After a series victory over Michigan last weekend, IU baseball put itself right back in the hunt for a Big Ten title. To have any shot to catch Michigan in the standings, it had to at least win two of the three games last weekend in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and IU did just that.
IU wasn’t able to capitalize on a chance to sweep Michigan with its loss Sunday. That loss put IU 1.5 games behind Michigan in the standings instead of 0.5 games ahead. With three games left to play in the Big Ten, the odds are not in IU’s favor, but it is certainly within striking distance.
Though IU isn’t far behind Michigan in the standings, it will need help to win the Big Ten title.
Both Michigan and IU will open their respective final series of the season Thursday. Michigan will travel to Lincoln, Nebraska to face Nebraska, while IU will stay in Bloomington to play Rutgers.
Based on the Ratings Percentage Index, IU does appear to have the weaker final opponent. Rutgers is ranked No. 179 as of Wednesday, while Nebraska is ranked No. 37.
Below are the different possible outcomes for IU against Rutgers, and what would have to happen for IU to win the Big Ten title given each result.
Rutgers comes to Bloomington and sweeps IU.
There is no route to winning the Big Ten title if Rutgers wins all three games against IU.
IU wins one of three games against Rutgers.
There is still no route to a Big Ten title if IU wins just one of the three games.
IU wins two of three games against Rutgers.
Here’s where things get interesting, and confusing.
If IU wins two of three and Michigan is swept by Nebraska, IU could win the Big Ten — the word could is important, but more on that later. IU’s 16-8 conference record would be 0.5 games better than Michigan’s 15-8 record in this scenario.
Nebraska would have to sweep Michigan if IU only wins two of three against Rutgers. Michigan could clinch the Big Ten as early as Thursday if it were to win and IU lose the series opening game. Even if Michigan lost its Friday and Saturday games and IU were to win them both, Michigan would have a 0.5 game edge in the final standings. In short, if IU wins the series but doesn’t sweep Rutgers, Michigan would have to get swept for IU to win the Big Ten.
While IU would need Michigan to get swept to have a chance in this scenario, the Wolverines aren’t the only team the Hoosiers would need to be concerned about. If Nebraska sweeps Michigan, it too would have the same 16-8 record in the Big Ten. In this scenario, IU would still win the Big Ten based on the third tiebreaker, RPI, as both IU and Nebraska would have the same record against common Big Ten opponents and didn’t play each other this season.
If Minnesota sweeps its series against Northwestern, it also would be 16-8, but would lose the tiebreaker with series losses head-to-head against both IU and Nebraska.
Then throw Illinois into the mix. If it sweeps Michigan State this weekend, it too would be 16-8. If Nebraska, Illinois and Minnesota all sweep, along with IU going 2-1, there would be a four way tie atop the Big Ten. Illinois would win any tiebreaker as it has series wins over IU, Nebraska and Minnesota.
IU sweeps Rutgers.
IU has swept three teams this season. Two of those three have better RPI rankings than Rutgers.
Rutgers has been swept four times this season. Three of those four teams have a worse RPI ranking than IU.
To win the Big Ten title, IU’s best route is to sweep Rutgers.
As long as Nebraska wins the series against Michigan — whether that be via sweep or just winning two out of three games — IU would win the Big Ten title if it sweeps Rutgers.
If Michigan loses two of three games against Nebraska, its Big Ten record would drop to 16-7, while IU would improve to 17-7 with a sweep of Rutgers.
In addition, if IU sweeps Rutgers, none of the other teams still in contention — Illinois, Nebraska or Minnesota — would have the ability to overtake IU.
There are still five teams with a chance to win the Big Ten — Michigan, IU, Illinois, Nebraska and Minnesota. If Michigan wins its series against Nebraska, it will lock up a Big Ten title. The Wolverines control their own destiny. But if Michigan slips up, IU certainly has a chance.