Omaha Stakes: The 2014 Big Ten Baseball Tournament Preview

That's a huge outfield in Omaha - USA TODAY Sports

Starting today and continuing through Sunday, the Big Ten will be holding its conference baseball tournament at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska. Which also happens to be the home of the CWS. So let's hope this won't be Indiana's only trip to Omaha this season.

The Big Ten tournament serves as a great opportunity for the Hoosier baseball team for multiple reasons. First, a strong showing and a B1G tournament victory would allow the Hoosier to build some momentum before starting NCAA tournament play. In addition, Indiana, with its high RPI rating, could easily clinch a national seed with a tournament victory, which as we've explained before, would allow them to host one of the eight Super Regionals (we're pretty much assured of hosting one of the 16 regionals at this point). Finally, this tournament is important for the Hoosiers because TD Ameritrade Park is also the site of the College World Series, and we happen to have a little bit of prior experience at this much-maligned venue.

The Hoosiers come riding high into this tournament, having won 11 of their past 12 games, the only loss being in extra innings to Minnesota. Manager Tracy Smith, subject of a great profile here on the site yesterday, won the Big Ten Manager of the Year award. Sam Travis won Big Ten Player of the Year unanimously, while Joey DeNato took Big Ten Pitcher of the Year honors. In addition, a record eight Hoosiers were selected for All-B1G first team honors. Not a surprising haul, but I enjoy seeing this team recognized for its accomplishments. Another encouraging stat coming into this tournament is that in the 24 Big Ten games IU has played this season, they have not led up more than four runs in any of these games, and have outscored opponents by a total of 134-45.

The tournament itself is a five-day, eight-team affair, and since it is double elimination and games are only being played at one ballpark, there are a few quadrupleheader days built into the schedule, with games starting at 10am ET/ 9am CT. Hope you all like coffee and eggs with your pingbats. On the flip side, this format means some games could start as late as 10pm ET/ 9pm CT. So B1G teams could be burning the candle at both ends this weekend. IU's first game, against eighth-seeded Iowa, should be right around dinnertime today, as it is scheduled for 6pm ET/5pm CT and will be shown on Big Ten Network, much like most of the weekend's games.

Here's a table that runs down all eight teams in the B1G Tournament (information courtesy of warrennolan.com):

Seed

Team

RPI

Overall Record

B1G Record

Record vs. IU

1

Indiana

4

38-13

21-3

That's us

2

Nebraska

27

37-18

18-6

N/A

3

Illinois

52

31-19

17-7

1-2

4

Minnesota

99

27-22

13-11

1-2

5

Michigan

109

28-27-1

13-11

1-2

6

Michigan State

104

29-24

11-13

0-3

7

Ohio State

122

30-26

10-14

0-3

8

Iowa

114

29-21

10-14

0-3

As you can see from above, Northwestern, Penn State, and Purdue failed to qualify for the tournament this season. Thus, the bottom quarter of the Big Ten in baseball looks eerily similar to that in basketball. We can all have a laugh about Purdue not making it, but it also means that we'll be deprived of a repeat of the brawl from the 2012 B1G tourney. You're probably also wondering right now where Wisconsin fits in all of this. Well, even though Milwaukee has the Brewers, the university hasn't had a baseball team up in Madison since the program was discontinued in 1991.

The statistics above show that we could be on our way to an Indiana-Nebraska final, with the top potential challenger being Illinois. As one of only two B1G teams that the Hoosiers didn't play this season, Nebraska is somewhat of an unknown to Tracy Smith's squad. Like IU, the Huskers are playing some of their best ball right now, having won 9 out of their last 10. The Huskers and Hoosiers also have similar records against the RPI Top 50, with Indiana clocking in at 8-7 and Nebraska a comparable 6-5. While the Huskers should have most of the fans on their side this weekend, they don't necessarily have a home-field advantage in the park where the tournament is happening, since they play primarily in Lincoln, and have only played at TD Ameritrade Park once this season, for a game against Creighton. Chance Sinclair and Christian DeLeon are the top pitchers for the Huskers, whereas Michael Pritchard has hit 19 doubles on the season for Nebraska.

The Omaha venue has also caused its fair share of criticism among the college baseball community. TD Ameritrade Park has a cavernous field, and has developed a reputation as being a "pitcher's park" (much like San Diego's Petco Park in the MLB). As a result, don't expect to see a repeat of Kyle Schwarber's crazy long bomb against Louisville from last week. This park favors small ball and pitching, both of which end up playing to IU's strengths as a team. Regardless, Smith was one of several B1G managers who complained about TD Ameritrade's field size during a pre-tourney press conference yesterday.

As I mentioned, IU’s tournament begins against Iowa tonight. If they beat the Hawkeyes, they’ll face the winner of Michigan-Minnesota game tomorrow night at 10pm. IU's only two home conference losses came to the Wolverines and Gophers, so both these teams could pose a challenge if the Hoosiers aren’t careful. If IU takes that second game, however, they’ll get Friday off. In this case, they will need to win just one game on Saturday to advance to the conference final, which is on Sunday at 2pm ET.

The day after the tournament, college baseball has its own "Selection Monday," in which NCAA Tournament Regional pairings are announced. Based on the latest projections over at chasingomaha.com, Indiana could get to host a regional with plenty of local ties, including Kentucky, Indiana State, and Ball State. Ultimately, this weekend should not change IU's postseason status too much, and we could potentially host a Super Regional even if we don't win the conference tournament. However, it will be worth keeping your eye on BTN this weekend to see how the Hoosiers fare in a park that they hopefully will be playing in again next month.

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