Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Tournament Chase

The late Pete Rozelle would be proud. Rozelle, the former NFL commissioner, loved parity. The equality between teams allowed fans in every city to harbor championship dreams. Heading into the last weekend of play in the Big Ten, it appears eight of the ten schools are still eligible for post-season action. It's Rozelle's dream in action.

I believe four teams are in -- Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa and Penn State. That leaves four more programs -- Ohio State, Illinois, Michigan State and Purdue -- vying for the last two Big Ten Tournament spots. Unfortunately, the post-season is not an option for Indiana and Northwestern. I hope to have more on the Hoosiers and Wildcats down the road. For now, let's see if I can understand all the post-season possibilities.

Friend of BTH, Frank Fraas, of WMNI in Columbus, sent along the following information about all the possibilities. I owe Frank a beverage because we know my math skills weren't up to the task. Now, in his defense, Frank does provide the data with one stipulation. There could be an oversight. Well, if you can't count on a blogger to spread inaccurate information, then who in the world can you count on for that? (Oops, forgot about news people. Ok, bloggers and news people can be counted on to spread bad information. As news people don't care about Big Ten baseball, it's back on me.) On to the race.

The top four teams all have a chance to capture the Big Ten's regular season championship. Michigan, of course, holds everyone else's fate in their hands. The Wolverines magic number to clinch a back-to-back regular season title appears to be three. Here are the scenarios for Michigan to claim the crown:

- Michigan wins three (or four) in Iowa City.
- Michigan wins two and Minnesota loses one.
- Michigan can win only one and still claim the title , but Minnesota would have to lose two to Indiana and Penn State would need to lose a single game as well.

The Gophers can host the Big Ten Tournament if:

- Minnesota sweeps IU and Michigan and Iowa split.
- Minnesota wins three and Michigan loses three of four at Iowa.
(Note: Minnesota holds the tiebreaker over Penn State and Iowa.)

Penn State wins by:

- PSU sweeping Ohio State, Iowa takes three from Michigan and Indiana takes three from Minnesota.
(Note: If Iowa were to sweep Michigan, the Hawkeyes would be tied with PSU, but Iowa holds the tiebreaker.)

Iowa wins, if:

- The Hawkeyes sweep Michigan, PSU loses two and Minnesota loses three.

There is a way for a three way tie. Iowa sweeps Michigan, Penn State takes three from OSU and Minnesota and IU split. Iowa, PSU and Minnesota would tie. The Gophers have the best record against the tied teams, thus gains the crown.

See, that was simple, wasn't it? Now, let's see if I can figure out the bottom of the race. Ohio State and Illinois are in the driver's seat(s).

Ohio State gets in, if:

- The Buckeyes win two (or more) over Penn State.
- OSU wins only one and Michigan State wins three over Illinois. OSU and MSU get in as the Bucks hold the tiebreaker over the Illini in this scenario.
- OSU wins one and MSU and Illinois split. OSU's has the tiebreaker edge over MSU on winning percentage.
- OSU gets swept at Penn State, but Illinois takes three from MSU and Purdue loses one.

Illinois gets in, if:

- Illinois wins two (or more) from Michigan State.
- Illinois wins one and Penn State sweeps Ohio State.

Michigan State is in the tourney, if:

- MSU takes three (or more) from Illinois.
- The Spartans win two and Penn State sweeps OSU.

Purdue gets in, if:

- The Boilers sweep Northwestern, Michigan State sweeps Illinois and Penn State sweeps Ohio State. That would make Purdue 15-16. OSU and Illinois would be 14-16. Thus, the Boilers get in.

(If you note any errors, please let me know and I'll revise this list. Thanks to Frank Fraas, the voice of OSU baseball for sending along the information I've provided. Hopefully, I've done a good job of presenting the work.)

If you've never attended a Big Ten game before, this is the weekend to head out an catch some college baseball action. Nearly every venue will have a degree of intrigue this weekend. Michigan is at Iowa with both hoping for a championship. Minnesota is at Indiana trying to beat the Hoosiers and watching the scoreboard for results from Iowa City. (Of course, the Gophers at-large NCAA Tournament hopes may be riding on this series, too.)

Ohio State travels to Penn State with the Buckeyes two wins away from a tournament spot and PSU looking to sneak in the backdoor and grab the conference crown. Michigan State is in Champaign battling Illinois for one of the last two Big Ten Tournament openings. Finally, Purdue and Northwestern collide with the Boilers oh-so-faint hopes of a miracle finish landing them in the tournament field.

Go out and get a look at a terrific race for the Big Ten regular season championship.

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