Maryland (34-19, 15-9 Big Ten) struggled to end the regular season, losing three straight Big Ten series to close the conference slate with a 15-9 record after starting 12-3. Still, those 15 wins equaled a program record for conference victories last accomplished in 2014 in the ACC. They were also good enough to land the Terrapins the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, setting up a first-round matchup with No. 5 seed Iowa at 8:30 p.m. ET Wednesday. 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. Nebraska Cornhuskers (34-18-1, 16-7-1 Big Ten, Streak: W2)
The ‘Huskers surged to the regular-season conference title after a second-place finish a year ago. Nebraska won five straight conference series to close the season, including taking two of three games from Penn State in the season’s final week to clinch the title. The Cornhuskers won the regular-season crown despite hitting a conference-low 20 home runs. Instead, they ranked second in the Big Ten in doubles and also took second in team ERA at 3.48. Leading the charge on offense was one of the league’s best hitters, junior Scott Schreiber, who hit .335 and led Nebraska with 20 extra-base hits. On the mound, the righty-lefty combo of Derek Burkamper and Jake Meyers anchors the rotation and made 26 combined starts, while the relief duo of Jake McSteen and Robbie Palkert posted identical 2.31 ERAs in 35 innings apiece. The Terps faced Nebraska in early April and split the first two games before dropping a 8-4 decision in the rubber match. The difference in the series was Cornhusker first baseman Ben Miller, who had 10 hits in the three games, scored four times, and drove in three runs in the series-clinching game.
2. Michigan Wolverines (42-13, 16-8, W2)
The Wolverines won eight more games overall than any other team in the Big Ten, partly on the strength of a 26-5 non-conference record. Like Nebraska, Michigan finished the season strong, winning four straight Big Ten series, including taking two out of three from in-state rival Michigan State to clinch the No. 2 seed and eliminate the Spartans from tournament contention. The Wolverines’ strength is their pitching staff, which led the conference in ERA (3.22) and strikeouts (9.54 per nine innings). The Michigan staff punched out over 100 more hitters than any other team in the conference. The starting rotation was good, if unspectacular, with Oliver Jaskie and Michael Hendrickson each turning in ERAs under 4.00. The bullpen was where Michigan really frustrated opposing hitters. Right-hander Jackson Lamb is the team’s top reliever; he pitched 28 innings without allowing an earned run, while striking out 28. As the Wolverines’ closer, he racked up 12 saves and opponents batted just .182 against him. Even more impressive might have been the performance Lamb’s fellow reliever, Mac Lozer, turned in. Like Lamb, Lozer did not allow an earned run all season, throwing 23.1 innings and striking out 34. In those 23.1 frames, the right-hander did not allow a single extra-base hit and opponents batted a minuscule .082 against him. In all, the Wolverines’ bullpen managed a 2.43 ERA and hitters batted .227 against the staff as a whole. On offense, catcher Drew Lugbauer leads the way for Michigan. He hit a team-high 11 home runs and compiled a .921 OPS. Maryland took on Michigan in the early stages of the Big Ten season and the Terps took two of three games from the then-No. 18 Wolverines. Brian Shaffer pitched eight innings and piled up 10 strikeouts in a 7-2 Maryland win in the first of the three games.
3. Minnesota Golden Gophers (33-19, 15-8, W1)
The Golden Gophers dropped two of three to Purdue in their final series of the season, but won their five previous games to secure a finish near the top of the conference. A 12-game winning streak from March 16-April 14 was the high point of the Gophers’ season and included sweeps of Michigan State and Ohio State, both on the road. Playing away from Siebert Field in Minneapolis was a strength all season for Minnesota, which went 16-5 on the road. The Gophers led the conference in batting average, hitting .313 as a team in conference games and leading the league with 20 triples. A pair of Golden Gophers, Luke Pettersen and Jordan Kozicky hit .340 or better, while Kozicky, a redshirt freshman, compiled a stellar .922 OPS. Meanwhile, junior Micah Coffey, a 2016 second-team All-Big Ten performer, hit a sizzling .370 in conference games. On the mound, the Gophers have a genuine ace in 6-foot-2 left-hander Lucas Gilbreath, who went 5-2 with a 2.37 ERA that ranked third in the Big Ten. He struck out 86 hitters in 76 innings, while holding opposing hitters to a .176 batting average. At the back end of the bullpen, senior Brian Glowicki racked up 15 saves and posted a 1.93 ERA, allowing just three extra-base hits in 28 innings.
4. Maryland Terrapins (34-19, 15-9, W1)
The Terps led the conference for a good portion of the season before dropping those final three Big Ten series to Indiana, Illinois, and Northwestern and settling for the fourth seed in the tournament. Maryland also dropped the first two games against High Point before rallying to win on Sunday by a 9-2 score. The Terrapins boast the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year in Brian Shaffer, who led the conference with a 1.67 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and 97 innings pitched and was second to Michigan’s Jaskie in strikeouts with 98. Shaffer leads a pitching staff that topped the conference with a 3.61 ERA in Big Ten play, but will need its other starters, Tyler Blohm (8-6, 3.46 ERA) and Taylor Bloom (6-2, 4.30) to pitch well if the Terps hope to make a deep run in the Big Ten Tournament. Sophomore outfielder Marty Costes paces the Terps on offense with a .336 batting average and an OPS over .960. The team’s hottest hitter going in to the tournament is AJ Lee, who is working on a career-long 11-game hitting streak and is third on the team with a .484 slugging percentage. Kevin Smith leads the team in that department at .537, a figure bolstered by his team-best 10 home runs.
5. Iowa Hawkeyes (34-19, 15-9, W1)
Maryland’s opponent in the tournament’s opening round posted identical conference and overall marks as the Terrapins. Like the Terps, Iowa had great success at home, posting a 19-4 record at Duane Banks Field in Iowa City. Unlike Maryland, the Hawkeyes finished the Big Ten schedule with a string of series victories, taking four straight three-game sets, including a sweep of Penn State in late April. Iowa is a power-hitting team that finished second in the conference with 58 home runs and compiled a .446 team slugging percentage. The most powerful hitter in the Hawkeye lineup is also by far the best power hitter in the conference. 6-foot-2, 250-pound first baseman Jake Adams clubbed a whopping 24 home runs and added 14 doubles. His two dozen homers were nine more than any other Big Ten hitter totaled and his 65 RBIs were eight clear of the field. He also finished fourth in the league with a .344 batting average. For a power hitter, Adams is averse to the strikeout, as well; he whiffed in just over 18 percent of his plate appearances. The Hawkeye pitching staff was middling, with a 4.40 team ERA that ranked sixth in the Big Ten. 6-foot-3 right-hander Nick Gallagher went 8-1 with a 2.59 ERA in 13 starts and senior right-hander Josh Martsching struck out 38 hitters in 34.1 relief innings to pace the staff.
6. Indiana Hoosiers (32-20-2, 14-9-1, W2)
Despite being just the No. 6 team in the Big Ten Tournament, the Hoosiers actually finished with the best RPI in the conference at No. 28 in the nation. Indiana was one spot ahead of Michigan and five spots ahead of Maryland in this week’s rankings. Indiana’s solid RPI figure is a function of a brutal non-conference schedule that ranked tenth-hardest in the country. The Hoosiers have already taken on both No. 1 Oregon State and No. 5 Louisville, and held their own, losing 1-0 and 4-1 to OSU and defeating the Cardinals, 4-3. Indiana won its final five series of the Big Ten schedule to make the tournament. Two-way star Matt Lloyd has been the team’s best player, leading the Hoosiers in both OPS (.993) and ERA (2.39 in 26.1 innings out of the bullpen). He doubles as the team’s No. 2 hitter and its closer. Indiana also got a powerful contribution from Craig Dedelow, a 6-foot-4 senior who finished second in the Big Ten with 15 home runs. One of those blasts came in the third game between Indiana and Maryland, after the teams had split the first two in a Saturday doubleheader. On Sunday, Dedelow hit a seventh-inning grand slam that turned a 3-2 Terps lead into a 6-3 deficit and carried the Hoosiers to a series-clinching victory in Bloomington.
7. Northwestern Wildcats (24-28, 13-11, W5)
The Wildcats have had a roller coaster of a season. They started the year with seven straight losses and they are the only team in the tournament with an overall record under .500. On the other hand they’re also the hottest team in the conference, having won five in a row to finish their Big Ten slate. Those five consecutive victories, albeit including three over Rutgers, who did not make the tournament, were enough to push Northwestern over the hump and into the conference tournament for the first time since 2010. Wildcat outfielder Joe Hoscheit was the key to his team’s conference success, batting an incredible .468 in Big Ten play, 73 points better than any other hitter in the league. For the season, Hoscheit hit .356, good for second in the Big Ten, and got on base at a .430 clip. The senior went 6-for-13 in the Wildcats’ series win over Maryland May 12-14, with a pair of triples and three runs scored. Northwestern’s best pitcher is senior left-hander Cooper Wetherbee, who tallied a 3.03 ERA in eight starts and 10 relief appearances. In his most recent outing, he threw seven shutout innings against Rutgers, allowing just three hits.
8. Purdue Boilermakers (29-25, 12-12, L1)
The Boilermakers were the Cinderella team in the Big Ten this season, rebounding from a last-place 2-22 finish in 2016 to their first tournament appearance since a regular-season title in 2012. Purdue stumbled in the season’s final weeks, losing five of their final six Big Ten games, but a midseason series win over its biggest rival, Indiana, as well as a sweep of Illinois two weeks later, gave it enough breathing room to grab the final spot in the tournament. The Boilermakers are a light-hitting team that scored the second-fewest runs in the Big Ten in conference play. Their best hitter is sophomore Jacson McGowan, who led the team in doubles (15), triples (three), and home runs (seven) en route to a .486 slugging percentage. What Purdue is good at is getting hit by pitches. Between them, infielders Evan Warden and Harry Shipley got plunked 53 times, and the Boilermakers got 77 free passes on hit by pitches as a team. Purdue’s starting rotation is mediocre at best, with just one pitcher who made any starts registering an ERA below 4.00 (Gareth Stroh at 3.92). The Boilermakers’ best weapon on the hill is reliever Ross Learnard, who might be the best reliever in the entire conference. The junior left-hander threw 44.1 innings and allowed only two earned runs, good for a tiny 0.41 ERA. Opponents managed just a .197 batting average against him. Importantly for the Boilermakers, Learnard didn’t allow any of the 29 hits he surrendered to leave the park.