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Iowa baseball at tail end of Big Ten logjam

BY BEN SCHUFF | MAY 04, 2012 6:30 AM

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Six teams will gather in Columbus, Ohio, on May 23 to play in the Big Ten baseball tourney. But which schools will make up the majority of the field remains a crapshoot.

The conference standings are a logjam of schools hovering around the .500 mark with just over two weeks remaining in the regular season. Ninth-place Iowa heads into the home stretch of league play two games back of sixth place and only three games behind second.

Welcome to life in the Big Ten.

"We could finish wherever. I love it," Hawkeye manager Jack Dahm said. "I'm getting grayer hair, but it's fun every weekend going out and battling."

Iowa (18-22, 6-9 Big Ten) will host Michigan (17-27, 4-11) this weekend in a series that pits two of the bottom three teams in the conference standings against each other. But neither team can be ruled out of contention for a spot in the Big Ten Tournament because of the league's parity.

The Wolverines face a slightly tougher road to Columbus than the Hawkeyes; they trail the sixth spot by four games as they prepare to visit Iowa City this weekend.

Dahm suggested the balance of teams over the past couple of seasons is a result of the conference moving from four-game weekend series to three-game weekend series in 2009.

"When we decided to go to three-games series, as coaches, we thought it might create a little separation because every weekend you have a team winning a series, going at least 2-1," Iowa's ninth-year manager said. "But what we found is its actually bringing everybody together because when you're at home, there's a good chance you're going to win two out of three. It's just such a balanced league."

The Hawkeyes are no strangers to tight races late in the year. Iowa entered the final regular-season series in 2010 in a four-way tie for fifth place and only three games out of first. The Black and Gold swept Purdue to earn the No. 4 seed in the tournament that year and eventually lost in the championship game.

Iowa finds itself with a slightly lower winning percentage this year than it did then. But that doesn't mean the players aren't paying attention to other records around the Big Ten.

"[The standings] are something you look at because you care," senior Mike McQuillan said. "You want to make that Big Ten Tournament because once you make it, anything can happen."

Iowa's best chances of starting a move towards a tournament berth come this weekend against the last-place Wolverines. The Hawkeyes' final Big Ten opponent is Michigan State — which owns the league's third-best overall record at 27-15 — and first-place Purdue to close out the season at home on May 17-19.

"They want the same thing," shortstop Jake Yacinich said of Michigan. "They want to get on a roll; they want to get to the tournament. Everybody wants it. It's really important to have a good weekend and just keep doing what we do."

Follow DI baseball reporter Ben Schuff on Twitter.


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