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Big Ten Tournament: Tuesday Preview

The 2024 Big Ten Conference Tournament gets underway, weather permitting, Tuesday May 21st.

(3) Indiana vs (6) Purdue- 1:00 PM

The Hoosiers enter the Big Ten Tournament with all eyes on offensive Stallworth's Devin Taylor and Carter Mathison, who for the second year in a row have led the Hoosiers to the doorstep of the NCAA Tournament.  Yet, the story for Jeff Mercer’s club has been the improvement of the Hoosier arms throughout conference play.  The Indiana staff has allowed seven runs or fewer in thirteen consecutive games and ranks second in the Big Ten in strikeouts with 517 (Iowa, 553).  Conner Foley and Ty Bothwell headline the front end of the Hoosier pitching staff.  Foley and Bothwell teamed up on May 4th to hold the Boilermakers to just two runs en route to forcing a Sunday rubber match that also went the way of the Hoosiers.  

Purdue strolls in to Omaha as a team that not many want to see on their path to earning the conference’s auto-bid.  While the Boilermakers have wildly surpassed expectations in 2024, this team is no fluke.  The Purdue offense has broken program records for runs, home runs, on-base-percentage and RBI this season.  Additionally, Connor Caskenette and Luke Gaffney are closing in on individual records as well.  Gaffney enters the rematch against Indiana with an 8 game on-base streak in conference play and Caskenette leads the conference in RBI.  The Boilermakers have lost five in a row, dropping them to the six seed after ranking as high as first in the conference standings earlier in the month.  

The rematch between Indiana and Purdue has a chance to not only be the best game of the day but one of the most thrilling of the entire tournament.  Two bitter rivals with strong offenses on a field not built for offense, or torrential downpour the night before.  The Hoosiers and Boilermakers will get started at 1:00 local time, pending further weather in Omaha.  

(2) Nebraska vs (7) Ohio State- Approximately 5:00 PM

The Huskers aren’t the 1 seed after coming up short in their pursuit of Illinois, though they have the advantage of the Big Ten Tournament being less than an hour down the road from their campus.  Yet, as Charles Schwab Field hosts the conference tournament for the seventh time, the Huskers have never won the event.  Nebraska is led on the mound by Brett Sears who dons an 8-0 record with a conference leading 2.05 ERA on the season.  Sears is complimented by fellow starter Mason Mcconcaughey and his 3.10 ERA.  Yet, the X factor the Husker pitching staff remains in the bullpen.  Will Bolt has gained confidence in sophomore reliever Caleb Clark, though if the Huskers want to win this event, it will be on the shoulders of relievers like Kyle Perry and Evan Borst.  Nebraska enters the postseason winners of five straight conference series, though struggles in non-conference victories have caused the Huskers to anticipate entering the NCAA tournament as a two or three seed.  Nebraska took two of three from the Buckeyes in April, featuring a complete game shutout from Sears to open the series.  

The Buckeyes enter the Big Ten Tournament coming off of back to back conference series victories over Northwestern and Rutgers.  Ohio State had to fend off previous Big Ten mainstay Maryland to ensure their placement in Omaha this week.  The Buckeyes are back in the conference tournament for the first time since 2019, when they won the event and earned the autobid to the NCAA tournament, also as the conference’s seventh ranked team.  Tyler Pettorini (.320, 47 RBI) and Henry Kaczmar (.318, 67 his) lead the team offensively, while Joseph Mershon remains a threat on the basepaths, stealing 15 bags on the season.  The Ohio State offense leads the Big Ten in triples hit this season, with 19.  Landon Beidelschies will likely earn the nod against the Huskers on Tuesday, his 83 strikeouts lead the team and rank fourth in the league.  Justin Eckhardt’s six saves rank third in the conference, though the Buckeye staff ERA ranks ahead of only Penn State in the tournament field.  

Nebraska will likely turn to ace Brett Sears on Tuesday and the Buckeyes will have to find a way to solve him after his complete game, 10 strikeout, shutout against them in April.  Perhaps no game is impacted by weather more than this one, as the push to a later start will allow more local Husker fans to swarm the downtown area ahead of first pitch.  The winner of this contest will take on the winner of Indiana and Purdue on Thursday. 

(1) Illinois vs (8) Penn State- Approximately 9:00 PM

The Fighting Illini emerged victorious from a late season scramble for the regular season conference crown thanks in large part to an offense that crushed the Big Ten in 2024.  The Illini cranked 103 homers this season, far and away leading the conference (77, Maryland).  Illinois and their 402 RBI rank third in the conference, trailing Indiana and Purdue.  Ryan Moerman, Drake Westcott, Jacob Schroeder, Vytas Valincius and Brody Harding have each clubbed double digit homers on the season.  Camden Janik ranks eighth in the league in hits while donning a team leading .370 batting average.  It isn’t all offense for the Illini, though, as starters Jack Crowder and Cooper Omans have stifled conference bats this season.  Crowder’s 70 strikeouts rank 11th in the Big Ten, while Omans has only given up 43 hits, ranking 4th in the league. The Illini enter the postseason fresh off of three straight conference series victories against Ohio State, Iowa and Purdue.  Illinois swept Penn State to close out the month of March, riding their offense to three high scoring victories early in conference play.

Penn State comes in to Omaha winning two conference series in a row, including a sweep over Maryland to earn the 8th and final seed in the tournament field.  Penn State earned a winning regular season record for the first time since 2016 under Mike Gambino in his first year with the program after coaching at Boston College.  Penn State went 11-3 in weekend openers this season and rank in the top 5 in the Big Ten in batting average, slugging, OBP and runs per game.  The Nittany Lions 67 home runs are the most since 1998 and their .307 average as a team is tied for first in the conference.  JT Marr leads the club offensively, sporting a .419 average and pacing the team in both hits and homers.  Matt Maloney, Bryce Molinaro, Adam Cecere and Bobby Marsh all earned plus .300 averages in 2024.  Travis Luensmann and Jaden Henline present as the headliners of a pitching staff that has struggled in league play, though Luensmann’s 61 strikeouts rank 18th in the conference.  

After three offensive slugfests earlier in the season, the first-place Illini enter the opening round of the Big Ten tournament 3-0 against Penn State.  Illinois has paced the Big Ten during the month of May, while Penn State heated up at the perfect time just for the opportunity to extend their season.  The winner of Tuesday’s finale will play the winner of Wednesday’s contest between Michigan and Iowa on Thursday night. 

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