Big Ten's best descending on Omaha

May 21—First pitch of the Big Ten baseball tournament is set for 10 a.m. Tuesday — the first of at least 13 games this week in Omaha, Neb. Illinois beat writer Scott Richey has the breakdown of the entire eight-team field:

No. 1 Illinois (33-17)

The Illini's top hitter is ... difficult to narrow down from a group that's put together the most prolific power-hitting performance in program history. Ryan Moerman leads the team with 18 home runs. Drake Westcott is close behind with 16, including two in the same inning in Saturday's win against Purdue that capped off a weekend when Illinois clinched an outright Big Ten title. But Camden Janik does it all. The Illinois catcher is batting .370 with seven home runs, 15 doubles and 47 RBI. Not to mention just 10 strikeouts and 28 walks drawn in 200 at-bats.

Their top pitcher is ... Jack Crowder, and Illinois coach Dan Hartleb will send his ace to the mound in Tuesday night's opening round game against Penn State. The veteran right-hander is 6-1 on the season — a benefit of impressive run support in his starts — with a team-high 70 strikeouts and a 5.24 ERA in 771/3

* innings pitched. A spot starter a year ago, Crowder is allowing a career-low .218 batting average against.

Their best chance to win it all is ...

* mash, mash and mash some more. Illinois has scored 425 runs in 50 games this season because of its ability, up and down the lineup, to send the ball over the wall. The Illini's 103 home runs is a single-season record (by a dozen, and counting), tops the Big Ten by a wide margin and puts them tied for 17th nationally in total home runs hit. Austin Peay tops that particular list with 144 home runs in 54 games.

No. 2 Nebraska (34-19)

The Cornhuskers' top hitter is ... boom-or-bust catcher Josh Caron

* . Nearly 40 percent of his hits this season have gone for extra bases, including 14 doubles and a team-high 10 home runs. That's the boom. The bust part comes in the fact the Sun Prairie, Wis., native has more than double the number of strikeouts (43) as walks (20).

Their top pitcher is ... journeyman righty Brett Sears

* , who started his career at Western Illinois and spent two seasons at Iowa Western Community College before landing in Lincoln, Neb. Where he's turned into a lights-out ace in his fifth season, with a Big Ten-leading 2.05 ERA that's good for fourth nationally and a WHIP of 0.83 that's only bettered by two other pitchers in the country.

Their best chance to win it all is ... getting deep into games with a late lead before turning it over to the bullpen. Nebraska leads the Big Ten with 17 saves this season with a closer-by-committee approach. Casey Deiss, Jalen Worthley and Kyle Perry

* all have multiple saves.

No. 3 Indiana (30-22)

The Hoosiers' top hitter is ... left fielder Devin Taylor

* , who's hit for average and for power at the top of the lineup this season. The Indiana sophomore ranks ninth in the Big Ten with a .362 average and first with a .657 slugging percentage thanks to 17 home runs in 213 at bats.

Their top pitcher is ... hard-throwing sophomore Connor Foley

* . The 6-foot-5, 235-pound right-hander out of Jasper, Ind., has gone from bullpen arm last spring to team ace this season. What hasn't changed is Foley's strikeout rate (still high) and teams' batting average against his high-powered fastball (still low).

Their best chance to win it all is ...

* hoping the Big Ten's biggest collection of eventual MLB prospects can play like it. Multiple wins against ranked teams this season (Coastal Carolina, Dallas Baptist and Indiana State) have revealed flashes of that potential.

No. 4 Michigan (30-26)

The Wolverines' top hitter is ... former Northwestern standout Stephen Hrustich

* . An All-Big Ten Third-Team pick last season for the Wildcats, Hrustich found a home in the Michigan outfield and rediscovered his power at the plate with a team-high 15 home runs after hitting double-digit bombs in two of his four seasons in Evanston.

Their top pitcher is ... Canadian import Kurt Barr. The Michigan sophomore has been in and out of the rotation this spring after filling a similar role as a freshman. The 6-2 righty out of Saint Joachim, Ontario, is 5-3 with a 3.52 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 791/3

* innings.

Their best chance to win it all is ...

* based on their draw. While the Wolverines didn't play Illinois in the regular season, they took two of three from both Iowa and Penn State and the losses were by a single run apiece. They probably have some confidence in the bottom half of the bracket.

No. 5 Iowa (31-21)

The Hawkeyes' top hitter is ... veteran third baseman Raider Tello

* , who is basically a lock to put the ball in play, turn it into extra bases and drive in a baserunner. The 6-footer out of El Monte, Calif., leads Iowa with four triples and 19 doubles to go with a team-best .370 average and 60 RBI.

Their top pitcher is ... likely first-round draft pick Brody Brecht

* . The 6-4 right-hander, who also used to play football for the Hawkeyes, has a fastball that can hit triple digits and has used it to strike out a Big Ten-leading 118 batters this spring.

Their best chance to win it all is ... banking on teams not being able to get to Brecht or sophomore lefty Cade Obermueller

* . The Hawkeyes simply can't waste starts by their top-two arms and then will have to lean on a lineup that hit .303 as a team the rest of the way.

No. 6 Purdue (33-22)

The Boilermakers' top hitter is ... a toss-up between catcher Connor Caskenette and first baseman Luke Gaffney

* with the former getting the nod because he strikes out less and has the same kind of pop. Caskenette leads Purdue with 13 home runs and 69 RBI and is fourth on the team with a .315 average.

Their top pitcher is ... Jordan Morales, who followed Purdue pitching coach Josh Newman from Penn State to West Lafayette, Ind. The 5-9 lefty played two seasons at La Salle and two more at Penn State mostly as a reliever, but has stuck in the Boilermakers' rotation with 72 strikeouts and just 22 walks in 801/3

* innings.

Their best chance to win it all is ...

* to keep scoring runs at a rate of nearly eight per game that puts Purdue among the top four most prolific offenses in the conference. The other three have been less effective in not giving up runs. Advantage, Boilermakers?

No. 7 Ohio State (28-24)

The Buckeyes' top hitter is ... junior third baseman Tyler Pettorini

* . Several others could stake their own claim as the Buckeyes' best, but Pettorini leads the team in average, home runs and RBI. Old school stats, perhaps, but still important.

Their top pitcher is ... Friday night starter Landon Beidelschies

* . Ohio State's nominal ace has struck out nearly three times as many batters as he's walked and kept opposing batters to a reasonable .237 average, but he can still be a little wild. Nine wild pitches and nine hit batters are both team highs.

Their best chance to win it all is ... quality starts and better efforts from the bullpen. Neither have been a real strength this season beyond Beidelschies and sophomore reliever Blaine Wynk

* , respectively, but now would be a good time to turn the corner.

No. 8 Penn State (26-23)

The Nittany Lions' top hitter is ... Charleston transfer J.T. Marr

* . The veteran catcher, who started his career at Florence-Darlington Technical College (S.C.) before playing two seasons with the Cougars, is one of just two Big Ten players hitting better than .400 this season. Marr's .419 average has come with six home runs, 19 doubles and a team-high 49 RBI.

Their top pitcher is ... freshman reliever Mason Horwat. The Nittany Lions have turned to the 6-1 right-hander out of Pittsburgh 19 times this season. That includes three spot starts, but Horwat's value has come out of the bullpen where he's gone 4-1 with a 4.35 ERA and more strikeouts than walks in 512/3

* innings.

Their best chance to win it all is ... to play like they did down the stretch. At least against Big Ten opponents. Penn State swept Maryland in the final series of the regular season and took two of three from Rutgers. Pay no heed to 10-0 and 18-7 losses to Pittsburgh and West Virginia, respectively.