Dec 15, 2013; Chester, PA, USA; A general view of the field as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish take on the Maryland Terrapins during the first half of the division I championship soccer game at PPL Park. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
Maryland vs. Ohio State will headline a busy weekend for Big Ten soccer as the conference tournament approaches. Penn State will wrap up their conference season on Sunday in which they hope they be in position to gain the top seed. Despite being ranked number one last week in the country, Indiana is in a fight to secure at least one home tournament game.
There are nine schools in the Big Ten with a men’s soccer program, which makes the conference tournament pretty straightforward. The eighth and ninth seed play each other in a play in game, and the rest of the teams seeded in the prototypical eight-team tournament format. Unlike the ACC Tournament, the Big Ten tournament takes place on the higher seeds campus. With this format, the number one is incredibly valuable since that team wouldn’t have to travel for any of their games.
Maryland has struggled on the road this season, with only one win away from home. The Terps with their current six game winning streak has put them in a better position to make the NCAA Tournament, but gaining a couple of wins in the Big Ten tournament would give them a better seed with the possibility of a home game or two. It is unlikely for Maryland to win the Big Ten this year, but coming in second place would give them at least two home games with one against a top ranked team.
The current Big Ten standings are as follows:
1) Penn State – 15pts (1 game left)
2) Ohio State – 12pts (2 games left)
3) Michigan State – 11pts (2 games left)
4) Indiana – 10pts (2 games left)
Maryland – 10pts (2 games left)
6) Northwestern – 9pts (2 games left)
7) Michigan – 8pts (2 games left)
8) Rutgers – 4pts (2 games left)
9) Wisconsin – 0pts (2 games left)
There are six teams fighting for a finish in the top four and at least one home game in the Big Ten tournament. Michigan’s two remaining games are against teams ahead of them in the standings, which help to keep them in the mix. Penn State is at a disadvantage with only one game left, but if they take care of business the odds will be in their favor of securing the top seed in the tournament.
Ohio State travels to Maryland on Saturday night, and this game will have one of the biggest impacts on the top four seeds. If Maryland can take care of business at home they will keep pace with other teams fighting for home field advantage. Securing the full three points for Maryland would keep them ahead of Ohio State going into the season finale on Wednesday. As for the Buckeyes, winning on the road at Maryland would almost lock them into at least one home game and keep them in the hunt for the Big Ten title.
Tied with Maryland for fourth is Indiana, who will also play on Saturday night as well. The Hoosiers game against Wisconsin makes it even more important for Maryland to beat Ohio State. Wisconsin is clearly the worst team in the conference, and is almost a guaranteed three points for Indiana. It will be critical for Maryland to hold court with Indiana, since the final game of the season favors Maryland with them traveling to Rutgers while Indiana host Michigan State.
Sparty will be playing host to in-state rival Michigan on the Big Ten Network Sunday afternoon. The Wolverines desperately need the three points to stay in contention for fourth place. While Michigan looks to be the odd man out of the six teams fighting for four spots, having a game against Michigan State gives them a chance to pull level with the Spartans. Not only is the game a rivalry game, but it will also be senior day for Michigan State, which will add to the emotion of the game. Indiana is almost guaranteed to be ahead of Michigan State on Sunday afternoon, and a Terrapins win would push Michigan State down to fifth in the standings before their kickoff. Michigan State’s final game being on the road at Indiana makes it that much imperative for them to beat Michigan on Sunday afternoon and go to Bloomington ahead of IU.
Northwestern’s draw against Michigan State last week was important to keep them ahead of Michigan and to keep their shot at a top four finish alive. This weekend, the Wildcats host Penn State on Sunday in another opportunity for Northwestern to show that they are a top team. Even though Penn State finishes the season up on Sunday, a win would almost secure them a first place finish, while a loss or draw would open the door to the rest of the conference to take the title from them. Northwestern is in a dangerous position, since they finish the season against Wisconsin. If they win on Sunday against Penn State, they would be in position to jump whoever loses ahead of them.
With six teams separated by only a game or two heading into the home stretch of the season, it will make for a lot of exciting soccer. Maryland’s home game against Ohio State is the Terrapins biggest game of the season. Taking care of business at home and grabbing all three points would go a long way towards making sure they finish in the upper half of the league. Ohio State has a lot to play for as well, which will make the game a highly contested affair. Both teams will enter College Park in good form and the atmosphere should resemble an NCAA Tournament game.