Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Thoughts Before The Big Ten Tournament

I'm heading out to Ann Arbor tomorrow to catch the opening games of the Big Ten Tournament. I'm hoping to be at a majority of the games over the next four days, so posts may be less frequent or arrive at even stranger hours than they do now.

If things go even close to my plan, this may be the most live baseball I've seen back-to-back ever. At minimum, nine games in four days. That's a fan's dream come true. With a NCAA Tournament spot at stake, there's also more than a bit of tension built in. It should be very entertaining baseball. Hope all of you can make it out to Ray Fisher Stadium.

Here are just some of my thoughts before the conference tournament opens.

The Favorite: #23 Michigan
Now nationally ranked, the Wolverines are hosts and have to be the front-runners. Coming into the tournament on a roll--including a sweep of Iowa and a triumph over Notre Dame. Pitching (Paul Hammond and Chris Fetter were first team All-Big Ten choices, Zach Putnam landed on the second team) and defense have gotten them to this point. Toss in timely hitting and you have the recipe for success in the post-season, as well.

The Next Most Likely To Win: Ohio State
This team is loaded offensively (first in team batting average, obp, slugging) and have more than enough pitching (first in team ERA) to win this tournament. Whether their bats can overcome what will be everyone's best pitching is the question. A potential second round encounter with NU's Dan Brauer would be very, very interesting.

The Darkhorse: Purdue
Early this year, Purdue looked like the team to beat in the Big Ten. Then, the bottom fell out. They still have some of the best hitters in the league--Mitch Hilligoss, Ryne White, Spencer Ingaldson, Eric Wolfe--and some better than average arms. Can the Boilermakers make up for a disappointing regular season in Ann Arbor?

My Crazy Pick: Minnesota
No, they don't hit much, but they pitch pretty well (Cole DeVries and Brian Bull are a solid 1-2 combo) and John Anderson's teams play well in this tournament. They took two of three from Ohio State in Columbus two weeks ago and I've just got a feeling about the Gophers. Go ahead, call me crazy.

RPI Numbers:
Michigan-53
Ohio State-91
Minnesota-105
Purdue-115
Illinois-128
Northwestern- 142

Some Of The Players I'm Looking Forward To Watching (that I haven't seen already):
Dan Brauer, Northwestern
Antonio Mule, Northwestern
Mitch Hilligoss, Purdue
Ryne White, Purdue
Kyle Baran, Minnesota
Cole DeVries, Minnesota
Jacob Howell, Ohio State
Ryan Snowden, Illinois
Shawn Roof, Illinois

Forecast (from the BTH Weather Center):
Wednesday- It's supposed to be very nice for both games. May need a light weight coat early, but if it was like today, it will be almost perfect by the first pitch. Storms may arrive at night. Thankfully, only day games tomorrow.

Thursday- Here's where things get iffy. I've seen forecasts with more sun than rain and vice versa. It's supposed to be warm, though. Maybe into the 80's. Let's hope the rain stays scattered.

Friday- Again, storms are in the forecast. Of course, so is sunshine. When either arrive and for how long they stay are the questions. Back to the 70's.

Saturday- Sunny. Warmer. Mid-80's forecasted. No talk of rain. Yet.

Sunday- Partly Sunny. There was even talk of 90 degrees. Come on, they aren't even sure about Thursday, can they really know much about Sunday now?

Summary- It's Michigan. It's Spring. Pack one of everything--shorts, sweats, t-shirts, umbrella.