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Ohio State baseball: First eight-team affair set for Big Ten Tournament

Eight teams are set to fight for an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament when the Big Ten Tournament kicks off Wednesday in Omaha, Neb. From 2013 College World Series participant tournament one-seed Indiana to eight-seed Iowa, making its first tournament appearance since 2010, here's a look at the field.

The home of the College World Series, TD Ameritrade Park will host this week's Big Ten Tournament
The home of the College World Series, TD Ameritrade Park will host this week's Big Ten Tournament

Ohio State is set to enter their second season, hoping to advance to the NCAA Tournament with a Big Ten Tournament title. Needing a change in mentality to be successful, the seventh-seed Buckeyes enter the tournament with a .269 average, seventh in the Big Ten, led by freshman center fielder Ronnie Dawson's .342. Freshman left-hander Tanner Tully is the Ohio State ace, finishing his first regular season with a 2.08 ERA in 86.1 innings, to lead a club with the Big Ten's fifth-best ERA at 3.53.

Knowing where Ohio State stands, here is a rundown of the seven other teams joining the Buckeyes in Omaha.

No. 1 seed Indiana (38-13, 21-3)

The Hoosiers return to Omaha 11 months after becoming the first Big Ten team since 1984 to play in the College World Series. With a top ten ranking and No. 4 RPI, Tracy Smith's club appears on track to make this week's trip to TD Ameritrade Park the first of two visits.

IU's blitz though the Big Ten, 21 wins in 24 games produced the best winning percentage since Ohio State went 25-3 in 1999, was led by a host of stars. Indiana Sr. LHP Joey DeNato is a lock to be named Big Ten Pitcher of the Year following a regular season with an 11-1 record and 1.83 ERA season. A Hoosier will also take home the conference's top player honor, but who it will be is unknown. Indiana has a three-headed attack in the heart of its lineup. A probable first-round draft pick and a likely top-two round pick, juniors Kyle Schwarber and Sam Travis led the Big Ten with 10 home runs, helping IU to a Big Ten-best 37 home runs. Senior third baseman Dustin DeMuth paced the conference with a .385 average, with Travis (.357) and Schwarber (.340) posting impressive clips.

In Big Ten play,the Hoosiers batted a Big Ten-leading .318 with an .863 OPS. On the mound the Hoosiers finished with a 1.53 ERA, never conceding more than four runs to a conference opponent. Junior right-hander Christian Morris joins DeNato with a sub-2.00 ERA, posting a 1.99 figure in 72.1 innings. On the back-end, sophomore right-hander Scott Effross has a 1.70 ERA with five save in 47.2 innings.

Indiana enters Omaha set to host a regional and all but certain to receive a nation seed and super regional hosting opportunity in the NCAA Tournament. The Hoosiers are the conference's top dog and a berth to the NCAA Tournament will likely go through them.

No. 2 seed Nebraska (37-18, 18-6)

The Huskers will have the hometown support, as Omaha is a near 45-minute drive from their Lincoln campus. Finishing second in the Big Ten for a second consecutive season, Nebraska is set to end a six-year NCAA Tournament drought. Figured to be safely in the field of 64 before entering the Big Ten Tournament, a grand send off could be in store if the Huskers take the tournament.

Nebraska batted .296 on the season, second-best in the Big Ten in support of a pitching staff with a 3.56 ERA. While the earned run average was middle of the pack, sixth-best, Nebraska's pitching was bolstered by the conference's top fielding unit, a team fielding percentage of .977.

Finishing the regular season with an RPI of 27, Nebraska is powered by a deep lineup. Six regulars finished with an average of .298 or better, led by freshman DH Ben Miller's .336 average. Senior left fielder Michael Pritchard possess the most potent Cornhusker bat, entering postseason play with a .318 average next to a team-high 19 doubles, four triples and three home runs. Ballyhooed freshman center fielder Ryan Boldt bats .298 with a .778 OPS, enjoying a solid freshman season after turning down the Boston Red Sox as one of top 60 prospects in last year's MLB Draft.

On the mound Nebraska is led by junior right-hander Chance Sinclair. A JUCO transfer, Sinclair went 9-1 with a 1.88 ERA over 14 starts. Entering the tournament with a day-to-day health status, senior right-hander Christian DeLeon provides Nebraska with a potent 1-2 punch if healthy. Before missing the final four weeks, DeLeon carried a 2.46 ERA in 80.1 innings. Junior left-hander Kyle Kubat has anchored the rotation in DeLeon's absence, looking to turn the corner after a 5.18 ERA was carried over the regular season. Junior left-hander Aaron Bummer rounds out Nebraska's starters stable, a 3.93 ERA in 75.2 innings held over 13 starts.

No. 3 seed Illinois (31-19, 17-7)

Illinois enters the Big Ten Tournament following a weekend Lincoln. With an opportunity to strengthen their resume and state their case for inclusion in the NCAA Tournament.

While the Illini fell in weekend series to the tournament's top two seeds, Illinois went on the road and took both games against SEC champion. An ability to rise up and beat the best, Illinois is capable of a strong showing in Omaha. Grabbing a few wins in the Big Ten Tournament is likely needed to receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament if the Illini do not leave champions, entering Big Ten's postseason with an RPI of 52 and on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

Illinois seeks a second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance in the NCAA Tournament with a youthful team built on pitching. With only two seniors at 17 players in their first or second season, the Illini finished the season with a .273 team average and 3.22 ERA.

Excelling on the mound, Illinois issued the fewest walks in the Big Ten, 115 in 447 innings, nearly posting a 3:1 strikeout-to-walk ration, punching out 339 batters in 50 games. Most impressive with the effort by Dan Hartleb's club on the mound was Illinois' ability to not miss a beat when their ace went down. Kevin Duchene, the 2013 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, missed a month in the middle of the season with forearm tightness. In 49 innings, the left-hander carried a 1.84 ERA. Juniors Drasen Johnson, a right-hander with a 3.03 ERA in 89 innings, and John Kravetz, a lefty with a 3.15 ERA in 71.1 innings, kept the weekend rotation in strong form in Duchene's absence. A pair of fastball-slider relievers in sophomore Tyler Jay and right-hander Ronnie Muck anchor the bullpen. Jay has nine saves next to a 2.06 ERA with Muck recording three saves in 29.2 innings, a 2.43 ERA.

At the plate, Illinois doesn't have a big bat, a level lineup with five guys batting at least .299. Junior center fielder Will Krug is the catalyst in the Illini lineup, the leadoff batter carries a .311 average into the post season with 10 doubles and 20 stolen bases.

No. 4 seed Minnesota (27-22, 13-11)

Minnesota hopes they can turn back the clock in Omaha. The last NCAA Tournament appearance for John Anderson's club came in 2010 when they won the Big Ten Tournament, Minnesota last went three seasons without an NCAA Tournament appearance from 1994 to 1998. Dominating the Big Ten in the 2000s, Minnesota enters their Big Ten-leading 29th tournament, looking to build upon their conference-best nine tournament titles.

Minnesota enters the tournament field having faced two of the nation's top teams in recent weeks. A 1-2 showing in Bloomington two weeks after traveling to Tallahassee. The Gophers were swept by the Seminoles, but Minnesota hung tough, dropping the first two games by one run.

Though they played Indiana and Florida State tough, Minnesota's ability to reel off wins has been hampered by their light-hitting offense. Minnesota enters the postseason with a .259 batting average, tied with a Michigan club they finished fourth in, third-worst in the conference. Minnesota captured the tournament's fourth seed by the head-to-head series win over Michigan, taking two of three games in Ann Arbor, April 4-6. As their offense scuffles, Minnesota's pitching hasn't been quite as sharp as year's past.

Junior right-hander Ben Meyer leads Minnesota with a 2.50 ERA, tossing 90 innings over 14 starts. Expected ace, senior right-hander Alec Crawford carries a 3.76 ERA into Omaha, averaging exactly seven innings an outing, pitching 91 innings in his 14 starts. Junior right-hander Neal Kunik has emerged as a third starer in the rotation, starting the final five weekends, holding a 2.84 for a staff with a collective ERA of 3.82.

There is not a Gopher with at least 100 at-bats batting .300 or better. Junior outfielder Jake Bergen's .312 average over 93 at-bats would be the closest. Of players with at least two at-bats per Minnesota's 49 games played, sophomore shortstop Connor Schaefbauer leads the club with a .293 average.

No. 5 seed Michigan (28-27-1, 13-11)

Michigan is 2/2 in making the Big Ten Tournament under Erik Bakich. The Wolverines head to Omaha ending the season hot, victors in 10 of their final 13 games. Capping the regular season with a 4-0 win over a ranked Kansas club, Michigan upward trend has been fueled by pitching.

Ending the regular season with the Big Ten's third-best ERA, 3.19, Michigan allowed more than five runs just once in its final 13 games, allowing just 32 total runs.

Junior left-hander pitcher Trent Szkutnik heads the Wolverine rotation. Though only 1-6 on the season, the southpaw's 3.35 ERA over 75.1 leads the team among pitchers with at least 50 innings. Sophomore left-hander Evan Hill has a 3.43 ERA in 81.1 innings. Recently promoted freshman Brett Adcock gives Michigan an all-lefty 1-2-3. Adcock sports a 2.51 ERA next to a 7-3, pitching 46.2 innings over 25 outings including three starts. The bullpen is led by a pair of right-handers. Junior Donnie Eaton's .77 ERA in 23.1 innings sits next to sophomore closer Jacob Cronenworth's 1.85, the stopper with 11 saves in 24.1 innings.

Michigan is left-handed heavy at the plate, too, the team's top-five batters all on the left-side. Junior center fielder Jackson Glines leads the club with a .338 average and 19 doubles. Sophomore shortstop Travis Maezes bats .293 with 18 doubles, two triples and two home runs. Junior first baseman Kyle Jusick, .296, also possesses a strong bat. The Wolverines are the only team in the tournament to defeat the top four seeds.

No. 6 seed Michigan State (29-24, 11-13)

It took to the penultimate day of the season for Michigan State to secure a spot in the tournament, but the Spartans head to Omaha on a winning streak.

After consecutive sweeps at the hands of Illinois and Nebraska sent the Spartans tumbling down the standings, Michigan State regrouped with a series sweep Penn State.

Jake Boss has one of the top pitching units at his disposal. The Big Ten's second-best ERA, Michigan State has a 3.12 ERA after 53 games. Junior right-hander Mick VanVossen in MSU's No. 1. The three-year weekend stalwart has a 2.82 ERA on the year, pitching 92.2 innings in 14 games with 73 strikeouts. Sophomore right-hander Justin Alleman trails VanVossen strikeouts with 57, but  the sophomore holds the edge with a 2.75 ERA in 95 innings. Freshman left-hander Cam Vieaux gives MSU a strong third starter, a 3.08 over 64.1 innings posted in his first collegiate season. Multiple arms come from the bullpen with success, junior left-hander Jeff Kinley the stopped with a 3.00 ERA and 12 saves in 30 innings.

As strong as the Spartan pitching has been, Michigan State's offense has struggled to find solid form.

Junior Blaise Salter leads a club batting .270 with only three .300 batters. Salter's .327 average stands next to 20 doubles. Junior right fielder Jimmy Pickens matches Salter's five home runs in a .324 season. Pickens, with 21 swipes in 25 attempts, is one of two Spartans with 20 stolen bases, junior center fielder Anthony Cheky leads the Big Ten with 27 in 33 attempts. Michigan State's 83 steals in 109 attempts leads the Big Ten. As does the 29 runners thrown out in 54 attempts by senior catcher Joel Fisher.

No. 8 seed Iowa (29-21, 10-14)

Iowa crosses the Missouri River into Nebraska with a tournament appearance in head coach Rick Heller's first season. The Hawkeyes enter Omaha with the Big Ten's top hitting club.

With six regulars batting above .300, two more north of .280, Iowa makes its first tournament appearance in four years with a club batting .302. Slugging .400, trailing only Indiana's season mark of .430 and reaching base at a Big Ten-best .390 clip, an experienced lineup is one of the conference's toughest for an opposing pitcher to cruise through.

Junior shortstop Jake Yacinich leads the Hawkeyes with a .369 average and 24 stolen bases. Classmate and double-play partner Jake Mangler bats .330 with 11 doubles. Tyler Peyton, Iowa's DH and usual third starter, bats .336. Outfielders Tayler Zeutenhorst and Kris Goodman provide a bit of pop where average may slide, respective averages of .272 and.287 for the senior and junior, to lead Iowa with nine and hour home runs.

Iowa's prolific offense shines where their pitching stumbles. Sophomore right-hander Calvin Mathews has a 2.79 in 71 innings, the lone starter with a sub-4.00 ERA as Iowa's team ERA is 4.36. A closer has yet to emerge for Iowa has five Hawkeyes have saves, none with more than three.

B1G baseball bracket