By Jake Eisenberg
Maryland finished the regular season on a high note, winning the final series against Michigan St. to clinch the Terps’ spot in the Big Ten Tournament. With that series win, Maryland enters the tournament as the 6-seed, and will play 3-seed Indiana tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. CT/10:00 a.m. ET. The format of the tournament is double-elimination, with teams needing a minimum of four wins and a maximum of five wins to take home the Big Ten Tournament Championship. Here’s how the field looks:
1. Minnesota Golden Gophers (34-18, 16-7, L1)
The Golden Gophers clinched their first regular season title since 2010, earning the top seed in the tournament just a year after not making the field. Minnesota boasts one of the best offense in the conference, leading the Big Ten in batting average (.328), hits (651) and finished second in home runs (46). Catcher Austin Anthmann is the most dangerous bat—hitting .376 (fourth in the conference) with 11 home runs and 38 RBI. Matt Fielder (.383, third in the conference) is a player to watch as well, and not just at the plate. A two-way player, Fiedler has posted a 7-2 record with a 3.67 ERA. With the Big Ten regular season title, Minnesota has all but clinched their spot in the NCAA Tournament.
2. Nebraska Cornhuskers (37-18, 16-8, W6)
The Cornhuskers are undoubtedly the hottest team entering the tournament. Winners of six straight, including a sweep of Indiana during the final weekend, Nebraska is poised to continue its strong play. The Cornhuskers have one of the strongest rotations in the conference thanks to three weekend starters with ERAs under 3.00. Derek Burkamper (6-2, 2.77), Matt Waldron (7-2, 2.59) and Jake Meyers (6-1, 1.38) combined for 22.1 scoreless innings against the Hoosiers. During Nebraska’s six-game winnings streak, the Cornhuskers have outscored its opponents 34-9, thanks in part to the aforementioned pitching, but also thanks to strong offense. As a team, Nebraska is batting .289, good for third-best in the conference. Scott Schreiber could be the best hitter in the entire tournament, with a .320 average and a conference leading 16 home runs. However, the sophomore, who is 11-14 with five home runs in his last three games, is listed as day-to-day with a groin injury. Even if Schrieber isn’t at 100%, Ben Miller (.328, 6 HR) and Ryan Boldt (.300, 5 HR) are just as dangerous. Playing in Omaha, Neb. just an hour from Lincoln, the Cornhuskers will have the crowd behind them and figure to be the tournament favorite.
3. Indiana Hoosiers (31-22, 15-9, L4)
Indiana—much like the Terps, have had an up-and-down season. After starting the year 12-11 through the month of March, the Hoosiers started off April 10-3, including an eight game winning streak. Indiana only lost two conference series, the first and the last, to Rutgers (1-2) and to Nebraska (0-3). Down the stretch, it looked like the Hoosiers might take the regular season title, but looking the last four games of the season to Louisville and Nebraska put that to rest. Indiana features a strong rotation led by the winningest pitcher in the Big Ten, Kyle Hart. Hart, a southpaw, is 10-3 on the season with a 3.09 ERA. The Hoosiers earned the 3-seed by winning the tiebreaker over Ohio State—Indiana has a better record against common, in-conference opponents. Indiana will play Maryland in the first game of the tournament tomorrow morning.
Read more about the Hoosiers in our game preview.
4. Ohio State Buckeyes (38-17-1, 15-9, W1)
The Terps may have swept the Buckeyes in College Park at the beginning of last month, but Ohio State has finished strong down the stretch, going 8-2 in the month of May. The Buckeyes swept Michigan (Ohio State’s first round opponent), and took series’ from top-seed Minnesota and 8-seed Iowa. Additionally, the Buckeyes decisively beat #16 Florida Atlantic 10-2. Ohio State is a team getting hot at the right time, especially at the plate. Nick Sergakis is eighth in the conference with a .352 batting average to go along with eight home runs and 44 RBIs, and Ronnie Dawson packs a punch in the middle of the order as well. Dawson launched a game-tying home run against Minnesota in the final game of the series, and followed it up with the game-winning blast in extra innings. Ohio State is in the second half of the bracket along with Minnesota, Iowa and Michigan. The Buckeyes played all three of those teams during the final month, and went 7-2, with one loss to Iowa and one to Minnesota. Ohio State enters the tournament as a dangerous four-seed with a strong chance to emerge as the champion.
5. Michigan Wolverines (35-19, 13-10, L2)
The Wolverines are one of the strongest teams in the conference in terms of RPI (37), but are limping into postseason play. Michigan has lost seven of its last eight games, which includes getting swept by rival Ohio State and losing two out of three to Illinois. Still, the Wolverines are not to be overlooked. With two of the top three run producers in the Big Ten in Harrison Wenson (56 RBI, 1st) and Cory Bruder (52 RBI, 3rd), and the second best team average in the conference (.302), Michigan puts up runs. In fact, the Wolverines have scored the most runs in the conference (352). The offense provides solid support for the pitchers, led by ace Brett Adcock, who defeated the Terps in the Big Ten Tournament Championship last season. One big question mark for the Wolverines will be Carmen Benedetti. The two-way player sustained a concussion during batting practice last week and was unable to play during the final regular season series. Still, Michigan has a tough road to the final, as the Wolverines will need to move past Ohio St., Iowa and Minnesota, teams its 2-6 against this season.
6. Maryland Terrapins (28-25, 13-11, W1)
The Terps entered the season as a conference favorite, but series losses to Iowa, Minnesota, Rutgers and Illinois left Maryland fighting for its spot in the tournament on the final day of the season. After a final regular season day win, the Terps are now in the Big Ten Tournament for the second straight year. Last season, Maryland entered as the four-seed and reached the final, knocking off #5 Illinois along the way. Once again, the Terps enter as somewhat of a dark horse, and are certainly a dangerous team due to its pitching prowess. Maryland features one of the best rotations in the Big Ten with ace Mike Shawaryn (5-4, 3.30), Taylor Bloom (6-4, 2.46) and Brian Shaffer (7-3, 2.85). All three arms have eclipsed 90 innings pitched this season, and have combined for nine complete games as well, taking the pressure off of a shaky bullpen. The Terps also gain an edge with Hunter Parsons (2-2, 3.06), who is perhaps the strongest fourth starter of any team in the Big Ten, and could be crucial to the Terps’ chances down the stretch. Still, a lot rests on an offense that has been consistently inconsistent, leading to a team average of .258 (worst among qualifying teams). Even so, Maryland has won three of its last four games and is averaging just over five runs per game in that span. If the offense can supply run support for the Terps’ strong arms, Maryland becomes one of the most dangerous teams in the tournament. When it comes to NCAA projections, the Terps have seemingly played their way out of an at-large bid, so it’ll take a strong showing in Omaha, or better yet, winning the whole tournament, to send Maryland to a NCAA Regional for the third straight year.
7. Michigan State Spartans (34-18, 13-11, L1)
The Spartans began the season 14-1, looking like a team that would runaway with the Big Ten regular season title with the potential to be chosen as a regional host for the NCAA Tournament. But, Michigan St. went 20-17 the rest of the way. During the conference slate of the schedule, the Spartans lost series’ to all three teams it could face in the top half of the bracket—Indiana (1-2), Nebraska (1-2) and Maryland (1-2). The series loss to the Terps gave Michigan St. the seventh-seed, as Maryland owned the head-to-head tiebreaker. While it seems like a longshot for the Spartans to take home the tournament title, it certainly has the pitching and offense to do it. Cam Vieaux (6-4, 2.41 ERA) has been banged up with shoulder issues the past few weeks, but it one of the best southpaws in the conference. Ethan Landon (7-3, 2.77) has been solid as well, and has won six of his last eight starts. In the bullpen, Dakota Mekkes is as good as it gets, with 89 strikeouts in just over 53 innings. The staff leads the conference in strikeouts with 440, a new program record. The offense shouldn’t be overlooked either. It features five .300+ hitters, including Brandon Hughes, who had a tremendous weekend against the Terps, going 7-14 (.500) with five runs scored. Like Maryland, the Spartans will likely need to win the tournament in order to make it to the NCAA Tournament.
8. Iowa Hawkeyes (27-25, 12-12, W1)
The Hawkeyes snuck in to the final eight teams with series wins against Michigan State and against Penn State on the final weekend. The wins over the Nittany Lions gave Iowa a 12-12 record in conference play, identical to both Penn St. and Illinois. But, thanks to owning head-to-head tiebreakers against both teams, the Hawkeyes find themselves in Omaha. Iowa is an above-average team offensively, hitting .275 and getting on-base at a .370 clip (fourth in the Big Ten), but won’t hit many balls out of the park (26). That may bode well for the Hawkeyes, as its run-manufacturing style offense led by Joel Booker (.344 AVG, .397 OBP) could work well in the expansive TD Ameritrade Park. Still, the Hawkeyes will face top-seeded Minnesota in its first game and potentially have to face two other strong teams in Ohio State and Michigan—teams the Hawkeyes went a combined 2-4 against—in order to go deep in the tournament. Iowa showed resolve by playing its way into the tournament, and perhaps has a few surprises left.