After winning six series in a row Iowa looked like they were going to finish in the top half of the conference, then some bad baseball things happened, they lost five of their last six, and BARELY snuck into the Big Ten Tournament as the #8 seed. Their reward is getting to play the Big Ten regular season champs and the #21 team in the country, Indiana, in the first round. After that, they will face either Nebraska, who they took two of three from, or Minnesota, who they did not play this year.
Before we break down Iowa’s side of the bracket, shout out to Grant Leonard, who was Iowa’s only player named All-Big Ten. Leonard was named to the second team after finishing the regular season tied for the school record with 13 saves. A few more in Omaha this week would be great. Also, Mitchell Boe was named the Big Ten’s honoree for the Sportsmanship Award. Woo!
Now, here is what Iowa has in front of them in Omaha this week:
#21 Indiana 36-19 (1st place, 17-7 B1G)
Iowa opens up the Big Ten Tournament with a matchup against Indiana, who swept the Hawkeyes in a three-game series to open the conference season. The Hoosiers are currently ranked #21 in the country and are 6-4 in their last ten games. They finished the season by taking two of three from Michigan, losing a one-run game to #9 Louisville, and sweeping Rutgers.
The Big Ten regular season champions are going to be a tough out, literally. The Hoosiers led the nation in home runs with 90 and led the Big Ten in runs (389), runs per game (7.1), and slugging percentage (.464). Their lineup includes All-Big Ten First Team at-large Matt Lloyd and Second Team third baseman Cole Barr. The duo tied for the Big Ten lead with 16 home runs each. The Indiana lineup also includes Matt Gorski and Scotty Bradley, who were both named All-Big Ten Second Team along with Barr. Gorski has 12 home runs, 49 RBIs, and 18 stolen bases on the year. As Iowa learned all too well earlier this season, this lineup is good from top to bottom. They have seven players with seven or more home runs and eight guys with at least 25 RBIs. Hopefully playing at TD Ameritrade Park with the gigantic field will help keep their power in check.
On the mound, Indiana led the Big Ten in K/BB ratio (2.97) and WHIP (1.22). They are led by the 2019 Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Andrew Saalfrank. Saalfrank is 8-1 on the season with a 2.58 era. Indiana wasn’t even sure if he would be a starter at the beginning of the season… He had 96 strikeouts on the year, good for third in the Big Ten. Saalfrank only pitched two innings against Iowa in their series earlier this year, and didn’t allow a run. Since then he has gone more than six innings in all but one start and has only allowed more than three runs once. Luckily, or maybe unluckily for Iowa, they won’t be facing Saalfrank in the tournament. Instead, they will get Pauly Milto, who has a 3.51 ERA and 94 strikeouts on the season. Milto dominated Iowa earlier this season, throwing 8.1 innings and striking out ten while only allowing one run.
Minnesota 26-25 (4th place, 15-9 B1G)
The Golden Gophers have been sitting in the middle of the Big Ten standings for most of the year, and finished strong by winning seven of their last ten games. During that stretch they swept Ohio State and took two of three from Northwestern and Maryland.
Minnesota catcher Eli Wilson was named the All-Big Ten First Team catcher. He hit .290 and led the Gophers in hits with 56, was second on the team with 13 doubles, and finished second on the team with 25 RBIs. No other Gopher bats were named to the All-Big Ten teams. Shortstop Jordan Kozicky only hit .233 on the year but led the team with ten home runs and 43 RBIs.
The Minnesota pitching staff is led by Max Meyer, who was named to the All-Big Ten Second Team. Meyer was 4-3 on the year with a 2.33 ERA. He struck out 80 batters and held opponents to a .206 batting average. Minnesota has three other pitchers that have started nine games or more, so picking out which one will throw game two isn’t easy. All three have ERAs above 4. Minnesota has some good arms in the bullpen, and it starts with Brett Schulze, who has made 27 appearances, holds a 3.26 ERA, and has eight saves on the year. He has 51 strikeouts in 38.2 innings. Nick Lackney and Jeff Fasching have both made 19 appearances out of the bullpen, Lackey has an ERA of 2.68 with 45 strikeouts in 47 innings. Fasching has a 1.26 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 28.2 innings.
Nebraska 28-20 (5th place, 15-9 B1G)
Nebraska has had a weird season. They started off the year 4-6, then went 14-3 in their next 17 games. They then followed up that hot streak by losing two of three games in consecutive series against Iowa, Illinois, and Northwestern. The sky was falling in Lincoln, and it looked like Darren Erstad might be on the hot seat. Nebraska then proceeded to take two of three from a top 25 Arizona State team, and two of three from Michigan to keep them from winning the Big Ten Championship…. Again: weird year.
Aaron Palensky is the straw that stirs the drink for Nebraska. The All-Big Ten Second Team outfielder had the fifth best batting average in the conference this season at .339. He leads the Huskers in runs, hits, doubles, triples, and home runs. Cam Chick was also named to the All-Big Ten Second team at DH. Shortstop Angelo Altavilla leads the team with 31 RBIs and is third in the Big Ten with 36 walks on the year.
Matt Waldron is 5-3 on the year with a 3.17 ERA and 70 strikeouts. The most impressive stat is that he has only walked six batters in 82.1 innings. Nate Fisher and Reece Eddings are the other two starters for the Huskers and are most likely the guys Iowa will see if they face Nebraska in the second game. Iowa tagged Nate Fisher for four runs in 4.2 innings earlier this season. Eddings held Iowa to one run in seven innings.
The other four teams -- Michigan, Ohio State, Maryland, and Illinois -- are on the opposite side of the bracket. Iowa will need to win a few games in this tournament before they can worry about them, though.
And there you have it, Iowa’s collapse the last few weeks put them in a very bad spot. They need to win Big Ten Tournament if they want to go to an NCAA regional, and to win the Big Ten Tournament they have to start by beating the best team in the conference who swept them earlier in the season…If it makes you feel any better, the last time Iowa was the #8 seed in the Big Ten Tournament they knocked off the #1 seed in the first round and made it to the championship. GLASS HALF FULL, PEOPLE.
First pitch is scheduled for 5:00 PM CST on Wednesday in Omaha. It has been raining in the state of Nebraska for what seems like a month straight, but it's supposed to clear up for Wednesday and Thursday. Friday and Saturday are a different story...
If Iowa beats Indiana they will play the winner of Nebraska/Minnesota at 9:00 PM Thursday. If they lose to Indiana then they'll play the loser of the Nebraska/Minnesota game play in the elimination game at 1:00 PM CST on Thursday.