After a clarifying week of action at the Big Ten tournament, it’s full speed ahead to regionals next weekend. With the selection show coming up on Monday morning, here are some scattershot thoughts on the Big Ten’s place in the postseason picture.
- It’s amazing how quickly the Big Ten’s at-large situation came into view this week. The league came into the event with seven legitimate regional contenders, with Michigan and Iowa clearly sixth and seventh in the pecking order. With the Wolverines going 1-2 and Iowa going 0-2, those two teams’ hopes of playing their way into position to receive a bid faded early, with the other five teams in the mix either already safely in the field or doing enough to feel pretty comfortable about their chances.
- Minnesota is a deserving host. There was a time when it looked like Minnesota might host in spite of their RPI and some of their metrics, but now, just about everything has fallen in line with where you would want it to be for a host. They have an RPI in the top 16. They also have a 15-3 mark against the RPI top 50, so while they don’t have the volume of top-50 games that some other teams on the hosting bubble have, their winning percentage in those games is better than that of many of those same teams. To top it off, they dominated both the Big Ten regular season and tournament, as they went 4-0 to sweep their way through the field this week in Omaha.
- Illinois is the bubbliest team of the five teams in the regional mix, even after winning a couple of games against Indiana this week. A 47 RPI is solid, especially when you consider that teams from the northern half of the country tend to get a little bit of leeway in that regard. When you first look at it, a 7-8 record against the RPI top 50 might strike you as a negative, but it will probably compare favorably with the other teams fighting to get in. Using the same metric, UCF is 10-15, Arizona is 5-7, Northeastern is 3-9, Dallas Baptist is 5-9, and Sam Houston State is 5-8. A 3-0 weekend at the tournament in Minneapolis, with wins over UCLA, Arizona, and Washington, has aged well and gives them a marquee non-conference result that many other bubble teams don’t have. If this were last year, with all of the stolen bids that came along, Illinois might be in much worse shape, but even as it is, they’ll be sweating while watching the selection show on Monday.
- Indiana came into the weekend with an outside shot to host if they could put together a dominant performance in Omaha and win the tournament championship, but after going 1-2, with only a Matt Gorski three-run, game-tying home run in the ninth against Michigan State keeping them from going 0-2, those hopes were dashed quickly. Beyond that, the Hoosiers are going to have to play much better baseball if they want to compete to win a regional next weekend. After his team was eliminated on Friday, Indiana head coach Chris Lemonis mentioned that he thought his team played a little bit soft. A bit part of what Indiana does offensively is flashing big-time power, but when they weren’t hitting home runs, it often seemed like their offense struggled to get in gear. They’re safely into a regional next weekend, but their concern heading into next weekend will be hitting their stride again.
- Purdue might have been on the bubble coming into the week, but they clearly played their way into the tournament with their 3-1 performance. There are still some metrics that aren’t ideal for an at-large team, such as their 5-8 record against the RPI top 50 and an even 16-16 mark against the top 100, but they’ve always had their second-place finish in the Big Ten going for them, and with the wins this week, they’ve jumped all the way up to 28 in the RPI after coming into the week around 40. There’s a certain point where the RPI is high enough that it can offset some sketchy metrics, and the Boilermakers got there.
- Maybe there’s still some uneasiness in Columbus about Ohio State’s chances, but they should be able to rest relatively easy. Their RPI snuck into the top 40 and now sits at 39, and they have a quality 9-10 record against the RPI top 50. The fact that their wins this week came against Michigan and Iowa means they didn’t get as much help with a 2-2 week in Omaha as a better draw would have provided, but barring a surprise, thanks in part to a soft bubble, they feel safe.