Arguably the most competitive conference in the country, the Big Ten, opens up their conference tournament this week with all teams vying for the coveted automatic bid in the NCAA tournament. Five of the seven team’s are in the NCAA’s top 50 in RPI and therefore have a realistic chance of gaining an at large bid. The ultra competitive tournament has seen four different champions in the past four years showing just how close these teams are. No team has dominated in the regular season and there’s practically no disparity between any of the teams. It will be a battle to the championship on November 17th in Columbus.
#1 Seed (Penn State): The Nittany Lions have won their second consecutive regular season championship in a very up and down season. They won nine of their eleven games by one goal while also going through six double overtime contests. Penn State finished an impressive 5-1 in the conference, only falling to the Buckeyes in a hard fought double overtime defeat. Penn State is led by RS junior Jordan Tyler (5 goals), who has had a terrific 2013 campaign after coming off an injury from 2012. The team has scored their 23 goals by 10 different members, an impressive stat which says a lot about the team. If senior defender Martin Seiler (3 goals) can continue to lock up the back line, nobody will want to face the reigning regular season champs. Coach Warming is a playoff coach and has his team in great position with a first round bye to make another run into the final.
The Nittany Lions play the winner of Michigan vs Indiana in a semi-final matchup on Fri, November 15th.
#2 Seed (Wisconsin): The Badgers had a terrific season finishing 4-2 in the conference and only dropping one non-conference game. They come into postseason play as the hottest team in the tournament, winning their last four and only losing one of their last ten. The physical team has scored in bunches notching 37 goals, a conference best. The team, currently ranked 13th in the country is led by senior Nick Janus (9g, 2a) and junior Jacob Brindle (8g, 1a), two goal scoring threats from anywhere on the field. Wisconsin faces a veteran Northwestern team who they narrowly beat 1-0 on the road earlier this month and they’ll need to play their best once again to make a run into the semi finals.
#3 Seed (Michigan State): The Spartans capped off another solid season and look to be top contenders entering the tournament. The reigning Big Ten tourney champs have the tournament experience, which makes them an instant threat for any opponent. The attack is led by the junior forward of Tim Kreutz (8g, 4a) and Adam Montague (4g, 5a) while the back line is headed by senior captain Kevin Cope (2g, 1a). Michigan State is one of the hardest working teams in the nation, something that will benefit them coming into the final stretch of the season. The quarterfinal matchup against the Buckeyes will be a tough one as the two tied earlier in the year. Don’t sleep on the Spartans.
#4 Seed (Michigan): The Wolverines have endured a tough season thus far, but have still managed to grit out results. Michigan went 3-3 in conference play, a decent record, considering the caliber of the teams. The team is led by Sophomore James Murphy (4g, 2a) and midfield playmakers Tyler Arnone (2g, 5a) and Fabio Pereira (2g, 4). The Chaka Daley led squad is borderline to make the NCAA Tournament and will at least need a win against Indiana, for the committee to consider them. The reigning Big Ten tournament finalists have the talent and experience to make a deep run, but they’ll need to step it up in order to be playing come November 17th.
#5 Seed (Indiana): The Hoosiers championship hangover lasted a bit too long as they went a very mediocre 6-11-1 to finish off the regular season. Due to their tough schedule, Indiana is still ranked a decent 62 in the RPI, but regardless they will need to win the conference tournament to make the NCAA. The team has been incredibly unlucky this year, going into six overtime games, without winning one. The squad has suffered some poor runs of play including a five game losing streak and losing eight of ten. With that said, never count out the reigning national champs. With the talent Coach Yeagley’s squad possesses in senior midfielders Nikita Kotlov (5g, 3a), AJ Corrado (2g, 7a), and Dylan Mares (2g, 1a) there’s no doubt that this team can still make a run. This team has had a rough season, but Coach Yeagley’s team is more than capable of surprising some teams and making a championship run.
#6 Seed (Ohio State): The Buckeyes went 1-3-2 in the conference, but their record doesn’t tell the whole story. Despite the sub par record, Ohio State has some positives coming into the tournament. The team’s defense led by captain Sage Gardner (1g, 1a) has been rock solid, only giving up 16 goals all year, while maintaining 9 shutouts, tied for the conference lead. Coming into the tournament, the Buckeyes are on a nice streak, only losing one of their last six while in the process beating regular season conference champs, Penn State. They will need to carry their momentum into the Michigan State game to keep their season alive and vie for their first title since 2009.
#7 Seed (Northwestern): The Wildcats 1-4-1 conference record by no means constitutes the tone of their regular season. Northwestern suffered some tough conference defeats, but they are still in decent position to make the NCAA tournament. The team is led by Sophomore sensation Joey Calistri (12g, 4a) and RS senior midfielder Chris Ritter (5g,4a), two of whom could at any time take over a game. It’s unfair to judge the team off their conference record, and they won’t be taken lightly. They will look for vengeance against a Wisconsin side, to whom they narrowly lost to in a evenly contested game. Coach Lenahan’s squad should not be overlooked, as they have the capability of winning their second title in three years.
Ben Roth is a contributing writer for College Soccer News. He can be reached at Ben.firstname.lastname@example.org.