This was not the end for us, but the guys have played a bit like it.
Our Boilermakers did themselves no favors this weekend. Since clinching the Big Ten title last Saturday, the Boilers are 1-3 in league play. The lone win was Thursday night over Iowa. That victory ended up being very important, as Indiana finished the year by winning its last five conference games. Purdue ended up winning the outright title by a single game over the Hoosiers.
Purdue finished the regular season at 41-12 overall, but the two losses to Iowa this weekend dealt a severe blow to our RPI. Iowa is bad, and now is not the time to lose a series to a bad team. The Michigan loss last weekend was another bad loss, as Purdue went 2-3 since clinching the title. Other teams around us int eh rankings struggled this weekend, but at least they were playing better teams.
Fortunately, I still think we're okay for hosting a regional in the NCAA Tournament. Boyd's World has our RPI at No. 15, down from No. 7 before the Iowa series. That's very good since there are 16 regional hosts. We also have the advantage of being a northern team. If possible, the NCAA likes to spread the regionals around and give one to a northern team if possible. A northern regional is also an advantage, as we're more likely to play a northern team or two that they want to keep close to home.
Our overall profile is still good. Warren Nolan has our RPI at 18, but they have consistently been 3-5 spots lower than everyone else on us. We're still the No. 1 team in their Power Index. Some more important numbers:
- Purdue is 13-0 against sub-200 teams, mostly because Michigan and Iowa beating us raised them over the 200 line since our own RPI is strong. The good news is that their seasons are done, so we don't have to worry about them backsliding.
- In the 101-200 range we're only 4-3, going 3-3 in the last seven games of the year since six of the seven in that range were against Michigan and Iowa. The other win was in the third game of the year against Notre Dame. Notre Dame can still move up above 100, as they are No. 103.
- Against the 51-100 teams we're a solid 14-3. The losses were to Ohio State, Penn State, and Nebraska, all of whom made the Big Ten Tournament. In fact, Penn State's closing run to third place moved them into the top 100, and gave us two more wins in that category. Since we won all three of these series, we also have two wins over each of these teams.
- The top 50, of course, are likely NCAA Tournament teams. Generally, you don't earn an at large bid without having a top 50 RPI, just like the basketball tournament. Here, our strong early schedule paid off, as we're a solid 9-6. By comparison, the next highest team in the conference is Michigan State (No. 48) and they are only 2-6 against the top 50 (beating us and Baylor). Indiana, who finished second, was 3-7 against the top 50. We have a very diverse group of top 50 teams we beat too in East Carolina (No. 50), Missouri State (No. 37), Wichita State twice (No. 44), Louisville (No. 39), Michigan State twice (No. 48), UCLA (No. 2), and Indiana State (No. 41). Last week's added game over ISU was a huge boost, as it gave us another quality win and helped us much more than a sub-200 blowout over our originally scheduled opponent in Butler.
- We have wins over the conference champions of a few other conferences. Louisville won the Big East, which is the No. 13 RPI conference. We also beat the top four teams in the Missouri Valley Conference, which is No. 6 in the RPI. We went 5-2 against those top four teams, and Illinois State (No. 52) can still move into the top 50. All but one of those games came on the road too.
- Speaking of road games, our 21-8 mark in true road games is the best in the country. Only the Iowa losses can be considered "bad losses" away from home. There is no shame in losing twice at UCLA, and the other true road losses came at Wichita State (twice), Ohio State, and Nebraska. UCLA is a tourney lock and Wichita State is close. Nebraska and Ohio State can both win the Big Ten tourney too.
The overall profile is more than solid enough, and we've been a lock in every projection until now. As long as we don't go 0-2 in the Big Ten Tournament we should be okay. We got everyone into the tourney we wanted too. The lowest rated of the six teams is Penn State at No. 95, and we can't even play them until the second game we would play anyway. Our first opponent will either be No. 69 Ohio State, No. 48 Michigan State, or No. 86 Nebraska. Getting a win or two in Columbus will boost our profile a little higher, and winning the tourney might be able to sneak us back into the top 10 depending on what happens in the other tourneys.
The Missouri Valley tourney, as long as Illinois State, Missouri State, Indiana State, and Wichita State reach the semifinals. They'll then make each other stronger, and thus make us stronger. We also want Louisville to win the Big East and Auburn (who is just outside the top 50) to do well in the powerful SEC tourney. East Carolina in the Conference USA Tourney and Western Carolina in the Southern Conference can help too.
Once we get to the NCAA Tournament I do have some concerns. Our top two pitchers of Joe Haase and Lance Breedlove have been solid (except for Breedlove against Iowa), and that is great if we make it to a Super Regional. We would still need a third win to get out of the regionals. Our Sunday pitching has been... suspect. Ironically, our only Sunday win in the last four weeks was over the best team we faced (UCLA). Conner Podkul got roughed up by Iowa, and Michigan and Michigan State pulled out close wins. We also lost Sunday games to Ohio State and Penn State.
The hitting hasn't been as strong in recent games as it was at the start of the year. The final UCLA game, second Michigan game, and the first Iowa game have been the exceptions of late. We scored 11 runs each against Illinois-Chicago and IPFW, but those teams are awful. Against decent teams we've struggled to score some runs. Michigan State shut us out 5-0 and Iowa beat us 6-1 on Friday. Part of it may simply be the natural ebb and flow of a lengthy season. In which case, I'd rather struggle against Iowa than two weeks from now in regionals.
The bottom line is there is still work to do. We're the favorite in the Big Ten tournament, and as long as we win probably two games (not a stretch) we will still host. Other than the Indiana State game we haven't had a lot to play for since clinching the Big Ten. The games will matter again starting Thursday. Our regional itself will likely have Indiana State, the Horizon League or MAC champion (Possibly Kent State or Valparaiso) and a decent No. 2 seed. Depending on who that No. 2 seed is, it is very winnable.