Ten has equaled the Big XII’s 13 teams in a regional since 2015, and Minnesota has a very deep and veteran-laded lineup, But what was eye-opening, and may have a lasting effect beyond May, was the performance of Minnesota’s freshmen pitchers. In a weekend where TCU saw more than 4,000 fans turn out for each game, Patrick Fredrickson, Bubba Horton, Max Meyer, and Sam Thoresen combined to pitch 15.2 innings and allow just seven hits, striking out 17 batters. Minnesota will experience heavy roster turnover following this season with the graduations of Alex Boxwell, Micah Coffey, Toby Hanson, and Luke Pettersen, but those four pitchers, along with classmate Joshua Culliver and Ryan Duffy give the Gophers a foundation to continue the program’s ascend on.

Whelan provides a spark

Iowa had lost five straight games before Evansville came to town. The Hawkeyes started this week on a three-game winning streak. While it would be tough to give him all credit for halting the team’s skid and starting a run, the return of Chris Whelan had to be comforting for Rick Heller. With Whelan back in the lineup, Iowa had a true leadoff batter, something that was missing the first four weeks. In addition to someone who can get on base, Whelan can drive the ball and be a run-producing taking a little pressure off Tyler Cropley and Robert Neustrom. While Whelan’s UCL injury will limit him to just DH duties, his first weekend of action saw little rust. The 2017 Big Ten Tournament Most Outstanding Player went 5-for-12, drew two talks and scored four runs.

 

Michigan freshmen find comfort at home

No school in the country produced more MLB Draft picks last year than Michigan did with 11. While a noteworthy accomplishment, having that many players leave a program tends to cause a step back the following season as newcomers and role players are thrust into prominent roles. For the first four weeks of the season, Michigan did scuffle, the Wolverines entered last weekend’s series against Bowling Green at 4-11. But during their first home series, the emergence of a few freshman, part of a recruiting class ranked 10th by Baseball America, spurred a turnaround and should bring optimism to Ann Arbor ahead of conference play. Earning Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors, outfielder Jordan Nwogu post a triple-slash of .362/.692/1.097, with a home run, two double and eight RBI. 10 Innings’ Freshman of the Week accolades went to Michigan left-handed pitcher Ben Dragani, after he pitched seven shutout innings on Sunday, striking out six batters without issuing a walk. Another freshman, shortstop Jack Blomgren reached base five times, picked up a double and stole two bases.

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.

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.

Week 2 Weekend Observations

What grabbed 10 Innings’ attention the most the second weekend of the season? Here’s a look.

Purdue continues to prove times have changed

Purdue’s five-run ninth inning against Notre Dame on Sunday helped the Boilermakers capture the Alamo Irish Classic. It also was the latest sign things have changed in West Lafayette. After Purdue lost 4-2 in extra innings to the Irish on Saturday, halting their perfect start to the season at 5-0, the Boilermakers appeared in over their heads against their in-state rival on Sunday. But, down to their final three outs and trailing by four, Purdue showed the character of the culture Mark Wasikowski continues to mold is one of resiliency. With a 6-1 record heading into March, Purdue is receiving votes in the NCBWA poll for the second straight week, and showed they can go toe-to-toe with a team that previously took a weekend series at LSU. Purdue is far from untalented, no team in the conference had more than Purdue’s five preseason All-10 Innings selections, but more evidence continues to mount that Purdue is back among the top of the conference.

Michigan’s growing pains

With the turnover Michigan experienced, 11 draft picks tends to remove a few talented players from a program, it was expected the start of the season for the Wolverines may be a bit tough as newcomers take on Division I college baseball for the first time, and previous role players take on bigger burdens. But the degree to which Michigan has scuffled has been surprising. The competition was stout, but an 0-3 showing in the Tony Gwynn Legacy, combined with a Monday night defeat against San Diego State has Michigan sitting at 2-5, ahead of its four-game set at #5 Stanford. Michigan is pitching at a serviceable level, holding a 4.50 ERA, but the team is batting just .219 and has the Big Ten’s worst fielding percentage at  .950, yet to play an error-free game. Before needing to replace six starts, last year, Michigan finished second in the country with a .983 fielding percentage.

Don’t count Michigan State out just yet

Michigan State wasn’t playing bad over it’s first five games, the Spartans suffered three defeats of one run, but an 0-5 start is an 0-5 start, and Spartan faithful couldn’t be blamed if they were to have concern. But it is worth remembering five games is less than 10% of a 56-game season, and that all teams will scuffle throughout the season, some at the start, some in the middle, some at the end. For the Spartans, their skid ended on Saturday, before starting a new streak, this time on the winning side, in capturing the final two games of their series at Pepperdine. Through their first seven games, Michigan State has shown it will have the pitching necessary to compete for a conference title. Senior right-hander Ethan Landon is pitching to his 2016 self, Riley McCauley has stepped nicely into the Friday role, and the team may have a star in Sunday starter Mason Erla. As a team MSU has a 3.86 ERA, with 68 strikeouts against 17 walks. The offense is still morbid, the team is batting at a .208 clip, two wins and a strong pitching unit should give the Green and White optimism heading into this weekend’s loaded Dairy Queen Classic.

Ohio State’s sustains its offensive mite

Ohio State scored 36 runs in four games during the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge, showing its opening weekend outburst of 34 runs wasn’t a fluke. It was worth watching if this would hold true, as Oregon State and Utah figured to offer better pitching than Canicius and Milwaukee, whom the Bucks played the weekend before. A year after batting .260, the fourth-worst mark in the Big Ten, the Buckeyes boast a healthy .311 average after eight games. Oregon State did not throw their ace Luke Heimlich on Friday, he faced Nebraska on Thursday, but Ohio State striking the Beavers for eight runs, five off of a pair of Connor Pohl home runs, should offer a level of confidence that will provide benefits throughout the season. A mighty offense will also help the 5-3 Buckeyes stay afloat if its defense continues to flounder, Ohio State committed nine errors over the weekend, as their .953 fielding percentage beats only Michigan.

Nebraska’s pitching staff may face another hit

Before the season began, Nebraska lost junior right-handed pitcher Chad Luensmann and redshirt freshman lefty Connor Curry to Tommy John surgery. After the first weekend of the season, junior right-hander Robbie Palkert was lost for the season, also needing Tommy John. Now the Huskers are potentially without left-hander Jake McSteen after the junior left his Saturday start against Oregon State with an elbow concern. Nebraska is expecting Reece Eddins back from his own Tommy John surgery at some point this season, but for now, Nebraska’s pitching depth has taken quite the blow, only juniors Nate Fisher and Mitch Steinhoff represent healthy left-handed pitchers. The continued arm injuries may alter Darin Erstad’s plans to use Luis Alvarado as a two-way player. Alvarado, Nebraska’s Friday starter, made his first appearance in the field on Sunday, starting at first base, and promptly went 2-for-5, helping the club to a 7-4 victory over Utah. With a team average of .216 and only 10 extra-base hits, Nebraska can use Alvarado’s bat, but the rash of injuries may take the coaching staff to take an extremely cautious approach to his dual use.

Northwestern’s prowess on the bases

Coaches can be overly optimistic in the offseason, impressive feats can be exaggerated as there is no perspective to how performances would fare with another team on the mound, in the field, and at the plate. But Northwestern head coach Spencer Allen was confident his team would run more in 2018, and rely on speed to make up for some of the loss in power the Wildcats saw graduate, mainly in the form of All-Big Ten selection Joe Hoscheit. So far Allen’s belief has held true.  Highlighted by six steals in Saturday’s 18-12 victory over Kansas, through six games, Northwestern leads the Big Ten with 17 stolen bases in 19 attempts. Northwestern’s 17 stolen bases represents the fifth-most swipes in the country. A trio of player are leading the charge on the bases, with Alex Erro (6-6), Jack Dunn (5-5), and Ben Dickey (4-5) ranked first, second, and third in the Big Ten. The aggressiveness on the bases have helped Northwestern average 6.5 runs per contents, even through the team is batting .238.