The 2014 Big Ten Baseball Tournament begins today from Omaha, Nebraska with the two favorites being the two teams that came in first and second in the regular season standings in Indiana and Nebraska. The Gophers who are the #4 seed will try and pull an upset or two in the double elimination tournament and see if they can't punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
The Big Ten Tournament is changing its format this season. While formerly only six teams were invited to the tournament, this season eight teams qualified for the tournament. The tournament format will be of two double elimination brackets, with the two teams advancing out of each bracket playing one winner takes all game on Sunday for the Championship. The schedule for the opening games on Wednesday are as follows:
#3 Illinois vs #6 Michigan State- 9 AM
#2 Nebraska vs #7 Ohio State 1 PM
#1 Indiana vs #8 Iowa 5 PM
#4 Minnesota vs #5 Michigan 9 PM
Nebraska, Illinois, Michigan State and Ohio State will be in one bracket, while Indiana, the Gophers, Michigan and Iowa will be in a second. The two losers games will be at 9 and 1 on Thursday, while the two winners games will be at 5 and 9 Thursday. The surviving teams will play again on Friday and Saturday until one team is left from each bracket and those two teams will play at 1:00 PM Sunday for the Championship and automatic NCAA Tournament bid. The Big Ten Network will air the two late games on Wednesday, the three late games on Thursday, and all of the games Friday through Sunday.
#1 Seed Indiana won the regular season Big Ten Championship going 21-3 in Big Ten Play. One of their three losses was to Minnesota last weekend. They led the Big Ten with a whopping eight members on the All-Big Ten First Team including Big Ten Player of the Year Sam Travis at first base, and Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Joey DeNato. DeNato went 11-1 with a 1.83 ERA in the regular season for the Hoosiers. Their coach Tracy Smith was also named the Big Ten Coach of the Year. They will make the NCAA Tournament no matter their finish this weekend, and will look to return to make a return trip to Omaha for the College World Series for the second year in a row.
#2 Seed Nebraska finished with an 18-6 record in the Big Ten. They had three players named to the All-Big Ten First Team. Chance Sinclair went 9-1 with a 1.88 ERA for the Cornhuskers. Nebraska finished second to Indiana in last years Big Ten Tournament at Target Field in Minneapolis.
#3 Seed Illinois went 17-7 in the regular season. They had five players named to the All-Big Ten Second Team. They are a well rounded team with no one player standing out from the pack offensively or defensively.
#4 Seed Minnesota finished with a 13-11 record in the regular season. They had the same record as Michigan, but won the #4 seed by winning two out of three games over the Wolverines in their regular season series. The Gophers are making their record 29th appearance in the tournament, and have the best all-time record going 65-41 for a.613 winning percentage. The Gophers have nine Big Ten Tournament Championships, one more then second place Michigan. The current Gophers are led by pitcher Alec Crawford who went 3-0 with a 3.72 ERA in Big Ten play this season. Crawford was named to the All-Big Ten third team. Gopher catcher Austin Athmann was named to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team as well. The Gophers will start Crawford in their first game Wednesday against the Wolverines.
#5 Seed Michigan also finished with a 13-11 Big Ten regular season record. The Wolverines are led offensively by Jackson Glines who hit .338 this season. The Wolverines best pitcher was Brett Adcock who was 7-3 with a 2.51 ERA. Michigan is expected to start Trent Szkutnik who went 1-6 with a 3.35 ERA in the opening game against the Gophers on Wednesday.
#6 Michigan State went 11-13 in the regular season. The Spartans are led offensively by Blaise Salter and Jimmy Pickens who hit .327 and 3.24 for Michigan State this season. Justin Alleman and Mick VanVossen are the leading pitchers for the Spartans going 6-2 and 7-3 respectively.
#7 Ohio State went 10-14 in the regular season. The Buckeyes were lead by Tanner Tully who was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. He went 6-3 with a 2.08 ERA for Ohio State. Freshman outfielder Ronnie Dawson hit .342 for the Buckeyes.
#8 Iowa finished the regular season at 10-14. They were led by shortstop Jake Yacinich who was named to the All-Big Ten First Team. He batted .369 for the Hawkeyes to lead them offensively. On the mound, Tyler Peyton went 5-0, but had an ERA of 3.60 for Iowa.
Teams with deep pitching staffs will do the best in this tournament, and once again the Hoosers and Cornhuskers are the leaders in this department, however Michigan State will also impress.. Indiana's team ERA was a microscopic 2.22 this season, 0.9 runs better then the second place Spartans. Offensively, Iowa, Indiana and Nebraska were all bunched near the top, with only the Hawkeyes cracking the .300 mark with a team batting average of .302.
While it would be nice to see the Gophers try and pull the upset, the Hoosiers are just too good. Minnesota may beat Michigan in Wednesday, but I don't see them beating Indiana twice. Our final predictions is a repeat of last season with Indiana beating Nebraska in the Championship game, but both teams making the NCAA Tournament. Illinois is the only other team that will most likely make the NCAA Tournament without winning the automatic bid, so from the Gophers on down, if they want to keep playing, they need to show up in Omaha this weekend.