Big Ten Men’s Soccer Tournament Taking Shape

With the men’s soccer season entering its final stretch, the Big Ten Tournament is drawing close. Michigan State will be hoping to capture the first seed, although it faces intense opposition.

The top spot currently belongs to Penn State, who is sitting atop the Big Ten leaderboard, but has a game in hand on both Michigan State and fourth place Ohio State. However, Maryland and Northwestern will be jockeying for No. 1 as well, and the tightly-contested battle for the top spot is only getting started.

Going into the tournament, the favorite for a few fans might actually be one of the worst sides in league play, Indiana. Despite Sunday’s loss to third place Maryland and their poor record in conference play (2-2-1), Indiana is highly regarded amongst many across the nation, after earning some tough results outside of the Big Ten.

The defending Big Ten champion Hoosiers will face Wisconsin, who is still winless in conference play, and Michigan on the road before hosting the Spartans to conclude conference play. Indiana beat Michigan and Michigan State, as well as top-seeded Penn State en route to the Big Ten trophy last year.

Indiana somehow currently sits fifth nationally, but seventh in the Big Ten. With all the remaining quality from last year’s team, don’t expect this team to roll over.

Last year’s top seed, Penn State has looked about as potent this year as well, again sitting atop the Big Ten (4-2-0). It’s not all easy living at University Park, though, due to their worrisome late-season form.

The Nittany Lions were ranked as high as third nationally before losing back-to-back games to Maryland and Michigan State, without managing to put a goal past either. To answer, “What have you done for me lately?”, the answer can be nothing other than “lose.”  Penn State had better rebound quickly in order to assure its followers that they can win the tournament.

Maryland had a tough start to the season, but the Terps are settling into the Big Ten well. Don’t let the average conference record (3-2-1) fool you, Maryland is a very good team. They demolished Penn State 4-0 and beat Indiana away. These recent results provide plenty of proof that Maryland is a tough team to contend with and they finally seem to be meshing. It would be scary for the rest of the NCAA if they continued at their recent pace.

Ohio State (3-2-0) faces an uphill battle the rest of the season, but throughout the year have proven to be formidable opposition for the league’s top teams. Their 3-2 win against Michigan State is certainly something that the Buckeyes will hang their hat on. If they could finish with a top three seed in the conference, the Buckeyes could make a run deep into the tournament.

Northwestern is in a similar predicament. Although sitting high in the conference (2-1-2), the Wildcats still have to face Michigan State and Penn State to close out the season. They could easily exchange places with Indiana and end up with a low seed.

Dissimilar to Penn State however, the boys from Evanston are coming in on good form, with wins against Maryland and Rutgers, a tie with Indiana and a close loss to the defending national champs, Notre Dame.

Finally, the Spartans (3-1-1) look set for a good end to the year. The Spartans must first host Northwestern in what should be a great defensive battle. The week after, they will face Michigan in a rivalry game that the Red Cedar Rowdies should be in full voice for. State will cap their season off by traveling to Bloomington to face the upset-minded Hoosiers. Sparty should be able to get at least five points out of the final stretch, and finish with a top three spot in the Big Ten.

The season is coming to a close, and there is still much uncertainty regarding the seeding for the Big Ten Tournament. Expect Michigan State, Northwestern, Penn State and Maryland to battle it out for the top seed, but once it comes to tournament time, do not sleep on the Buckeyes or Hoosiers. Indiana proved last year that anyone could win the tournament, as they were not favored for even a single game.

Keep an eye out for the two men in attack for Penn State, who have been on fire for most of the season, Connor Maloney and Mikey Minutillo. On the opposite end of the pitch, Zach Bennett’s goal has been almost impenetrable for the Spartans, who have nine shutouts in thirteen outings.

This Big Ten season is shaping up to be a wild finish, and with so many teams making their case for the title, expect one of the best Big Ten Tournaments ever.

Isaac Constans is a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports

Photo: Hannah McEnroe/Impact Sports