HOW THE TOURNEY WORKS
The Big Ten's top eight teams by winning percentage have qualified for the tournament. They begin matched up in a traditional 8-team alignment (1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7, 3 vs. 6, and 4 vs. 5). The format is double elimination over five days. The early rounds essentially feature two four-team brackets, with one loser's bracket team from each side finally crossing over to the other bracket on day four. Starting to get a little confusing? Seeing it in visual form might help. Remember this: regardless of movement and wins, each team's magic number is four. Win four games, win the conference. Don't lose two. Losing two is bad.
The tourney opens with four games Wednesday; each team plays once, just like in a single-elimination first round. There are another four games Thursday; again, each team plays once, with Wednesday winners playing each other, and Wednesday losers playing each other. Two teams are eliminated Thursday. Friday features two games, between the 1-1 teams in each bracket. The winners of the Friday games jump across brackets to take on the 2-0 teams from the other side. Saturday features anywhere from 2-4 games, depending on whether the 2-0 teams beat the 2-1 teams. Sunday is a solitary championship game at 1:00 PM, which ends, ideally, when Iowa has recorded 27 outs, but that's not written in the rules.
No. 3 Seed: Michigan (33-23; 14-10)
The Wolverines lead the conference in hits, doubles, and on base percentage. Six players (Bendetti, Bivens, Glines, Cronenworth, Bruder, and Maezes) hit over .300 and Bivens is the conference freshman of the year. Michigan will start Brett Adcock tomorrow against Indiana and likely follow with Ryan Nutof in game two. The Wolverine Achilles heel? Consistent pitching behind the aforementioned arms and Jacob Cronenworth. Michigan’s hopes hinge on their bats
No. 6 Seed: Indiana (32-20; 12-10)
Two-time defending champions and winners of six straight, the Hoosiers roll into Minneapolis like the Hoosiers of old with sights set on the NCAA Tournament. Senior Scott Donley (recipient of the Jess Settles Award) enters his (assumingly) final conference tournament leading the Hoosiers in hitting (.333/66 hits/33RBI). Indiana’s bullpen brings a wealth of tournament experience between Ryan Halstead (102 career appearances), Luke Harrison (85 appearances), and Scott Effross (78 appearances). The biggest question mark: who the hell will start on the mound for the Hoosiers?
No. 2 Seed: Iowa (38-14; 19-5)
GO IOWA AWESOME
No. 7 Seed: Ohio State (35-18, 13-11)
Destined for host bid in late April, Ohio State met Illinois in Columbus within striking distance of second place Iowa. Unrelenting, Illinois swept the Buckeyes and Ohio State limped down the stretch losing eight of nine conference games. Buckeye pitching has particularly struggled in May, allowing nearly nine runs and fourteen hits per game.
Illinois is the 1000-lb gorilla in the non-Iowa bracket. But as we've mentioned many times this year, the 2015 B1G is not the conference as we usually know it, baseball-wise. Nebraska, nationally ranked for four weeks this season, greets the Illini as the No. 8 (!) seed. The Huskers are fresh off a weather-shortened two-game sweep at the hands of Illinois, which capped off Illinois' 21-1 conference rampage. Preseason conference favorite Maryland, one of the top offensive teams in the conference, plays Michigan State (RPI No. 48) in the other opening-round matchup. Perhaps the most curious thing about Maryland is that they feature one of the B1G's clear aces, Mike Shawaryn (11-2, 1.68 ERA, .202 opp Avg), but do not even have clear, regular No. 2 and 3 starters. I imagine Maryland will run Shawaryn out on Wednesday and not try to get too cute, but getting by MSU while saving Shawaryn for the second round could set up quite the coup for the Terps, giving them a very reasonable chance of beating Illinois. In any event, Illinois is the clear favorite on this side of the bracket. Their .955 winning percentage in the toughest, deepest B1G possibly ever, is the only stat you need to know how heavy of a favorite the Illini are, especially in the double-elimination format. That said, the only team to beat Illinois in a conference game: Michigan State, a possible second-round tournament opponent.