May 24, 2011


Big Ten should bring big thrills to Columbus


By Matt Cozzi


Matt is a contributing writer for This fall, he will be a junior at the University of Iowa, where he is a sports reporter for The Daily Iowan. Matt has covered several beats during his D-I tenure, including the Iowa baseball team this past spring.


Unpredictable. That’s the best way to describe the Big Ten standings as the season went its course. Just when it appeared that Michigan State would win the regular season title handedly, Illinois went on an inspiring run to share the crown with the Spartans.


The Big Ten Tournament begins Wednesday at Huntington Park in Columbus, Ohio, and that sense of unpredictability remains the same. All six teams are more than capable of making a run to the championship game, and perhaps winning the tourney. Whoever wins the conference tournament within the next few days will likely be the only Big Ten team in the NCAA Tournament field, as it has ultimately become a one-bid league.


CBI has previewed all six teams competing in the Big Ten Tournament this week:


No. 1 seed — Illinois (15-9, 25-25)


Illinois, the unlikeliest top seed before the season began, heads into Columbus as winners of 11 of its last 14 Big Ten games. Second baseman Pete Cappetta leads head coach Dan Hartleb’s squad in batting average, hitting at a .333 clip. The Parr brothers, Justin and Josh, are hitting .326 and .305, respectively. The Fighting Illini have two lockdown relievers at the back end of the bullpen in Wes Braun and Luke Joyce. Braun has recorded six saves this season while posting a 0.49 ERA. Freshman left-hander Joyce has a 1.96 ERA in 17 appearances.


No. 2 seed — Michigan State (15-9, 34-19)


Assuming the top position in the Big Ten standings almost the entire spring, Michigan State enters the tournament as the second seed. Senior Brandon Eckerle leads the conference in batting at .386, and the outfielder has swiped 21 bases. As a team, the Spartans boast a Big Ten-leading .322 average. Senior Jeff Holm has hit nine home runs and driven in a league-leading 61 runs. Eight-game winner Tony Bucciferro anchors the rotation and senior right-hander Kurt Wunderlich is 9-2 with a 3.36 ERA as the No. 2 starter.


No. 3 seed — Purdue (14-10, 36-18)


Head coach Doug Schreiber’s squad has the most overall wins of any Big Ten team. The Boilermakers feature two of the conference’s best hitters, as Kevin Plawecki and Cameron Perkins lead the offense. Perkins has hit eight home runs and has recorded 53 RBI. Purdue has arguably the league’s best stopper in Nick Wittgren; the sophomore right-hander posted 12 saves this spring.


No. 4 seed — Ohio State (13-11, 25-25)


Two-way standout Josh Dezse has led Ohio State throughout the season. The freshman has hit .341 with four home runs and 42 RBI. Dezse also has a 4.68 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 25 innings. Staff ace Drew Rucinski is going to be a key to the Buckeyes advancing throughout the tournament. The southpaw is 5-3 with a 2.88 ERA. Ohio State’s top relief pitcher this season is Andrew Armstrong. The junior left-hander is 2-0 with a 3.72 ERA in a team-high 31 appearances.


No. 5 seed — Minnesota (13-11, 22-22)


Minnesota was the Big Ten’s only representative in the NCAA Tournament last season, as it won the 2010 conference tourney. Despite the Golden Gophers’ up-and-down 2011 campaign, they head to Columbus looking to win the championship for a second straight year. Nick O’Shea leads the offense with a .307 average and 27 RBI, while right-hander T.J. Oakes leads the pitching staff. Oakes has recorded five wins with a 3.45 ERA.


No. 6 seed — Penn State (12-12, 32-20)


Big Ten home run leader Sean Deegan has hit 12 out of the ballpark this season, as the Nittany Lion center fielder has also driven in 40 runs with a .338 average. Penn State’s sophomore pitching duo of Steven Hill and John Walter has had success on the hill so far, as both starters posted six wins. Hill has thrown four complete games with a miniscule 2.20 ERA. Walter has held opponents to a .234 average.