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Big Ten Baseball Tournament Preview

The tournament begins today. Can Iowa win it all?

Anthony Vazquez - The Daily Iowan

It’s Big Ten Tournament time, and the only question (in our eyes, at least) is whether or not Iowa can better their results from the 2016 iteration of the tourney, when they made it to the championship game before losing to Ohio State. Iowa has definitely been a hot team as of late and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they made a run in the double-elimination tournament, which this year takes place in Bloomington, IN.

If they want any chance at making the NCAA Tournament, they’re going to have to win the Big Ten Tournament, thanks to a low RPI. They currently sit at 94, which is due to a very weak conference schedule and not-so-great non-conference schedule. Can they do it?

You can find a PDF of the 2017 Big Ten Tournament bracket here. I recommend looking at it before we dive in.

You ready? Let’s go.

Maryland Terrapins (34-19, 15-9)

First thing’s first, Iowa is the #5 seed and will play Maryland in their opening game. We’ll have more on how to catch that game later today, but for now, we’ll talk about Maryland as a team. As a team, they’ve really struggled as of late. They lost eight of their last 14 games this season, including six of their final nine conference games. They’re as cold as a team could possibly be heading into the tournament - they had been in first place for a period of time and somehow crawled into the tournament one spot ahead of Iowa in the #4 seed. They’re definitely a talented team, but have hit a low point after losing a series to High Point in their final weekend.

Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Brian Shaffer is an absolute stud, and is likely who Iowa will see in their matchup. He leads the conference with 97 innings pitched and is 7-3 with a 1.67 ERA. Iowa’s bats have the talent to knock him around a bit, but he’s better than just about everyone the Hawks have faced this season. Whether or not they’ll be up for the challenge is the question.

Win or lose against Maryland, Iowa will face either #1 Nebraska or #8 Purdue in their second game. The Hawkeyes played both this season, taking two of three games from each squad during the first half of conference play.

Nebraska Cornhuskers (34-18, 16-7-1)

Nebraska was just about the only good team that Iowa faced all season, and they performed admirably in their series at Haymarket Park, winning two of three. In fact, Iowa is the only Big Ten squad to win a series against the Cornhuskers this season!

The Big Ten Champions, led by Big Ten Coach of the Year Darrin Erstad, will still be no cakewalk for the Hawkeyes if they face off. The Huskers are fourth in the Big Ten with a team .280 batting average and are second with a 3.48 ERA. If there’s anything the Hawks can take solace in, it’s that Nebraska is almost completely devoid of power - they finished dead last in the conference with only 20 dingers all year. On the flip side, however, they only allowed teams to hit 23 home runs against them all year. The Hawkeyes will need to maximize small ball like they had in previous seasons if they want to give Nebraska their best shot.

Purdue Boilermakers (29-25, 12-12)

The Hawkeyes started off league play against Purdue on a rain soaked weekend, beating the Boilermakers two of three times. Purdue held onto the last berth in the tournament, just sneaking in two games ahead of Michigan State.

The Boilermakers still aren’t a very formidable offensive team, as they only hit .259 as a collective and aren’t able to make up for it with power, only hitting 23 home runs this season, both good for 11th in the conference. They also come in last in the conference for walks, only drawing 176 on the year. What they do well, however, is execute small ball. They’re tops in the league in sacrifice bunts, second in sacrifice flies, and fourth in stolen bases. When they’re able to get runners on, they do a great job getting them into scoring position and do a fine enough job getting them across the plate. Luckily, Iowa is a fairly solid defensive team and Tyler Cropley is excellent at throwing out would-be base stealers (best in the league, statistically!). This should be something the Hawks are able to keep in check.

On the mound, Purdue is a middle of the pack team by every definition. Their staff ERA is 4.79, which is eighth in the conference, and most other statistical categories tend to find them in that 6-9 range as well. They’re pretty much where you’d expect them to be for a team that finished with a near-.500 record: average.

If Iowa comes out of their first two games with one loss or less, it’s honestly a crapshoot, which is a product of the double-elimination tournament. They could play just about anyone in the tournament - if they lose one of them, they’ll likely play one of the three aforementioned teams (and maybe even one they’ve already played again). If they win both, they’ll end up playing the loser of Game 9, which takes place on the other side of the bracket.

If they make it that far, we’ll obviously preview that matchup in-depth. As for now, here’s a brief preview of the teams on the other side of the bracket.

Michigan Wolverines (42-13, 16-8)

The Wolverines have the best damn pitching staff in the league, and it’s not even a debate. They lead the league in ERA (3.22), opposing batting average (.227!!!!!!), strikeouts (524, which is 90 more than the next team), and strikeouts looking (178). They also lead the league in sac bunts allowed, runs allowed, earned runs allowed, and hits allowed. Can Jake Adams and the Hawks break through against what might be the best staff in the country?

Northwestern Wildcats (24-28, 13-11)

The ‘Cats got hot at the right time to break into the tournament, winning seven of nine conference games to get above .500 in league play and earn the #7 seed. The Hawkeyes played them earlier this year in Evanston, and lost two of three games. The WIldcats aren’t a very good team by any stretch of the imagination, as they’re 12th in team batting average and 11th in home runs, but a generally average pitching staff has kept them in enough games to get here. I wouldn’t expect Iowa to face these guys unless they can pull off a Cinderella run like the Hawks did last year.

Indiana Hoosiers (32-20-2, 14-9-1)

The Hoosiers tied two teams this year. Two! They’ll get the luxury of home-field advantage throughout the tournament, as they’re giving away free student tickets to all games in which they play. Whether or not the students show up when school isn’t in session, however, is yet to be seen.

The Hoosiers have a decent team average of .267, but where they really do their damage is with extra-base hits. They’re first in the league in home runs with 63 and third in doubles with 101, so they’ll punish whoever they face if they make a mistake. However, they’re a team that strikes out a whole ton, as they struck out the third most in the league (424).

Minnesota Golden Gophers (33-19, 15-8)

Minnesota and Iowa faced off a long, long time ago, and it counted as a non-conference game. The Gophers took that game, but it doesn’t mean a whole lot as players have hit their stride and lineups surely would look a bit different than the first time these teams faced off.

The Gophers led the Big Ten with a .293 batting average this year, 530 hits, and also 20 triples, but those are the only offensive categories you’ll find Minnesota at the top of this year. They did their best work on the mound, where they were fifth in team ERA (4.01) and second in opposing batting average (.240).

The Big Ten Tournament is here. Hopefully for us Hawkeye fans, it’s a fun one.