The 2016 Big Ten Baseball Tournament gets underway Wednesday. Each team has something to play for, but how will things shake out? Each team gets the opportunity of a lifetime to play in TD Ameritrade Stadium, where the Husker faithful will look to give Nebraska a decided home field advantage.
Starting with the eighth seeded Iowa Hawkeyes: A team that will need to win the tournament to get into the NCAA Tournament. Iowa is a hot team, winning four of their five past league games. Iowa played one of the toughest schedules in the league, missing Purdue, Rutgers, and Northwestern. Iowa has beaten Minnesota earlier this season, so anything is possible, an intriguing 9 pm contest looms with the Gophers.
Michigan State, the seventh seed has seen their lead atop the conference standings disappear. The 252nd ranked strength of schedule, combined with mounting injuries has sent the Spartans on a slide, losing five out of six. Michigan State can pitch with the best of them, but Senior Cam Vieaux is key, as the Spartans will need him to bounce back in a Thursday showdown with Nebraska.
With the knock on Michigan State being the strength of schedule, the six seed Maryland has played the 24th most difficult schedule in the nation. Maryland has struggled to string wins together all season, with a season high five game win streak coming against Purdue and a couple punching bags. Maryland does bring a deep pitching staff, and will need to advance to the title game and possibly win the tournament to feel safe on Selection Sunday.
Ice cold is the only way to describe the fifth seed, the Michigan Wolverines. They have been hit by the injury bug, and have lost seven of eight contests. A week ago, Michigan was firmly in the NCAA Tournament, but now they are on the edge of falling out. Losing two straight in Omaha would probably knock the Wolverines out. A rematch with their arch rival the Ohio State Buckeyes awaits.
Ohio State has been on red hot fire, taking eight of their past nine contests. If the season ended today, they would most likely be in the field. The Buckeyes will not want a repeat of the last time they were in Omaha, a dramatic first round contest where they blew a 6-0 lead against Nebraska. Ronnie Dawson leads a physical offense, while Tanner Tully is leading the Buckeyes on the hill. Ohio State could cruise into Sunday's final, leaving them feeling safer about their NCAA Tournament projections.
The third overall seed, the Indiana Hoosiers will need to win the tournament to make it to the NCAA Tournament. Indiana is just 2-8 against top 50 RPI teams. Indiana was playing good baseball heading into a series at Nebraska last weekend, where the bats fell silent for three straight contests. If Indiana could find some offense, they are dangerous. Of course, a second round match up with Nebraska could spell trouble.
Nebraska enters the tournament as the second overall seed for the second time in three years. Behind four quality starting pitchers, the Huskers have allowed four runs in six games. If Nebraska keeps up that pace, you can expect a happy crowd at TD Ameritrade. Nebraska will need to be locked in and focused as the Huskers have a chance to host a regional next weekend if they can win the Big Ten Tournament. Even losing two straight to start the tournament, the Huskers should feel safe on the right side of the bubble.
Minnesota won the regular season title over Nebraska by a half a game. While Minnesota won, they have lost three of their past four contests. Minnesota has not won a series against a non Purdue team since last month when they won a series at Illinois. Minnesota can pitch, but they love to hit. It will be interesting to see how this team uses the whole field in a spacious setting at TD Ameritrade.
With the field set, one has to like the prospects for both Nebraska and Ohio State to meet in a possible championship contest. Nebraska will pack the park and will have a huge home field advantage throughout the week. Ohio State led the league in home runs, and has a red hot team who should be able to defeat Michigan and the winner of Minnesota and Iowa.