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College | Story | 5/9/2019

Weekend Preview: Week 13

Patrick Ebert        
Photo: Tommy Henry (Michigan Athletics)

College Top 25 | Player/Pitcher of the Week
College Player RankingsCollege Player Database

The 2019 regular season is winding down and SEC West matchups continue to be in the national spotlight, which has been the case since conference play opened in mid-March. This weekend No. 15 LSU travels to Arkansas and No. 5 Mississippi State heads to Oxford for a big, in-state, in-conference matchups against No. 12 Ole Miss. While Arkansas has a two-game lead on both Mississippi teams with a 17-7 SEC record, Mississippi State and Ole Miss are tied at 15-9 and LSU is just one game behind at 14-10, meaning there’s a lot more than just bragging rights on the line with only two weeks left in the regular season.

In the SEC East No. 22 Missouri travels to Nashville to take on No. 2 Vanderbilt, no easy task for the Tigers who just entered the rankings this past week.

Numerous rivalry series will be played in addition to Mississippi State playing at Ole Miss. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State play their annual Bedlam Series, Stanford is at California and Oregon State is at Oregon. In the Big Ten Michigan plays host to Indiana in a series that could determine the No. 1 seed and below we break down the Big Ten’s best as their conference tournament approaches.

The postseason begins in the Patriot League this weekend in a pair of best-of-three semifinals series. No. 1-seeded Navy hosts No. 4 Lafayette while No. 2 Holy Cross welcomes No. 3 Army. The winner of each series will face one another the following weekend for the conference championship and the league’s automatic bid.

Both the MEAC and SWAC tournaments begin next Wednesday and will wrap up the weekend that follows as we should have three automatic bids determined before the bulk of conference tournament action begins.

Top 25 in Action

Rk. Team Opponent Location
1 UCLA at Washington State Pullman, WA
2 Vanderbilt home vs. No. 22 Missouri Nashville, TN
3 Stanford at California Berkeley, CA
4 Arkansas home vs. No. 15 LSU Fayetteville, AR
5 Mississippi State at No. 12 Ole Miss Oxford, MS
6 Louisville at Virginia Charlottesville, VA
7 East Carolina at Wichita State Wichita, KS
8 UC Santa Barbara home vs. Long Beach State Santa Barbara, CA
9 Georgia Tech at Duke Durham, NC
10 Georgia at Auburn Auburn, AL
11 Texas Tech No games scheduled NA
12 Mississippi home vs. No. 5 Mississippi State Oxford, MS
13 Oregon State at Oregon Eugene, OR
14 North Carolina at Pittsburgh Pittsburgh, PA
15 Louisiana State at No. 4 Arkansas Fayetteville, AR
16 Baylor No games scheduled NA
17 NC State home vs. Clemson Raleigh, NC
18 Miami at Wake Forest Winston-Salem, NC
19 Texas A&M at Alabama Tuscaloosa, AL
20 West Virginia at Kansas State Manhattan, KS
21 Michigan home vs. Indiana Ann Arbor, MI
22 Missouri at No. 2 Vanderbilt Nashville, TN
23 UC Irvine home vs. Cal Poly Irvine, CA
24 BYU home vs. San Francisco Provo, UT
25 Oklahoma State vs. Oklahoma Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Norman, OK

Big Ten down to the wire

What a difference a year makes. A year ago Minnesota was the clear-cut No. 1 team heading into the Big Ten Tournament as they continued to take care of business, claimed the automatic bid, earned a Regional host and advanced to the Super Regionals where they lost to the eventual national champions, Oregon State, in Corvallis. While Minnesota has played much better in conference play this season (11-7) their overall 22-23 record is a far cry from the success they enjoyed in 2018.

That part of this story isn’t entirely surprising considering the number of players they lost, and now-sophomore Max Meyer has emerged as a legitimate Friday ace after opening the year as the team’s light’s out closer. Meyer also serves double-duty as an athletic two-way player, but fellow sophomore and Freshman All-American from a season ago, Patrick Fredrickson, hasn’t been nearly as effective.

One could argue that no team in the Big Ten has quite lived up to expectations. Coming into the year, it looked like the Big Ten could have a banner year from both a team and talent perspective. That isn’t to say that the league is a disappointment, but there is a lot of uncertainty at the top as 5-6 teams appear to be taking their turns beating up on one another as no one has stepped up as the clear frontrunner.

It’s also important to point out that weather continues to be a major factor in the upper Midwest as temperatures have struggled to consistently rise and rain has drenched the region for several weeks. With a better stretch of weather, and a hot streak by one or more of these teams, and we might have a completely different perspective on the Big Ten in a few weeks as opposed to that look right now.

Currently Michigan is on top with a 14-3 conference record (35-11 overall), the only ranked team from the conference. While the Wolverines have piled up wins this year they have yet to record a statement win, or at least more than one. They did knock off No. 1 UCLA (before they were ranked No. 1) to open the Dodger Stadium Classic in early March, but then lost to USC and Oklahoma State. They rebounded with a four-game sweep of Manhattan but then were swept in Lubbock by Texas Tech. They’re coming off of three straight sweeps of Northwestern, Rutgers and Maryland but before that lost to long-time rival Ohio State.

Their biggest test to date comes this weekend as they host Indiana, a team that has been hovering in the Top 25 picture and recently spent two weeks among the ranked teams.

Michigan is first in the conference in both team batting (.287) and ERA (2.99). Indiana is second in ERA (3.41) and first in runs scored (326) thanks to a power-based lineup that leads the nation in home runs (81). Michigan’s ERA through games played on Tuesday was second in the nation while Indiana was in the top 20, pointing to a pair of well-balanced teams.

However, similar to Michigan, Indiana is lacking in statement wins, and just when it looked like they might be poised to force their way into a possible hosting conversation, they lost their weekend series to Illinois after winning every weekend series since they went 1-2 at the Seattle Baseball Showcase in early March.

The Big Ten is usually good for a few upsets along the way. Before the 2018 season when the No. 1 team won the Big Ten Tournament Championship, the last time a top seed earned the automatic bid was Indiana in back-to-back years (2013-14). In the three years that followed Michigan (the No. 3 tournament seed), Ohio State (4) and Iowa (5) won the conference title.

This year appears to be much of the same as Michigan (14-3), Indiana (12-6), Nebraska (13-8), Iowa (11-7), Minnesota (11-7) and Illinois (10-8) are all huddled together in the standings. However, with only two weeks left to play there’s not much time to jockey for position. All of those teams, outside of Minnesota, could earn an at-large bid to the postseason tournament, although Nebraska in particular needs to finish strong. That won’t be easy for the Huskers as they have the most difficult remaining schedule as they host Arizona State and Michigan to close out the regular season.

Here’s a quick look at each of the six contending Big Ten teams:

Michigan (35-11 overall, 14-3 Big Ten)
Remaining schedule: Indiana, at Nebraska
Each member of their weekend starting staff – Tommy Henry, Karl Kauffmann and Jeff Criswell – has an ERA of 2.75 or lower and the trio has combined to go 21-7. Freshman Willie Weiss has quietly had a big year as the team’s closer and Jordan Brewer is enjoying a big, breakout season at the plate. They are the most balanced team in the Big Ten and have the talent on paper to compete on a national level.

Indiana (31-17 overall, 12-6 Big Ten)
Remaining schedule: at Michigan, Rutgers
Indiana’s weekend rotation of Pauly Milto, Tanner Gordon and Andrew Saalfrank is arguably the best outside of Michigan’s dominant trio. Their offense steals the headlines however with three sluggers that have double-digit home runs already: Matt Lloyd (14), Cole Barr (14) and Matt Gorski (11). However, that offense was shut down over the first two games of their series last weekend (only one run scored) with some fairly alarming strikeout totals.

Nebraska (24-18 overall, 13-8 Big Ten)
Remaining schedule: Arizona State, Michigan
Things were looking good for Nebraska coming off of their sweep of Purdue in early April. After beating Penn State the next weekend they have since lost to Iowa, Illinois and Northwestern with Arizona State and Michigan coming to town. Matt Waldron is enjoying a fine season serving as the team’s staff ace with an eye-popping 63-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 71 2/3 innings while Nate Fisher and Reece Eddins gives the Huskers two more starters with ERAs below 4.00.

Iowa (29-17 overall, 11-7 Big Ten)
Remaining schedule: Michigan State, at Maryland
Just two years removed from a Big Ten Tournament title, the Hawkeyes are looking to play more than just spoiler as they’ve positioned themselves well thanks to series wins over Oklahoma State, Illinois, Nebraska and most recently UC Irvine. Iowa has won their Friday and Saturday games each of the last three weeks thanks to the efforts of starters Cole McDonald and Cam Baumann while Sunday starter Grant Judkins has the best ERA of the three (2.24).

Minnesota (22-23 overall, 11-7 Big Ten)
Remaining schedule: Maryland, at Northwestern
Coming into the year the Gophers had one of the most challenging schedules in the nation. They appear to be figuring things out on both sides of the ball, particularly the pitching staff, and Friday ace Max Meyer can match up with any other arm in the nation. As noted above, Minnesota would need to win the Big Ten Tournament to advance to the postseason as they don’t have the volume of wins or RPI rating (71) to earn an at-large bid.

Illinois (31-16 overall, 10-8 Big Ten)
Remaining schedule: Purdue, at Michigan State
Illinois has the highest RPI rating (18) of any Big Ten team thanks to early season sweeps over FAU, Grand Canyon, Southern Illinois and Illinois State. They have beat Indiana and Nebraska on back-to-back weekends and close out the year against a pair of sub-.500 teams. Illinois is second in the Big Ten in batting (.279) and third in ERA (3.65) pointing to a well-balanced club with a strong weekend rotation and a deep lineup.

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