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Hellerball: What Does the Schedule Look Like for Iowa Baseball in 2018?

The Hawks look to improve on a season where they were Big Ten Tournament Champions. Who stands in their way?

Alex Kroeze/Daily Iowan

The Iowa baseball team opens up the 2018 season this Friday when they travel to Kissimmee, FL to participate in the Diamond 9 Sunshine State Classic Series. After completing arguably the most successful season in program history - one in which the Hawkeyes won 39 games, won the Big Ten Tournament for the first time, and went to NCAA Regionals - Iowa looks to recapture some of that magic despite being without many key cogs from that 2017 team.

Our first 2018 baseball preview will not look at the team itself, but instead their schedule this season. Will this year’s team face a more daunting task than they did in 2017, where they ended the season with an RPI of 80? Will they need to win the conference for another shot at Regionals?

For a look at Iowa’s complete 2018 schedule (in order), check it out here.

2018 Non-Conference Schedule

Date Team Location 2017 Record 2017 RPI
Date Team Location 2017 Record 2017 RPI
2/16/18 Toledo Kissimmee, FL 17-41 229
2/17/18 Oakland Kissimmee, FL 17-40 243
2/18/18 Old Dominion Kissimmee, FL 37-21 51
2/23/18 Virginia Tech New Orleans, LA 23-32 122
2/24/18 Ball State New Orleans, LA 30-28 163
2/25/18 New Orleans New Orleans, LA 30-28-1 114
2/27/18 Cornell College Iowa City, IA 19-20
3/2/18 UAB Birmingham, AL 24-31 188
3/3/18 UAB Birmingham, AL 24-31 188
3/4/18 UAB Birmingham, AL 24-31 188
3/6/18 Maryville Iowa City, IA 25-25
3/9/18 UNLV Las Vegas, NV 20-36 259
3/10/18 UNLV Las Vegas, NV 20-36 259
3/11/18 UNLV Las Vegas, NV 20-36 259
3/14/18 Missouri St Kansas City, MO 43-20 22
3/17/18 Evansville Iowa City, IA 18-39 260
3/18/18 Evansville Iowa City, IA 18-39 260
3/19/18 Evansville Iowa City, IA 18-39 260
3/20/18 Saint Louis Iowa City, IA 35-22 141
3/21/18 Loras College Iowa City, IA 14-25
3/28/18 Bradley Iowa City, IA 20-31 208
4/4/18 Grand View Iowa City, IA 29-23
4/10/18 Bradley Peoria, IL 20-31 208
4/17/18 Northern Illinois Iowa City, IA 17-38 263
4/25/18 Milwaukee Iowa City, IA 22-32 253
5/1/18 Western Illinois Iowa City, IA 18-32 269
5/4/18 Oklahoma State Iowa City, IA 30-27 48
5/5/18 Oklahoma State Iowa City, IA 30-27 48
5/6/18 Oklahoma State Iowa City, IA 30-27 48
5/15/18 Western Illinois Macomb, IL 18-32 269

Taking a look at Iowa’s non-conference schedule and, well, yeesh. If Iowa’s opponents this year are of similar quality to what they were in 2017, quality wins will be few and far between for the Hawkeyes in the 2018 non-con. While RPI isn’t the end-all, be-all indicator of success (Iowa did make Regionals with an RPI of 80, after all), it’s going to be important if the Hawks want to repeat their success from last year.

This year’s non-conference schedule features:

  • 14 games against teams who had an RPI of 201+ in 2017 (and that doesn’t even count Cornell College, Loras College, Maryville, or Grand View...)
  • Seven games against teams who finished between 101-200
  • One game against a team who finished 51-100
  • Four games against 2017’s top 50 RPI squads
  • The average 2017 RPI of Iowa’s opponents this year is 185.3. YIKES.
  • What’s worse? Most of Iowa’s opponents are expected to take steps back in 2018, per D1Baseball’s projections.

Iowa has one shot early to get what looks like a quality win against Old Dominion, but their non-conference schedule will definitely ease up before they head to Kansas City to take on Missouri State. Oklahoma State offers potential to be the only intriguing non-conference opponent that Iowa will host in 2018, and even they finished 8-14 in a Big 12 that ate itself alive last season.

The non-conference can really make or break Iowa’s dreams early on. It feels like the Hawks should come out of these 30 games with 20 wins minimum. Sure, baseball is a weird sport and teams often lose to teams they shouldn’t based on the day, but with what appears to be another weak non-conference slate, there’s no reason to think a team loaded with talent wouldn’t be able to win 67% of these games.

As for Iowa’s Big Ten opponents this season...

2018 Conference Schedule

Date Team Location 2017 Record 2017 RPI
Date Team Location 2017 Record 2017 RPI
3/23/18 Indiana Iowa City, IA 34-24-2 34
3/24/18 Indiana Iowa City, IA 34-24-2 34
3/25/18 Indiana Iowa City, IA 34-24-2 34
3/30/18 Illinois Champaign, IL 23-28 142
3/31/18 Illinois Champaign, IL 23-28 142
4/1/18 Illinois Champaign, IL 23-28 142
4/6/18 Ohio State Iowa City, IA 22-34 154
4/7/18 Ohio State Iowa City, IA 22-34 154
4/8/18 Ohio State Iowa City, IA 22-34 154
4/13/18 Nebraska Lincoln, NE 35-22-1 54
4/14/18 Nebraska Lincoln, NE 35-22-1 54
4/15/18 Nebraska Lincoln, NE 35-22-1 54
4/20/18 Minnesota Minneapolis, MN 36-21 72
4/21/18 Minnesota Minneapolis, MN 36-21 72
4/22/18 Minnesota Minneapolis, MN 36-21 72
4/27/18 Michigan Iowa City, IA 42-17 40
4/28/18 Michigan Iowa City, IA 42-17 40
4/29/18 Michigan Iowa City, IA 42-17 40
5/11/18 Northwestern Evanston, IL 27-30 181
5/12/18 Northwestern Evanston, IL 27-30 181
5/13/18 Northwestern Evanston, IL 27-30 181
5/17/18 Penn State Iowa City, IA 18-37 201
5/18/18 Penn State Iowa City, IA 18-37 201
5/19/18 Penn State Iowa City, IA 18-37 201

This certainly looks a lot better. Iowa has a pretty balanced schedule this season - they face some of the better squads in the Big Ten, but they’ll also get their chance to go up against 2018’s expected bottom dwellers, per D1Baseball.com’s Big Ten projections.

Per 2017’s final RPI rankings:

  • Three games against 201+ opponents
  • Nine games against 101-200 opponents
  • Six games against 51-100 opponents
  • Six games against top 50 opponents
  • An average RPI of 109.8

The most significant thing about Iowa’s 2018 schedule is that while they face Indiana, Minnesota, and Nebraska - three teams that could very well be headed to Regionals this season - they duck Maryland, one of the favorites to win the Big Ten. They get the other favorite - the aforementioned Hoosiers - at home to open Big Ten play in March.

The toughest part of the schedule all season for the Hawkeyes comes in the second half of April, when they travel to Lincoln and Minneapolis, then host Michigan, all in a three week span. If they can come out of this nine-game stretch with a winning record against teams expected to finish in the top half of the conference, it’ll bode well for their chances at winning the Big Ten, as they should ideally be able to coast through their last two series against Northwestern and Penn State.

It would be easy to expect Iowa to be at least .500 in Big Ten play this season since they figure to be better than half their schedule. It’s really going to depend on how they fare against the upper echelon of the Big Ten. Do they have the pitching to win multiple series against Indiana, Minnesota, Michigan, and Nebraska? It’ll be a tall task, but Iowa can certainly do it. 15-9 could be in play again for the Hawkeyes. 12 wins would be disappointing after last year, but not out of the question. Anything less is not an idea I’m willing to entertain.

Is this schedule strong enough to warrant a return trip to Regionals?

It’s hard to say that Iowa will earn a bid to Regionals based off their schedule in 2018. While they face some of the best in their conference, their non-conference slate is just so abysmal at times that they’re probably going to need to win the Big Ten in order to get a shot.

Of course, the biggest indicator of success I used in this piece was 2017’s RPI, which will be thrown out the window once 2018 begins. While a lot of the teams Iowa plays are expected to take steps back, there could be plenty of surprises in store this season. It’s hard to see Western Illinois or Milwaukee taking a leap, but any of these teams improving by even 30 or so spots in 2018 would immensely help the national perception of Iowa - after all, Iowa plays a lot of the same teams this year that they did in 2017.

Despite losing a lot of firepower from last year’s team, this Hawkeye squad still shapes up to be incredibly talented. Considering that and their schedule, it’s not hard to see them winning 30+ games for the fifth consecutive season or even pushing for 40 again. If they can get a little help from the RPI gods or just win another dang Big Ten Championship, we could once again be having fun into June.

Ladies and gents, smell the air. Hellerball is BACK.