Despite taking a break from conference play last weekend, Iowa baseball moved up to sixth in the Big Ten thanks to Minnesota sweeping Indiana. Now, with two weeks left in the season, Iowa baseball faces the bottom-two teams in the conference with a chance to move up the standings after surviving the toughest conference schedule in the Big Ten. Due to only playing two games against both Indiana and Nebraska, Iowa hasn't played its full 18-game conference slate:
|4. Ohio State||11-7||.611|
|8. Michigan State||8-9||.471|
All but two teams have six more conference games scheduled, meaning Northwestern and Penn State are the only teams eliminated from the Big Ten Tournament. (Remember: only the top-8 teams in the Big Ten make it to the Big Ten Tournament.) Before diving into the Big Ten race, here's a look at each team's remaining conference series:
|Michigan State||@Minnesota||Ohio State|
|Ohio State||Purdue||@Michigan State|
Technically, Iowa can finish anywhere from first-to-12th in the Big Ten. Although, the extremes seem very unlikely considering Iowa would need to lose back-to-back series against Northwestern and Penn State to finish in 12th, or Minnesota and Michigan would both need to suffer gigantic collapses to end the season for Iowa to clinch a Big Ten regular season title -- Minnesota and Michigan each need just one conference win to clinch a higher seed than Iowa.
Also, while falling behind Michigan State and Rutgers is possible, it likely won't happen considering each plays Minnesota, and Michigan State also hosts Ohio State. That leaves Iowa's focus on finishing ahead of Purdue, Ohio State and Illinois, while keeping its 0.5 game lead over Indiana.
Iowa Sweeps Both Northwestern and Penn State (15-7 B1G)
Finishes ahead of...
- Purdue if the Boilermakers win two or fewer games.
Purdue's 11-game winning streak is similar to Michigan's since it has come against sub-par competition -- Northwestern, and Rutgers, Maryland. The Boilermakers have only played two series against the top-eight Big Ten teams this season, and it didn't go well. Minnesota outscored Purdue 40-15 in two games, while Indiana took two of three. Therefore, even though Purdue needs just three wins to finish ahead of Iowa, they're far from guaranteed to do so with an away series at Ohio State and a home series with Michigan to end the year.
- Ohio State and Illinois if they each lose at least one game.
Iowa sweeping both Northwestern and Penn State would be a nightmare for both Ohio State and Illinois since it would give Iowa a .682 conference winning percentage. Even if both teams ended the season 5-1, they would finish 16-8 (.666 W%).
Out of their remaining four opponents, only Michigan State has been swept in a three-game series. Also, Ohio State only has two three-game sweeps this season (Cal State Northridge and Penn State), and Illinois' only conference sweeps came against Penn State and Northwestern. Not to mention that the Illini have lost eight of their last 12 games.
*A sweep guarantees Iowa finishing ahead of Indiana unless two of Iowa's games get postponed.
Iowa Goes 5-1 against Northwestern and Penn State (14-8 B1G)
Finishes ahead of...
- Purdue if the Boilermakers win one or fewer games.
Losing one game basically eliminates Iowa from finishing in third-place. While I don't think Purdue is the third best team in the conference, I believe it's good enough to not get swept in its final two series. Traveling to Ohio State and hosting Michigan isn't a cake walk, but as previously mentioned, Ohio State hasn't swept many series this season, while Michigan is coming off a series loss to Iowa and only taking two-of-three from Rutgers last weekend. Purdue does have losing streaks of seven games and five games this season, but it'd be a surprising fall for a team currently third in runs scored and fifth in runs allowed in Big Ten play.
- Ohio State and Illinois if they each win four or fewer games.
Even if Iowa gets upset in one game, there is still a good chance that they can finish ahead of Ohio State and Illinois. In this scenario, Ohio State and Illinois would need to win both series (with a sweep in one of them) in order to finish ahead of Iowa. While it's not probable, it could happen.
If Illinois can win a home series against Michigan, they will end its season against one of the worst Nebraska teams in recent years. The Cornhuskers' pitching, which has given up the 11th most runs in conference play, is not a good mix with Illinois' high-powered offense. That said, Nebraska hasn't been swept this season and should be playing with more motivation since they're fighting for the eight-seed. I also doubt the Illini sweep Michigan, meaning they would need to sweep Nebraska.
In a perfect world, Ohio State beats Purdue two-games-to-one this weekend. That would force Ohio State to sweep Michigan State and add a little extra pressure on Purdue in their final series against Michigan since they couldn't get swept. Of course, Purdue could win this weekend's series to clinch the three-seed with an Iowa loss and move the Buckeyes behind Iowa. If Ohio State wins the series, sweeping Michigan State isn't an unthinkable task. The Spartans have lost back-to-back series to Maryland and Penn State, and their only Big Ten series wins came against Northwestern and a two-game sweep of Nebraska.
- Indiana if the Hoosiers lose one game.
Indiana is struggling right now, forcing it in a spot with no room for mistakes. I fully expect Indiana to right the ship some with series wins over Nebraska and Maryland to end the season, but sweeps are a different story. Not to mention that the Hoosiers also play Kentucky and Louisville in mid-week games, which could take their focus off sub-par conference competition. It wouldn't be a complete shock if Indiana won its final six conference games, but considering their only conference sweep this season was against Northwestern, I'm also not counting on it to happen.
Final Standings Prediction
If Iowa loses two or more games in the final weeks, then it has bigger problems to answer than what seed it will get in the Big Ten Tournament. Here's how I see the final weeks of the Big Ten schedule playing out.
- Iowa sweeps Northwestern
- Minnesota sweeps Michigan State
- Ohio State wins 2 of 3 vs. Purdue
- Michigan wins 2 of 3 vs. Illinois
- Indiana wins 2 of 3 vs. Nebraska
- Rutgers wins 2 of 3 vs. Maryland
- Iowa sweeps Penn State
- Indiana sweeps Maryland
- Illinois wins 2 of 3 vs. Nebraska
- Michigan wins 2 of 3 vs. Purdue
- Minnesota wins 2 of 3 vs. Rutgers
- Ohio State wins 2 of 3 vs. Michigan State
|5. Ohio State||15-9||.625|
In this scenario, Iowa would play Indiana in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. It would also be on the same side of the bracket as Michigan and Illinois, which is a tough draw. However, in a conference with potentially six NCAA Tournament teams, there likely won't be any easy matchups in the Big Ten Tournament.