Big Ten Tournament Round One Preview: Michigan State Spartans

The Maryland Terrapins are outright Big Ten Champions for the second consecutive year, the first team to win back-to-back titles in the conference since Indiana in 2013-2014. 

The Terps captured the title thanks to their series victory over the Penn State Nittany Lions on Saturday in State College, their 23rd consecutive conference series win.

Now, the Terps’ attention turns to the postseason. On Tuesday, the squad will play in the first round of the Big Ten tournament against the No. 8 seed Michigan State Spartans. The Spartans are coming off a series victory against Indiana, one which helped the Terps secure the No. 1 seed heading into Omaha. This will be the first time the teams play each other in the postseason since 2016.

This year, Maryland will be looking for a reprieve. After winning the Big Ten last season and beating No. 8 seed Indiana in the first round, the Terps lost in the next round to No. 5 seed Michigan, who would go on to win the tournament. The Terps will be looking to write a different ending this time around. 

Michigan State Spartans (32-20, 12-12 Big Ten)

Last Season

In 2022, the Spartans finished 24-30 with an 8-16 record in the Big Ten, earning them a second-to-last place in the conference, only in front of Minnesota. They were only one of three teams not to record 10 or more conference wins. Their finish below .500 had been a common occurrence within the last several years, as they had not finished with a winning record since the 2017 season, excluding the 2020 season cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This Season

Despite their past shortcomings, the Spartans flipped the script this season, finishing with a winning record and qualifying for the Big Ten tournament for the first time since 2018. They won five of their eight conference series, only losing to Michigan, Illinois, and Iowa, all of whom qualified for the tournament as well. 

The Terps and the Spartans have not faced each other since the 2021 season, making this matchup a challenge for both sides. 

Hitters to Watch

The Spartan offense has been a dangerous one this season, as five different players have a .300 or higher batting average. However, junior Brock Vradenburg stands far above the other four. 

Vradenburg leads the team in batting average (.397), OPS (1.218), runs scored (61), hits (81), home runs (13), RBIs (66), slugging percentage (.730), and on base percentage (.488) while starting all 52 games played. If the Terps want to have a chance in the game, they’ll need to limit the Pasadena native. 

Another player having an impressive season is junior Trent Farquhar, who is slashing .353/.471/.485 and is close behind Vradenburg in many of the categories listed above. He also leads the team in walks drawn. 

Pitchers to Watch

Junior Nick Powers, junior Harrison Cook, and freshman Joseph Dzierwa headline the pitching staff for the Spartans. 

Powers has been the best of the three this season. He comes into Tuesday with a 4.28 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and a .230 batting average allowed. In 54.2 innings pitched, he gave up 26 earned runs and 46 hits with 35 strikeouts to 19 walks. 

Cook sports a 5.20 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, and a .251 batting average allowed. In 55.1 innings pitched, he gave up 32 earned runs and 52 hits with 38 strikeouts to 24 walks. 

As a freshman, Dzierwa leads the team in wins (6) and strikeouts (54). He has a 5.68 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, and a .271 batting average allowed. In 69.2 innings pitched, he gave up 44 earned runs and 74 hits, with 54 strikeouts to just 19 walks. 

Probable Starting Pitchers

Starting pitchers have not yet been announced.