The Big Ten Baseball season is coming to a close, with just one series left for every team with the exception of Maryland, who has its bye this week.
With the Big Ten Tournament looming next week, it’s time to look at the seeding and see who is in and who is out. At WNUR, we’ve been covering Northwestern all season, and after an incredible weekend, they are in prime position to make the postseason for the first time since 2010.
The standings as they are, with a reminder the top eight teams make the tournament:
Let’s start with the Wildcats. Two weeks ago, after dropping two out of three games to Michigan State, their postseason hopes seemed faint with two tough road series looming. Instead, Northwestern took two out of three from both Purdue and Maryland and finds itself in an excellent position where it controls its own destiny. While the ‘Cats are tied with the Boilermakers at 10-11 for seventh, they hold the tiebreaker with their series win two weekends ago.
Their final series comes against Rutgers in Evanston. If they sweep the Scarlet Knights, they are a lock for the postseason and a 7-seed, barring an unlikely Ohio State sweep of Indiana. If they win two out of three and finish with 12 conference wins, they will have done historically enough to make the tournament as a 7 or 8 seed. That being said, if Purdue wins two or more and Michigan State sweeps, the Wildcats would be in ninth.
If the Wildcats win just one game, everything depends on the other teams around them, in a potentially wonky finish. They must hope for Michigan State to lose two or three games in their series, and for Illinois to lose one to make it on record alone. In the case of a two-way tie, the Spartans and Illini hold the tiebreaker over NU, but not the Boilermakers.
In the event of a three way tie with Purdue and MSU, the next tiebreaker is record against common conference opponents who are Illinois and Iowa (since Purdue and MSU have not played each other). Northwestern has three wins against those teams, while Purdue and MSU have four. That would leave the ‘Cats out.
In a three-way-tie with MSU and Illinois, both teams have beaten the ‘Cats in series and would finish seventh and eighth respectively, leaving the ‘Cats out.
In a three-way-tie with Illinois and Purdue, it would come down to the six common games played against each other. Purdue has four wins, Northwestern has three and Illinois has two, slotting the Wildcats in at eighth.
In a four-way-tie, the only common opponent among all four teams is Iowa. For Illinois to force a four-way tie in this scenario, they need a sweep against Iowa, and would finish in seventh. Northwestern would take eighth with two wins against the Hawkeyes, and Purdue and Michigan State would be left out with just one win against Iowa.
If the Wildcats are swept by Rutgers, they are in a bad position with just 10 wins. They are still not out, but need weak performances from the other teams around them, including a sweep against MSU and Purdue. The same tiebreaker rules still apply from above.
Overall, the Wildcats chances of making the Big Ten Tournament are somewhere around 75-80% after two strong weekends.
8. Purdue Boilermakers, 10-11 B1G, 26-24 Overall
The Boilermakers are freefalling after starting 9-6 in conference play. They dropped back-to-back home series to Northwestern and Michigan, including a sweep at the hands of the Wolverines. The road gets even harder because if they want to salvage a postseason appearance, they must get results on the road against a talented Minnesota team.
The good news is that sitting in eighth place, they are currently in, and that they control their own destiny. If they sweep the Gophers, they guarantee at least eighth place, and could be higher depending on Northwestern and Indiana. If they win two games, they are nearly guaranteed an 8-seed in the bracket, unless Northwestern and MSU both sweep, and could finish seventh if Northwestern wins less than two.
If they win one game, they do not control their own destiny, in similar scenarios to the ones described for Northwestern. At 11 wins total, they would need Michigan State to win less than two and for Illinois not to earn a sweep, to qualify on record outright. Given that Michigan State is playing powerhouse Michigan, Purdue still should feel good about its chances. In a two-way-tie for the last spot against either Northwestern or Michigan State, the Boilermakers would be out, but they would be in against Illinois after sweeping the Illini. In a three-way-tie with the Spartans and Wildcats, they qualify as an 8-seed, as described above. In a three-way tie with the Wildcats and the Illini, they qualify as a 7-seed as described above. In a three-way-tie with MSU and Illinois (where NU would have to get swept), it would go to common records against Michigan, Northwestern, Minnesota and Iowa, where Illinois and Michigan State have the advantage, leaving Purdue out. In a four way tie, as described above, Purdue would be left out.
If Purdue gets swept by Minnesota, which is not out of the question given the talent disparity between both ballcubs, the Boilermakers will have to sweat it out. The same tiebreakers from above still apply, so Purdue would need Michigan State to win one game, Illinois to win one or less to qualify on record alone and for Northwestern to avoid a sweep.
The Boilermakers’ issues are that Northwestern and Michigan State hold tiebreaker advantages, and that they have to play Minnesota on the road. Their positives are that they have a game up on Michigan State, and Michigan State has to play Michigan. The Big Ten is wacky, but that should be enough insurance to leave the Boilermakers feeling confident with about 65-70% odds.
9. Michigan State, 9-12 B1G, 28-21
Despite a good overall record and a talented squad, Michigan State could end up staring in from the outside come tournament time thanks to a supremely difficult Big Ten schedule. The Spartans had to play all four of the top tier teams in the conference in Minnesota, Maryland, Nebraska and now Michigan. For comparison, the ‘Cats have had to play just one.
In ninth place, the Spartans are just one game back and hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over NU, Purdue and Illinois. They do not control their own destiny and could theoretically miss the tournament even if they get a sweep. If they do sweep their in-state rivals, Michigan, to put them at 12 wins, they need Northwestern and or Purdue to win two or less. If the Spartans do sweep, they have a very good chance of making it to Bloomington.
If Michigan State wins two games, it could be enough. With 11 wins, they need just one of Purdue or Northwestern to lose their series. In the event of a three-way-tie with NU and Purdue, they would advance in seventh place. If Illinois earns a sweep and forces a three-way-tie with either NU or Purdue, Michigan State also advances.
If Michigan State wins just one game, it very likely won’t be enough, unless Northwestern and Purdue both are swept. In that case, Rutgers and Michigan State would advance, unless Illinois also swept Iowa, to advance along with the Scarlet Knights.
If Michigan State gets swept, they can not qualify. Overall, the Spartans have the tiebreakers going for them, the motivation from a rivalry matchup, and the belief in their very talented ballclub. They probably stand at 30-40% odds to make it, and likely need help from Minnesota against Purdue.
10. Illinois, 8-13 B1G, 22-26.
Illinois is almost dead in the water after losing two games to Rutgers last weekend. They have two scenarios where they advance. If they win two games and get to ten wins, they need Purdue and Northwestern to get swept, and for Michigan State to win just one game. Unlikely.
Illinois has a tiebreaker over Northwestern, but not over Purdue and MSU. If they sweep and reach 11 wins, they need Purdue to win two or more games, Northwestern to win one or less and for Michigan State to win two or less. They also could advance if they sweep and Purdue and Northwestern get swept. The former scenario is Illinois’ best hope.
The Illini have an easier opponent than MSU or Purdue, but are two games off the pace. They can’t afford a slip-up and need a lot of help from Rutgers, the team that just sunk their chances. It’s about a 5-10% proposition.
11. Rutgers, 7-13 B1G, 19-31 Overall
Surprise! Rutgers isn’t mathematically dead, because they have played one less game than everyone else since they only made up two out of three postponed games against Minnesota (the standings are based on win percentage and technically not wins).
If the Scarlet Knights sweep Northwestern and get to 10 wins, they can advance if Purdue is swept by Minnesota, and if Michigan State wins one or less. Don’t sleep.
The problem is that the Scarlet Knights travel to Evanston after playing a doubleheader on Tuesday for a series starting on Thursday. And their pitching is bad. It’s a longshot that is under 3%. Put your rally caps on, New Yorkers.
12. Ohio State, 7-14 B1G, 21-32 Overall
Technically, Ohio State is not eliminated yet either, but they need a Hail Mary. If they sweep Iowa and get to 10 wins, they need Rutgers to sweep Northwestern, Minnesota to sweep Purdue, Michigan to sweep Michigan State,and Illinois to win two or less. If they force a three-way-tiebreak with Northwestern and Purdue, they would would advance with the Boilermakers over Northwestern.
In a four-way-tiebreak with Northwestern, Purdue and Michigan State, Michigan State advances. In a four-way-tie with Northwestern, Purdue and Illinois, the Buckeyes actually advance by having three wins over the only common opponent, Indiana. In a five-way-tie, with NU, Purdue, MSU, and Illinois, Michigan State advances with the highest RPI (as the last tiebreaker, which is the most ridiculous scenario.)
In conclusion, things could get pretty messy, but Purdue and Northwestern control their destiny are likely to make it. The scenarios will become clearer after Thursday’s games. We’ll have updates on our Twitter feed @WNURSports. Bloomington awaits.