Season Preview: Big Ten Conference

By Ben Harris

Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 5.58.38 PMNow four days from opening day, we’ve thoroughly broken down the 2016 Maryland Terrapins: the infieldoutfield, starting rotation and bullpen corps. We’ve shared the top plays from last year along with two straight weeks worth of player profiles. Now, we broaden our focus to include the rest of the Big Ten Conference, where the Terps finished second in both the regular season and the conference tournament last year before beginning their second consecutive NCAA Super Regional run. D1Baseball projected the Terps to win the Big Ten this season, and the 2016 Big Ten Coaches Poll has Maryland finishing in second.

Illinois: 2015 record 50-10-1 (B1G 21-1)

After a first place Big Ten finish last year, the Fighting Illini return just two of their conference-leading six First Team All-Big Ten Selections. Strong up the middle, catcher Jason Goldstein returns for his senior season, as does redshirt junior Adam Walton, ranked Baseball America’s top Big Ten defensive shortstop. Reigning Big Ten Coach of the Year Dan Hartleb leads Illinois into 2016 in his 11th season as head coach and 26th season overall on the Illini staff.

2015 Maryland vs. Illinois: 1-0 (Big Ten Tournament)
2016 vs. Maryland: May 6-8 @ Maryland

Indiana: 2015 record 35-24 (B1G 12-10)

Ranked third in the Big Ten preseason coaches poll, the Hoosiers look to improve on their sixth place conference finish last season behind starter Kyle Hart. Posting a 5-0 record in 37.1 innings of work last season, the senior notched the third lowest earned-run average in the conference of any pitchers with double-digit innings logged, adding a stellar 30/3 strikeout/walk ratio.

2015 Maryland vs. Indiana: 0-3 regular season, 1-0 in Big Ten Tournament
2016 vs. Maryland: not scheduled

Iowa: 2015 record 41-18 (B1G 19-5)

Iowa enters 2016 coming off a second place conference finish last season and their first NCAA tournament birth in two and a half decades (and first tournament win since 1972). The Hawkeyes will rely on senior infield experience in Tyler Peyton and Nick Roscetti. Peyton registered the 11th best batting average in the conference last season. Their pitching staff, second in the Big Ten a year ago, is anchored on the back end by Luke Vandermaten who posted the lowest ERA (1.06) of Big Ten pitchers recording double-digit innings pitched. The senior allowed no runs in 18 of his 22 appearances, with a 0.87 ERA in Big Ten play.

2015 Maryland vs. Iowa: 1-2
2016 vs. Maryland: March 25-27 @ Iowa

Maryland: 2015 record 42-24 (B1G 14-10)

Head coach John Szefc leads the Terrapins in his fourth season and second in the Big Ten. In his three seasons at the helm – the last two resulting in the school’s first two 40-plus-win seasons – Maryland’s winning percentage is .608, nearly 100 points higher than their all time win percentage (.510). The Terps return their ace and all time wins leader Mike Shawaryn, the 2015 Big Ten strikeout leader (138) who posted 43 more punchouts than the runner-up. Maryland’s pitching staff led the conference in strikeouts last season (549) and posted the fourth lowest ERA (3.32).

Michigan: 2015 record 39-25 (B1G 14-10)

The Wolverines enter 2016 ranked first in the conference preseason coaches poll after last season’s Big Ten Tournament title. Michigan returns eight starters, headlined by two-way threat Carmen Benedetti who led the conference last season in runs batted in (71), doubles (25), tied for the fourth most total bases (126) while posting the second highest batting average (.352). As a team in 2015, Michigan registered the most runs, hits and doubles in the conference, and had the most players (four) voted to the Big Ten All-Freshman team.

2015 Maryland vs. Michigan: 1-2, 0-1 in Big Ten Tournament
2016 vs. Maryland: not scheduled

Michigan State: 2015 record 34-23 (B1G 14-10)

The Spartans just cracked the preseason conference coaches poll, holding down the sixth spot. After tying for third overall in the conference last season, they will not return their top two hitters. However, their pitching staff returns its top two relievers and their top starter. The bullpen is headlined by junior relievers Walter Borkovich and Joe Mockbee (1.78 ERA, 6-2 record in 25 appearances). Borkovich tied a Michigan State single-season record with 30 appearances, going 3-0 with a 2.73 ERA.

2015 Maryland vs. Michigan State: 1-0 (Big Ten Tournament)
2016 vs. Maryland: May 19-21 @ Michigan State

Minnesota: 2015 record 21-30 (B1G 9-15)

The Golden Gophers ranked in the bottom four in both team batting and pitching rankings in the Big Ten last season. However, Minnesota returns a pair of talented upperclassmen in Matt Fiedler and Dan Motl. Fiedler, a two-way standout, ranked second on the team in batting average (.310) and led the team in hits (62), RBIs (31), runs (37) and stolen bases (18) last season. He also led Minnesota with a 2.86 ERA in 15 appearances. Motl, a senior outfielder, posted a 17-game hit streak, hitting .312 in conference play.

2015 Maryland vs. Minnesota: 3-0
2016 vs. Maryland: April 15-17 @ Minnesota

Nebraska: 2015 record 34-23 (B1G 9-14)

Skipper Darin Erstad (two-time MLB All-Star and 2002 World Series champion) begins his fifth year at his alma mater in Lincoln. Despite the fifth highest team batting average (.276) and third lowest ERA (3.12) in the conference a year ago, Nebraska finished eighth in the Big Ten. The offense is led by returning junior Ryan Boldt. The Cornhuskers leadoff hitter, and 2016 Perfect Game preseason All-American, led the team in batting average (.344), hits (75), runs (45) and stolen bases (9). Boldt produced the second highest batting average of any returning Big Ten player and the fourth highest on-base percentage (.467) in conference play.

2015 Maryland vs. Nebraska: 3-0
2016 vs. Maryland: not scheduled

Northwestern: 2015 record 18-36 (B1G 8-16)

The Wildcats look to bolster their middle of the pack offensive performance in 2015 returning their best all-around hitter in senior Zach Jones and two-way star Joe Hoscheit. Jones, a first baseman and outfielder led the Northwestern offense in hits (70), RBIs (32) and doubles (20). Hoscheit, a junior, started in each of his team’s 54 games last season and hit .286, the second highest average of any returning starter.

2015 Maryland vs. Northwestern: 1-2
2016 vs. Maryland: not scheduled

Ohio State: 2015 record 35-21 (B1G 13-11)

After a seventh place conference finish last season, Ohio State will rely on a duo of junior outfield mainstays. Ronnie Dawson, who made every start in left field a year ago, posted the third highest batting average (.279) of any returning Buckeye and led his squad with 20 multi-hit games. Second Team All-Big Ten selection Troy Montgomery, the center field starter in each game last season, led the conference in steals (35), tying an Ohio State single season record. He reached base in 32 straight games, led the team in runs (54) and logged the most hits (65) and highest batting average (.317) of any returning player.

2015 Maryland vs. Ohio State: 2-1
2016 vs. Maryland: April 8-10 @ Maryland

Penn State: 2015 record 18-30 (B1G 6-16)

Penn State looks to reverse its slow 1-13 start last year while replacing nine departing seniors. The pitching staff, however, remains nearly complete, secured in the back end by closer Jack Anderson (2.98 ERA, five saves in 54.1 innings pitched). The senior allowed just nine extra base hits and no home runs last year. Junior shortstop Jim Haley logged the highest batting average of any returning Nittany Lion (.301) and led the team in runs (35).

2015 Maryland vs. Penn State: did not play
2016 vs. Maryland: April 29-May 1 @ Penn State

Purdue: 2015 record 20-34 (B1G 6-17)

A duo of Kyles lead the Boilermakers into 2016 after finishing in the Big Ten’s cellar last season. Kyle Wood and Kyle Johnson posted nearly identical numbers last season. Wood led all starters hitting .326 last year, with Johnson just behind him at .286. Both played in 53 games, each mashing six homers, 34 RBIs and 19 extra base hits. The redshirt-senior Wood scored 29 runs, and the senior Johnson scored 30 times.

2015 Maryland vs. Purdue: 3-0
2016 vs. Maryland: April 22-24 @ Maryland

Rutgers: 2015 record 19-35-1 (B1G 7-17)

In their first season of Big Ten play, the Scarlet Knights finished 11th in the conference with the league’s worst pitching staff and second worst offense. The 2016 pitching staff is led by left-hander Howie Brey, Rutgers’ most used pitcher and strikeout leader (56) last season. Rutgers most potent offensive weapon, Junior Tom Marcinczyk, slugged .507 last year, the seventh highest total in the conference and launched the 10th most homers (seven). He also led the team in hits (66), RBIs (36), total bases (103) and average (.325).

2015 Maryland vs. Rutgers: did not play
2016 vs. Maryland: May 13-15 @ Maryland

 

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