As the calendar turns to May the various conference races in NCAA baseball are heating up. Normally, that means very little for Purdue. Our Boilers have made the NCAA tournament exactly twice. In 1987, back when only 48 teams made the tournament, Purdue made the Mideast Regional at Mississippi State and lost to Texas A&M 13-3 and Western Carolina 8-7 to go two and done.
It would be 25 years before Purdue would make it back, but in 2012 we had the best season in program history. Purdue earned a hosting spot with a 44-12 season record and won the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles. Once in the tournament, the Boilers even won a game, defeating Valparaiso 7-2 in Gary before falling to Kent State 7-3 and Kentucky 6-3.
Other than that, Purdue has been close a few times, most notably in 2001 when a single win in the Big Ten Tournament would have probably been enough, but they were unable to get it. Now in year 2 under Coach Mark Wasikowski Purdue is very, very close as we enter the final three weeks of the regular season. The latest projections from D1baseball.com do not have Purdue in the field or among the “First Five Out”, but if you look at the overall profiles of some of the last teams in Purdue has a chance.
Purdue is currently 24-16 overall and 10-4 in the Big Ten. A huge boost this year is that the conference is much, much better than it has historically been. The league has gotten a record five teams into the field in 2017 and 2015. Right now the league is No. 6 in the conference RPI, and the top seven teams are all nationally in the top 60.
Purdue is currently at the bottom of those 7 at No. 58, while the other six (Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota, Michigan, and Ohio State) are all listed as in the field. Here is where they rate RPI-wise:
38 Ohio State
Michigan is considered safely in the field right now because it leads the conference with a 12-2 record. Minnesota is second at 11-3 and Purdue is third at 10-4. In terms of wins against the top 50 in the RPI the teams are as follows:
Ohio State 6-8
Purdue still has three games remaining against the top 50 when it plays at Ohio State next weekend. Its two wins are against Indiana, while the five losses are two to Indiana, two to Minnesota, and one at Stetson back in March.
The thing hurting Purdue the most right now is rainouts and the bad spring break trip to Louisiana. Purdue suffered a loss to No. 210 Nicholls State down there and a 1-0 loss in the Friday game at Tulane stings. Getting swept at St. Louis to end the trip was bad, but at least the Billikens are 28-15 overall. A rainout against Lipscomb and two against Oakland cost us three likely wins, while the rainout against Minnesota cost us both a conference game and a top 50 game.
Other teams to keep an eye on in this projected field are Missouri State at 51 (27-13 and leading the MVC, but 2-7 against the top 50) and Louisville at 49 (29-14, 7-9 against the top 50). Some big names like LSU and Wichita State are also lurking on the outside looking in.
Essentially an extra bid is available this year, too. My wife’s Miami Hurricanes made every NCAA tournament for 45 years until last season, and they were nudged as the “first team out” due to a wealth of bid thieves in conference tournaments. They finished last year 30-27 and at No. 43 in the RPI to give you an idea of what it may take to get in. Nebraska received an at large bid at 35-22-1 with an RPI of 54, but had the Big Ten regular season title as help. This year Miami is flat out awful and may actually finish with a losing season. They are 18-25 with 11 games left and have probably have to win all 11 plus two games in the ACC tournament to have any sort of chance.
My point is that with a team that gets in EVERY year like Miami probably missing the tournament and a few other regulars like LSU also struggling there is an opportunity here for the Big Ten in general and Purdue specifically. Getting even five teams in for the third time in four years would be a big step forward for everyone involved.
What Purdue Needs to Do
Purdue has 12 games left in the regular season and it is going to be a big favorite in six of them. First up is this weekend against lowly Northwestern. The Wildcats are just 13-24 on the year and 4-14 in league play, and this is after they swept last place Penn State (1-17) last week. They did win a game at Texas back in March, but they also have a loss to Chicago State. Purdue absolutely needs to stay hot and get a sweep like the last two weeks.
After that, we have midweek games against Fort Wayne and at Ball State. Fort Wayne is 291st out of 297 teams in the RPI, so a loss to them. Especially at home, would be disastrous. That game is a week from today, then on the Tuesday we get a rematch with Ball State in Muncie. The Cards are 22-20 and won at Alexander Field 2-0 on April 10th. They can’t be taken lightly, but Purdue should be favored.
That would have Purdue at 29-16 on a 13-game winning streak, and possibly leading the Big Ten before going to Columbus in a potentially huge series. Michigan goes to Rutgers this weekend and Minnesota hosts Indiana, so the Boilers could make up ground in the league race with a sweep of Northwestern. Since the Ohio State series is our last guaranteed set with a top 50 team we need a good showing there. Purdue did win two of three in Columbus last season, and road wins count more in the baseball RPI just like in basketball.
The last week of the season has a Tuesday game against Summit League leader Oral Roberts (26-15) who is playing Purdue for a sneaky tough midweek game before finishing their conference season at Fort Wayne two days later. Purdue then hosts Michigan for a series that could decide the Big Ten title.
It is a bit of a longshot, but if Purdue goes 9-3 in these games with the only losses coming against Michigan and Ohio State it will go into the Big Ten Tournament right in the hunt for an at large NCAA berth. If we win the regular season title that might even be enough, which is crazy to think after how bad we were two years ago.