This past weekend, Big Ten baseball teams reached the 13th, 14th, or 15th games on their schedules and have now played one-fourth of their games. The results thus far? Not good.
Through 13-15 games, the Big Ten appears to be as bad at baseball as it was at basketball in 2016-2017. Only Michigan has been fast out of the gate. But the RPI doesn’t seem to mind the general pitifulness with which the conference’s members have played.
A League of Their Own
1. Michigan Wolverines, 12-3, RPI: 16 — The Wolverines have won five in a row since falling to UCLA in the Dodgertown Classic 10 days ago. Since then, Michigan has taken down USC, San Diego, and Lipscomb (three times). They also rolled through some terrible competition in Los Angeles before that, going 5-0 at the Jack Gifford Tournament. Michigan’s only losses have come to Seton Hall on opening weekend and UCLA, both quality opponents who will be threats to do damage come May and June. As of now, the Wolverines look poised and in control, and with a Big Ten opening series at Maryland, they’ll have a golden opportunity to take control of the conference race early.
2. Maryland Terrapins, 9-6, RPI: 80 — There’s a huge falloff from Michigan to the rest of the back as of right now. Really, Maryland, Michigan State, Minnesota, and Indiana all appear to be the same mediocre clubs, trying to figure themselves out before conference play. Maryland gets the nod as the preseason conference favorite, but they’ve done nothing to show that they are any better than the rest of this group. They have won eight in a row, though, after starting 1-6 and being swept by LSU. And if the Terps beat North Carolina tomorrow, they could very well be on a 14-game winning streak when they host Michigan to open Big Ten play.
3. Michigan State, 9-4, RPI: 12 — Michigan State was No. 2 in the first batch of RPI rankings. But they’ve lost three games since then, once to Clemson and twice to South Carolina, demonstrating that they are not yet capable of beating elite competition either. Nonetheless, Sparty should enter Big Ten play with 11 or 12 wins and will get a struggling Illinois team to open up their league season.
4. Minnesota Golden Gophers, 9-6, RPI: 73 — Minnesota may have the single best win of the contenders, having beaten Iowa in a non-conference meeting between the two in the Dairy Queen Classic. But the Gophers have played hardly anyone else of any quality except Hawaii, who thoroughly drummed them, 11-2. Still, though, Minnesota may be a favorite to win the Big Ten in the regular season as they won’t play Michigan or Maryland. A series win against Michigan State and Indiana may be enough for the Gophers to separate from the field.
5. Indiana Hoosiers, 6-7-1, RPI: 63 — The Hoosiers were 106th in the first RPI rankings. Three days later, having not played another game, they were up to 69th (nice). The Hoosiers have been inconsistent to start the season. After tearing through Gonzaga and holding their own with Oregon State on opening weekend, Indiana is just 4-5-1 since, having lost a series at Samford, split a series at Florida Atlantic, and getting stomped in a midweek battle with Cincinnati. But hitting and pitching looked much better this weekend against Middle Tennessee State as the Hoosiers took their first series win of the season. Now, they’ll get an opportunity against a good Hawaii team in Honolulu to get things rolling before they open Big Ten play with Northwestern.
A Step Down
6. Nebraska Cornhuskers, 6-9, RPI: 66 — Nebraska has the best win in the entire conference, a 1-0 win over Arizona. But otherwise, Nebraska just hasn’t looked the part. Oregon State rolled through Nebraska in Surprise, Arizona, and a series loss to Western Carolina over the weekend raises some questions about the Cornhuskers. Still, though, it won’t surprise anyone if Nebraska gets it together and wins the regular season title.
7. Iowa Hawkeyes, 9-6, RPI: 65 — Iowa has played no one and they have fallen over 40 spots in the RPI over the past few days. Their best win is over South Florida or Hawaii. But that’s it. Wins over Loral, Oral Roberts, and Northern Illinois don’t really impress. Maybe Iowa is better than a glance at their schedule suggests. But it will be a while before they get a chance to prove it as they won’t play another good team until April 14 when they face Nebraska.
Trying to Make the Big Ten Tournament
8. Rutger carlet Knight, 6-9, RPI: 71 — In this group of teams who will probably battle for that 8th and final spot in the Big Ten Tournament, Rutger takes the top spot for now because they are battle tested. The league’s outcast has played series against Miami (FL) and Virginia, and though they went 1-5, they will have played the toughest schedule once the Big Ten season starts. And having won five of their last nine, they don’t look like the pushover they are in other sports. In fact, they may win more Big Ten games in baseball this season than they have ever won in basketball.
9. Ohio State Buckeyes, 6-8, RPI: 28 — There’s not a lot there other than one win over Oregon State. There aren’t many bad losses, but like Iowa, Ohio State has done nothing that suggests they are any better their record.
10. Penn State Nittany Lions, 6-8, RPI: 76 — Penn State isn’t good, but there might be enough room for them to sneak into 8th. Nothing they’ve done, though, suggests that it’ll happen.
11. Illinois Fighting Illini, 4-9, RPI: 159 — Illinois has a win over the defending national champions and absolutely nothing else. It’s been a far fall from grace for the program that was a national title contender just a couple seasons ago.
12. Purdue Boilermakers, 5-8, RPI: 147 — Purdue is making huge strides. This is not a joke. Last season, you could have listed Purdue at about 47th in power rankings of the 13-team Big Ten baseball conference. Though they haven’t played anyone who will even threaten to make the NCAA Tournament, Purdue has been respectable, and that’s drastic change from the program has been the past few years.
13. Northwestern Wildcats, 4-10, RPI: 286 — Northwestern is better than about 10 teams in all of Division-I baseball. Maybe after Vanderbilt waxes him in the first round, Chris Collins could take over the baseball program in Evanston and pull it out of the gutter.