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A Look at the Big Ten in Opening Weekend 2024

by Jase Stanton

Illinois 2023: (25-27) (12-12) T 7th

Illinois had a sour ending to an inconsistent 2023 season with an 0-2 exit in the Big Ten tournament but will be looking to use that as an opportunity to grow in 2024.

The Illini return a solid foundation of offensive production in guys like 1B Drake Westcott and C Jacob Schroeder. While the offense should be able to put up runs consistently, the pitching staff remains an area of concern. Projected Friday night starter senior Jack Crowder has a career 7.56 ERA and finished 2023 with a 7.87 ERA, and the other two spots will be up for grabs between a trio of transfers.

Wake Forest Tournament in Winston-Salem, NC

Fri. Feb. 16, 9:00 am CT vs Akron (21-34) (12-18)

Fri. Feb. 16, 1:00 pm CT vs Akron (21-34) (12-18)

Sat. Feb. 17, 11:00 am CT vs #1 Wake Forest (54-12) (22-7) on ACCNX / ESPN+

Sun. Feb. 18, 9:00 am CT vs Fordham (19-36) (7-17)

Indiana (43-20) (16-8) 2nd

Indiana didn't perform the way many thought they might in the Big Ten Tournament in 2023, going 1-2. But, they then turned that around, starting 2-0 in the Lexington regional before dropping their final two games to host Kentucky.

There is a lot for head coach Jeff Mercer to like offensively heading into the 2024 season. The Hoosiers return a few middle of the order bats, including C Brock Tibbetts (.357 BA 10 HR) and OF Carter Mathison (.311 BA 10 HR) as well as Big Ten freshman of the year OF Devin Taylor (.315 BA 16 HR). Indiana is not quite as fortunate in the pitching department, as their only returning starting pitcher (and ace) Luke Sinnard will miss the entire 2024 season. So, the Hoosiers will have a brand new rotation, but they do return one of the better relievers in the conference, Ryan Kraft.

Baseball at the Beach in Myrtle Beach, SC

Fri. Feb. 16, 10:00 am CT vs #12 Duke (39-24) (16-13)

Sat. Feb. 17, 2:00 pm CT vs #18 Coastal Carolina (42-21) (23-7) on ESPN+

Sun. Feb. 18, 10:00 am CT vs George Mason (36-27) (13-10)

#20 Iowa (44-16) (15-8) 3rd

There's no doubt Iowa still has a bitter 2023 taste in their mouths, after going the distance in the Terre Haute Regional but ultimately falling to Indiana State in the final game. But, the Hawkeyes will have even more to prove in 2024. It's Omaha or bust in Iowa City this year, and luckily for Head Coach Rick Heller, he returns 2/3 of one of the nation's best starting rotations.

All eyes will be on preseason All-American and Golden Spikes candidate Brody Brecht, but with an uptick in velocity in the off season, Marcus Morgan could very well be better. Offensively, the Hawkeyes return six of their nine starters from last year, including OF Sam Petersen (.319 BA 11 HR), 3B Raider Tello (.315 BA), and SS Michael Seegers (.311 BA 17 SB).

Swig & Swine College Classic in Charleston, SC

Fri. Feb. 16, 4:00 pm CT vs Seton Hall (31-24) (13-8) on HiCast Sports Network

Sat. Feb. 17, 11:00 am CT vs Ball State (36-23) (19-11) on HiCast Sports Network

Sun. Feb. 18, 9:00 am CT vs Lehigh (24-26) (10-15) on HiCast Sports Network

Maryland (42-21) (17-7) 1st

Maryland hasn't lost a Big Ten series in two years and won the conference title in 2023, but things are looking a bit different this year, with first year Head Coach Matt Swope now running the program. The Terrapins' offense will be led by infielders Eddie Hacopian (.328 BA) and Kevin Keister (.303 BA 10 HR). The Maryland pitching staff is headlined by Senior Kenny Lippman (8-1 in 2023). After Lippman is a list of inexperience and transfers.

Three game series at Georgia Southern (27-29) (16-14) in Statesboro, GA

Fri. Feb. 16, 5:30 pm CT on ESPN+

Sat. Feb. 17, 1:00 pm CT on ESPN+

Sun. Feb. 18, 12:00 pm CT on ESPN+

Michigan (28-28) (13-11) 6th

The Wolverines didn't quite live up to the usual expectations in Ann Arbor in 2023 and were downed by Iowa twice in the Big Ten Tournament, going 2-2 in Omaha. But, 2024 has the Wolverines looking up, as they used the transfer portal to build onto an already strong core of returning players.

Newcomers Stephen Hrustich (Northwestern), Will Rogers (Arizona State), and Kyle Dernedde (Oregon State) should add a nice veteran presence to a young but talented lineup including OF Jonathan Kim (.322 BA). If Greg Pace Jr. can make a big jump this year, there won't be many holes in the lineup. The Wolverine pitching staff is led by a two-way threat in Mitch Voit (7 HR / 3.25 ERA) and Sr. Jacob Denner (4.56 ERA) as well as preseason Big Ten Freshman of the Year Dylan Vigue.

Four game series vs Western Michigan (21-31) (18-11) in Glendale, AZ

Fri. Feb. 16, 2:00 pm CT

Sat. Feb. 17, 2:00 pm CT

Sat. Feb. 17, 5:00 pm CT

Sun. Feb. 18, 12:00 pm CT

Michigan State (33-22) (12-12) T 7th

The Spartans overachieved their preseason expectations in 2023 by making the Big Ten Tournament. They even hung tough with a 2-3 loss to Maryland in the opening round, then beat Rutgers before being eliminated by Nebraska.

Michigan State returns their starting rotation from last year, which was a nice bright spot in the second half of the season. The Spartans, though, face a tall task offensively in 2024, as they have had to replace over half of their starting lineup and weren't able to pluck anything too intriguing from the transfer portal. The leader of this lineup will be Sr. OF Jack Frank (.298 BA), but they will need another two or three guys to break through if they want to make it into the Big Ten Tourney again in 2024.

Swig & Swine College Classic in Charleston, SC

Fri. Feb. 16, 11:00 am CT vs Merrimack (21-30) (14-16) on HiCast Sports Network

Sat. Feb. 17, 11:00 am CT vs Seton Hall (31-24) (13-8) on HiCast Sports Network

Sat. Feb 17, 3:00 pm CT vs Lehigh (24-26) (10-15) on HiCast Sports Network

Sun. Feb. 18, 8:00 am CT vs Ball State (36-23) (19-11) on HiCast Sports Network

Minnesota (18-34) (10-14) 10th

Not much went Minnesota's way in 2023, and it doesn't look like things will be any better in 2024. Head Coach John Anderson has announced his 43rd year will be his last, and he will need to do some of his best coaching to get the Gophers back into the top half of the Big Ten. Minnesota lost their only real offensive threat on an already poor offense, and they will be looking at a lot of new faces to turn around an also abysmal pitching staff.

Sanderson Ford College Baseball Classic in Surprise, AZ

Fri. Feb.16, 6:00 pm CT vs CSU Bakersfield (18-34) (9-21) on FLO Baseball

Sat. Feb. 17, 1:00 pm CT vs #7 Oregon State (41-20) (18-12) on FLO Baseball

Sun. Feb. 18, 6:00 pm CT vs New Mexico (26-25) (13-17) on FLO Baseball

Mon. Feb. 19, 11:00 am CT vs #7 Oregon State (41-20) (18-12) on FLO Baseball

Nebraska (33-23) (15-9) 4th

The Huskers had one of their best teams in a while in 2023 but fell just short of forcing their way into the NCAA Tournament. While Nebraska has a good core of their 2023 lineup returning in the likes of Gabe Swansen (18 HR) and Cole Evans (.305 BA), they lost their top two hitters who were the heart of the offense. The Cornhuskers will be eager to see if 2023 transfer infielder Cayden Brumbaugh (Oklahoma State) can help fill the shoes of the big losses in the order, after redshirting in his first year at Nebraska. The pitching staff took a hit after losing most of their experienced arms. A slew of new faces will join Will Walsh (4.24 ERA), who projects to be at the top of the rotation, and pretty much every role in the pitching staff is up for grabs.

Shriner's Children College Showdown in Arlington, TX

Fri. Feb. 16, 11:00 am CT vs Baylor (20-35) (6-18) on FLO Baseball

Sat. Feb. 17, 3:00 pm CT vs #21 Texas Tech (41-23) (12-12) on FLO Baseball

Sun. Feb. 18, 10:30 am CT vs Oklahoma (32-28) (11-13) on FLO Baseball

Northwestern (10-40) (4-20) 13th

The 2023 season for the Wildcats was filled with losing streaks and controversy that everybody in and around the program will want to forget. By the time it was over, they were left with no coach and most players leaving for different programs.

New head coach Ben Greenspan takes over, with a lot of work to do to make this a team that can consistently compete. Among the few guys who stuck around, the one that really sticks out is Owen McElfatrick. If he can boost his batting average and have a more patient approach, he could turn into a huge threat in the box. The Wildcats also return a group of veteran pitchers, but they were part of a pitching staff that was dead last in the Big Ten in ERA.

Three game series at Tulane (19-42) (8-16) in New Orleans, LA

Fri. Feb. 16, 6:30 pm CT on ESPN+

Sat. Feb. 17, 2:00 pm CT on ESPN+

Sun. Feb. 18, 1:00 pm CT on ESPN+

Ohio State (31-25) (9-15) 11th

A Buckeye program that was once dominant in the Big Ten has fallen off a bit the last few years, including 2023 as they missed the Big Ten Tournament with an 11th place finish in the conference. 2023 wasn't all bad though, as they'll be looking to build off a nine game winning streak that they will carry into the new year.

The Buckeyes offense returns a big chunk of production, including Henry Kaczmar (.293 BA, 7 HR), Matthew Graveline (.287 BA), and Tyler Pettorini (.315 BA). Ohio State returns a solid lefty starter in Gavin Bruni, and they also bring back arguably their three best bullpen arms. The Buckeyes were also busy in the transfer portal and were successful in landing a solid group of guys that include Josh Stevenson (LSU), Ryan Miller (Tennessee), Joseph Mershon (College of Charleston), and Colin Purcell (Texas A&M-Corpus Christi). Look out for the Buckeyes to turn some heads in 2024.

MLB Desert Invitational in Phoenix, AZ

Fri. Feb. 16, 2:00 pm CT vs Boston College (37-20) (16-14) on MLB Network

Sat. Feb. 17, 6:00 pm CT vs BYU (24-28) (13-14) on

Sun. Feb. 18, 6:00 pm CT vs USC (34-23-1) (17-13) on

Penn State (25-25) (7-16) 12th

The 2023 season for Penn State was the definition of a roller coaster ride. The non conference games went well for the Nittany Lions, but once Big Ten play started, things fell apart as they only won two of their first nine games. With only a month left in the season, they swept Ohio State and split with Iowa, only to drop ten of their final eleven games. Penn State was 15-6 at home, 8-2 in neutral site games, but a dreadful 2-17 on the road.

PSU will be looking to make noise in the Big Ten this season under new head coach Mike Gambino, who will have a solid return cast offensively in Kyle Hannon (.293 BA, 27 SB) and Bobby Marsh (.310 BA). Gambino also dipped into the transfer portal and brought in some potential immediate help in Joe Jaconski (North Carolina), Adam Cecere (Wake Forest), and J.T. Marr (College of Charleston).

Even with help coming on offense, they will need to see a major step forward in the pitching department and only return a handful of guys from a staff that finished in the bottom third of the conference in ERA.

Four game series in Cary, NC

Fri. Feb. 16, 11:00 am CT vs Monmouth (16-30) (6-22) on USA Baseball TV

Sat. Feb. 17, 11:00 am CT vs Army (38-18) (21-4) on USA Baseball TV

Sat. Feb. 17, 3:00 pm CT vs Monmouth on USA Baseball TV

Sun. Feb. 18, 12:30 pm CT vs Army on USA Baseball TV

Purdue (24-29) (11-13) 9th

Purdue failed to finish off games in the last month of the 2023 season, which resulted in them narrowly missing the Big Ten Tournament. The offense may be a slow burn for the Boilers this year, as they return only three players who started at least half of their games last year.

With nothing real intriguing coming in from the portal, Mike Bolton Jr. (28 SB) and Couper Cornblum (26 SB) may find themselves needing to create their own runs more often than they'd like. However, the Boiler's pitching staff returns a solid group of guys that includes 2/3 of their starting rotation and the core of their bullpen.

Four game series vs Stony Brook (23-29) (14-16) in Sugar Land, TX

Fri. Feb. 16, 3:00 pm CT

Sat. Feb. 17, 1:00 pm CT

Sat. Feb. 17, 4:30 pm CT

Sun. Feb. 18, 1:00 pm CT

Rutgers (33-23) (14-10) 5th

The Scarlet Knights were NCAA Tournament hopefuls in 2023, but they eventually dug their own graves by going 0-2 in the Big Ten Tournament. They'll look to move things back in the right direction in in 2024; however they will have to do that without their top three sluggers from a year ago.

Fortunately, Rutgers does bring back the rest of the starting lineup, but a few of them will need to produce more power this season. Sophomore ace Christian Coppola (3.68 ERA), the headliner of an underrated Scarlet Knight pitching staff, will be in the race for Big Ten Pitcher of the year, and that should provide the offense enough time to iron out any wrinkles. A Coppola vs Brecht (Iowa) Big Ten Championship Game matchup would be the perfect thing to break in Omaha ahead of the 2024 CWS.

Three game series @ Winthrop (28-28) (15-12) in Rock Hill, SC

Fri. Feb. 16, 3:00 pm CT

Sat. Feb. 17, 1:00 pm CT

Sun. Feb. 18, 12:00 pm CT


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