A Little Perspective: The final two weeks of Big Ten play are set up for a wild conference race to unfold. Heading into the final week, there are only two games separating first place and last in the Big Ten. Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern and Purdue are in a four-way tie for first at 10-8, while Indiana and Ohio State are tied for fifth at 9-9. Illinois, Iowa, Michigan State and Penn State are also in a four-way tie for seventh place at 8-10.
Outside of the Big Ten, the closest race nationally this year came in the Red Rolfe Division of the Ivy League (with four teams) where first-place Dartmouth was only five games ahead of last-place Yale. Conference USA and the WAC are the next closest with six games separating first and last place.
Most recently, the closest Big Ten race at the conclusion of the season in non-divisional play came when only 5 1/2 games separated first and last place in a 10-team conference in 1963. The only times first and last place have been separated by four or less games in the final standings came in 1897 (four games w/ four teams), 1914 (3 1/2 games w/ nine teams and 1938 (four games with 10 teams). (Courtesy Minnesota Sports Information)
PURDUE at ILLINOIS
Friday, May 14 - 6:05 p.m. CT
RHP Matt Bischoff (8-1, 3.45 ERA) vs. RHP Lee Zerrusen (2-5, 6.35 ERA)
Saturday, May 15 - 6:05 p.m. CT - Big Ten Network
LHP Calvin Gunter (1-0, 4.88 ERA) vs. RHP Kevin Johnson (4-2, 5.60 ERA)
Sunday, May 16 - 1:05 p.m. CT
RHP Drew Wurdack (4-3, 5.44 ERA) vs. TBA
Storylines: Purdue heads into Champaign tied for the Big Ten lead at 10-8, while Illinois looks to make up ground at 8-10. The Illini and Boilermakers are both coming off series wins last weekend with Illinois taking two of three from Ohio State and Purdue winning two against Michigan State. Casey McMurray leads the Illinois offense with a .338 batting average and .525 slugging percentage on the strength of nine doubles, five home runs and three triples. Saturday's starter, Kevin Johnson is holding opponents to a .271 average during conference play and has an overall record of 4-2. Purdue is led by its pitching staff, which holds opponents to .273 hitting with a conference-leading 368 strikeouts. Matt Bischoff is the ace of the staff, ranking among the Big Ten's best in ERA (3.45), opponents' average (.264), strikeouts (77) and wins (8). Nick Overmyer leads the Boilermakers at the plate, hitting .355. Cameron Perkins hits .326 with a team-leading .541 slugging percentage on seven homers and 14 doubles.
INDIANA at MICHIGAN STATE
Friday, May 14 - 2:05 p.m. ET - Big Ten Network
LHP Drew Leininger (7-3, 4.14 ERA) vs. RHP A.J. Achter (4-3, 4.01 ERA)
Saturday, May 15 - 12:05 p.m. ET - Big Ten Network
RHP Johnny Hoffman (2-2, 9.00 ERA) vs. RHP Kurt Wunderlich (7-3, 4.58 ERA)
Sunday, May 16 - 1:05 p.m. ET - Big Ten Network
RHP Matt Carr (1-1, 2.51 ERA) vs. RHP Tony Bucciferro (7-4, 4.66 ERA)
Storylines: Indiana and Michigan State enter this weekend's series separated by just one game in the Big Ten standings, with the Hoosiers sitting at 9-9 and the Spartans at 8-10. Indiana boasts one of the toughest offenses in the nation, leading the Big Ten with a slugging percentage of .518. Alex Dickerson leads the attack, pacing the conference in average (.423), slugging (.832), RBI (66) and home runs (21). He also ranks third in on-base percentage (.471), while Jerrud Sabourin is second in average (.404). On the mound, Friday starter Drew Leininger allows opponents to hit just .259, while closer Chris Squires is third in the Big Ten with eight saves, owning 57 strikeouts in 44.2 innings pitched. As a team, Michigan State leads the conference with a .325 combined average, also ranking in the top three in slugging (.470) and on-base percentage (.398). Eli Boike leads the squad, hitting at a .373 clip and slugging .599. The ace of the pitching staff, A.J. Achter is third in the conference with 68 strikeouts and is allowing opponents to hit just .266.
OHIO STATE at IOWA
Friday, May 14 - 6:05 p.m. CT
RHP Drew Rucinski (4-3, 4.29 ERA) vs. LHP Jarred Hippen (4-4, 4.74 ERA)
Saturday, May 15 - 1:05 p.m. CT
RHP Dean Wolosiansky (3-7, 5.74 ERA) vs. RHP Nick Brown (4-5, 6.49 ERA)
Sunday, May 16 - 1:05 p.m. CT
TBA vs. RHP Phil Schreiber (3-5. 5.40 ERA)
Storylines: Iowa enters the weekend coming off a series win over Penn State, while Ohio State is looking to rebound after having dropped its last three Big Ten sets. The Hawkeye offense has thrived during conference play, with the team hitting .306 during conference games compared to a .293 overall clip. Zach McCool leads Iowa with a .406 average during Big Ten play, reaching base at a .468 clip. Reigning Big Ten Co-Player of the Week Kurtis Muller leads the team with a .369 average and .512 slugging percentage in all games. As a team, Ohio State ranks second in the Big Ten with a .324 combined average, while Buckeyes are reaching base at a .405 clip. Last season's Big Ten Player of the Year, Dan Burkhart leads the conference with a .476 on-base percentage and ranks ninth with a .373 average. Zach Hurley provides the power with a team-leading .621 slugging percentage and .385 average. On the mound, 2009 Big Ten Co-Pitcher of the Year Alex Wimmers is still day-to-day. In conference play, the right-hander limits opponents to just .198 hitting with an ERA of 1.09 and 37 strikeouts.
NORTHWESTERN at MICHIGAN
Friday, May 14 - 6:35 p.m. ET - www.BigTenNetwork.com
LHP Eric Jokisch (4-5, 4.59 ERA) vs. RHP Alan Oaks (4-5, 3.75 ERA)
Saturday, May 15 - 1:05 p.m. ET - www.BigTenNetwork.com
RHP Francis Brooke (5-3, 4.28 ERA) vs. LHP Bobby Brosnahan (5-4, 4.64 ERA)
Sunday, May 16 - 1:05 p.m. ET - www.BigTenNetwork.com
TBA vs. TBA
Storylines: Two of the Big Ten's four co-leaders meet in Ann Arbor as the 10-8 Wildcats travel to take on the 10-8 Wolverines. Both squads are coming off series losses with Northwestern having dropped two to Indiana and Michigan losing two to Minnesota. The Wildcats are hitting a collective .318 during Big Ten play, led by two-way players Zach Morton and Paul Snieder. Morton is hitting .394 in conference games, while Snieder hits .386 with a .629 slugging percentage and .482 on-base percentage. On the mound, Snieder is 1-1 with a 1.50 ERA over nine Big Ten appearances, while Morton is 3-0 in five trips out of the bullpen. As a staff, Northwestern pitchers are first in the Big Ten with a .272 opponents' average and second with a 4.52 ERA. Michigan is led by Ryan LaMarre, who is second in the conference in average (.435) and third in slugging (.710) during Big Ten play. Freshman Patrick Biondi provides the speed for the Wolverines, ranking among the conference's best in runs scored and stolen bases. On the mound, closer Tyler Burgoon has a 2.39 ERA and is holding opponents to a .260 average during Big Ten play and has struck out 36 batters in 10 appearances.
PENN STATE at MINNESOTA
Friday, May 14 - 6:35 p.m. CT
RHP Mike Wanamaker (4-2, 6.02 ERA) vs. RHP Seth Rosin (5-4, 4.44 ERA)
Saturday, May 15 - 2:05 p.m. CT
RHP Steven Hill (2-4, 5.44 ERA) vs. RHP TJ Oakes (3-3, 4.08 ERA)
Sunday, May 16 - 12:05 p.m. CT
TBA vs. LHP Phil Isaksson (4-1, 3.08 ERA)
Storylines: Minnesota looks to retain its share of the Big Ten lead, while Penn State is hoping to make up ground, just two games back of the conference co-leaders at 8-10. One of the hottest teams in the Big Ten, the Gophers have won their last three conference series, while Penn State is coming off a series loss against Iowa. Minnesota is led by its pitching staff, which paces the Big Ten with a 4.71 ERA, a number that improves to 4.36 in conference games. Sunday Phil Isaksson ranks among the Big Ten's leaders with a 3.08 ERA and .235 opponents' average, while Friday starter Seth Rosin leads the nation in control, having walked just five batters with 68 strikeouts in 75 innings pitched. Reigning Big Ten Pitcher of the Week Scott Matyas has five saves for the Gophers. Penn State boasts Big Ten leaders in all three triple-crown categories during conference play as Steve Snyder leads in average (.464), Jordan Steranka leads in RBI (25) and Ben Heath is tied for the lead in home runs (8). Heath has 17 dingers on the season, which ties his school's single-season record. He also leads the conference in slugging (.855) and on-base percentage (.523) during Big Ten games.