Illinois Baseball begins a three-game series against Nebraska on Thursday. Senior Day is Saturday, and then EVERY Illinois Fighting Illini athletic team is DONE with its 2017-18 regular season.
Mazel tov, you made it.
A few teams are still competing, of course. Men’s golf (#GolfSchool), men’s tennis, and men’s and women’s track are still searching for some national championships, and the Illini Baseball team is looking to join them.
Illinois sits at 29-17 (13-8 Big Ten) entering the final weekend of conference play. Sitting in fifth place in the Big Ten standings, the Illini have already clinched a spot in next weekend’s Big Ten Tournament in Omaha, so Illinois is playing for seeding and RPI purposes this weekend.
Nebraska, not the class of the conference this year despite ‘hosting’ the conference tournament, has a 23-26 record, including 7-12 in conference play. The Huskers won’t be playing in the eight-team Big Ten Tournament, so this weekend likely finishes off a disappointing season for Darin Erstad’s — yes, former MLB player Darin Erstad — program after winning the tournament last season for the first time.
According to D1Baseball.com, Illinois’ RPI is currently 45, sandwiched between Troy and West Virginia. With Big Ten foes Michigan, Purdue and Iowa all ranked behind the Illini but in the top 64, it is critical that Illinois takes at least two of the three games at home this weekend.
Nebraska’s offense is not too high-powered, managing only 11 runs over three games versus Indiana last weekend, and the Huskers have lost three of their last four games overall.
Unless Illinois gets swept by Nebraska, and Indiana sweeps Maryland, the Illini will not finish any worse than fifth in the Big Ten standings, putting them in good shape to get off the bubble with a decent performance in the Big Ten Tournament and head to their first NCAA Tournament since 2015.
Ohio State (13-8) finishes the regular season with three road games against an average Michigan State team. If the Illini win more games than the Buckeyes this weekend, Illinois moves into the top four seeds, which comes with the benefit of being the home team in at least the tournament’s first game.
If all stays put, Illinois will open the Big Ten Tournament against Ohio State, who won two of three in Champaign two weeks ago, next Wednesday, May 23.
Basically, it’s easy. Illinois can’t lose this weekend. The Big Ten Tournament is great. The goal is the NCAAs.