Where Iowa Baseball Stands in the Big Ten

By Jeremy Karll on April 7, 2017 at 9:58 am
Get 'em, Jake

@UIBaseball

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For just the third time in the Rick Heller era, Iowa baseball (18-9, 2-1 B10) has won seven games in a row. When they take the field against Northwestern this weekend, the Hawkeyes have a chance to do something not even the 2015 Hawkeyes, who won 41 games and made the NCAA Regionals, could do – win 10 straight games.

Sustaining long win streaks in baseball is not easy to do. Teams play three-game weekend series, so most teams, no matter how good or bad, can usually figure out a team or catch them on an off-night at least once. Plus, two of their wins came in a doubleheader against UNLV last weekend, which only added to the difficulty.

It’s impressive, but it doesn’t separate Iowa in the Big Ten as much as one might think. Michigan has also won seven straight games, and Minnesota is currently on a 10-game win streak after starting the season 9-8. Iowa’s RPI has continued to hover around 60-70 through the whole streak, with them currently sitting at 66.

A big reason is that Iowa simply hasn’t beaten good teams during their win streak. They took the final two games against Purdue, beat non-Division I school Grand View College, swept UNLV and beat South Dakota State in a weekday game. Not counting Grand View, Iowa’s opponents during their streak have an average RPI of 181 and a combined record of 39-44. When also considering all their wins came at home, it’s not a surprise that Iowa has been unable to jump up the rankings.

With the baseball season at its midway point, talk about who will make the NCAA Regionals this season has started to pick up, and RPI is becoming more important. Iowa is playing .667 baseball, yet they’re not one of the three Big Ten teams in D1 Baseball’s projected field. Minnesota, Michigan and Maryland are all in their 64-team field, with Nebraska and Indiana one of the first teams out. Considering Iowa has the fourth best record in the conference, they’re not far off from Nebraska and Indiana, but their résumé still needs work.

There are clear discrepancies when comparing Iowa's résumé to the top-five teams in the Big Ten, starting with their records.

Team Record B10 Away Streak
Iowa 18-9 2-1 2-5 W7
Minnesota 19-8 6-0 10-3 W10
Michigan 23-6 4-2 7-3 W7
Maryland 19-8 5-1 4-5 W4
Nebraska 17-10-1 2-0-1 6-2-1 W2
Indiana 15-11-2 3-2-1 8-5-1 W1

As you can see, Iowa's overall record matches up well with the rest of the group, and they'll eventually have an equal amount of conference games when they get into the heart of their conference schedule. That said, this weekend's series against last place Northwestern, who is 8-19, is extremely important. While it's only the second Big Ten series of the season for the Hawkeyes, it can also significantly help their road record. The Hawkeyes lack of road games, and lack of success when they do go on the road, has seemingly hurt them this season. While Iowa is an impressive 10-1 at home, road wins earn you more points in the RPI rankings.

Even though it happened in the season opener, Iowa's late game collapse against South Florida, their highest RPI-rated opponent this season, is one they will be kicking themselves for at the end of the season. The Hawkeyes missed their chance to get a coveted top-50 RPI road win and a chance to win the series. Of course, Iowa's season can't be traced back to the first game of the season, but another win wouldn't hurt, nonetheless.

To be fair, Iowa has yet to be swept this season, even when on the road, and has faced some of their toughest opponents on the road. Iowa's road games include No. 40 South Florida, No. 50 Minnesota and No. 113 Kansas State. They took one of three against South Florida and Kansas State but lost their only game to Minnesota. Winning road series isn't easy, but it's necessary.

Despite having the fewest road games among the aforementioned teams this season, Iowa's strength of schedule has been competitive, according to Warren Nolan.

Team SOS Opp W%
Iowa 119 .536
Minnesota 113 .527
Michigan 136 .502
Maryland 124 .511
Nebraska 74 .537
Indiana 37 .591

This is the area Nebraska and Indiana are living off of. They both have had success outside of the conference against top-notch competition, including Nebraska beating No. 2 Arizona, 1-0, earlier in the year.

Considering the Big Ten is not a powerhouse in baseball, Iowa's strength of schedule isn't terrible. Iowa's schedule has featured three top-50 RPI teams -- South Florida, Minnesota and Morehead State -- but has also featured four projected tournament teams in Alabama State, Morehead State, Oral Roberts and Minnesota. Even with a 4-3 loss back in February to Alabama State, Iowa is still a respectable 3-2 against projected teams in the field. They are also 2-3 against top-50 RPI teams, with wins over South Florida and Morehead State, and 4-3 over top-100 teams, with wins also over Oral Roberts and Bradley, who they face again later in the year. Teams like Oral Roberts, Bradley and Morehead State will help Iowa's opponent winning percentage, too, since they play in weaker conferences. Oral Roberts and Morehead State are expected to win their conferences to earn an automatic bid.

With a respectable strength of schedule and competitive records that have a chance to get better once Iowa plays more conference games, it still might seem unclear why Iowa is not at least among the likes of Nebraska and Indiana. It comes down to the quality of their wins.

Team RPI Avg RPI W Non-D1 Opp
Iowa 65 182 2
Minnesota 50 149.3 0
Michigan 29 171.04 0
Maryland 49 154.7 0
Nebraska 60 144.6 0
Indiana 41 145.3 0

Playing two non-Division I schools in Loras and Grand View isn't factored into Iowa's average RPI win. Iowa scheduled Loras at the last second due to good weather, but it does somewhat detract from two of Iowa's wins when considering they're the only one with even one non-Division I opponent.

This chart does a good job of summing up Iowa baseball this season, though. They beat bad teams but struggle against good teams. Along with their average RPI win being just 182, their average RPI loss is 123.3. Taking it a step further, Iowa's average RPI win over their seven-game win streak is 178.7, which would still be the worst among the mentioned teams. It is why Iowa's RPI has been fairly stagnant this season. Wins over UNLV and South Dakota State, who have RPIs of 213 and 227, respectively, help, but they're not résumé boosters.

Also, Iowa has suffered two bad losses when they lost 10-1 to Villanova (4-16, RPI 272) and 7-1 to Bucknell (12-14, RPI 211) in back-to-back games. In fact, if you take out their losses to Villanova and Bucknell, Iowa's average RPI loss plummets to 89.6. It shows that Iowa has lost to respectable teams for the most part this season, but also that they have missed chances.

Winning seven games in a row is impressive regardless of who you play, but Iowa can't rely on simply beating the teams they're supposed to. With an away series at Nebraska in a couple of weeks, and at Michigan State later in the year, Iowa will have plenty of chances to boost their résumé. 

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