Soccer season runs into the early months of winter, so when the Big Ten men’s soccer tournament begins this week, expect some frigid excitement in Columbus. Temperatures are expected to be just warm enough to melt any leftover snow at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium, Wednesday, when the tournament is scheduled to kick off at 2 p.m. with Michigan State versus Ohio State.
“There’s just something about it when the weather gets cold … the ball is hard, the grass is crisp and it feels like tournament time,” Wisconsin coach John Trask said.
This year marks the third time since 2001 Ohio State has hosted the Big Ten Tournament. The tournament is scheduled for Nov. 13-17.
#3 Michigan State vs. #6 Ohio State
Michigan State (10-4-3, 3-2-1) is the reigning Big Ten tournament champion. The Spartans were awarded the fifth seed in last season’s tournament.
Spartan coach Damon Rensing said tournament results depend solely on the first match.
“It’s cliché, but the first game is the most important. Everyone plays their best that first game and we play Ohio State, who is at home and playing for their season,” Rensing said.
This season MSU is lead by redshirt-junior forward Tim Kreutz with eight goals and four assists.
Ohio State (5-7-5, 1-3-2) comes into the tournament after winning three of its last four games. Freshman forward Danny Jensen leads the team with three goals and three assists. Redshirt-junior goalkeeper Alex Ivanov has also been keeping OSU alive by recording eight shutouts and leads the Big Ten in goals against average, save percentage, saves and saves per game.
“Going back into Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium, it’s our home field, defending our home turf, and we’ve done well here this year. We have a winning record at home,” Ivanov said.
Last season, OSU finished last in the conference going 0-4-2 and was the seventh seed in the tournament. The Buckeyes lost in the first round to Northwestern 2-0.
Buckeye coach John Bluem said it takes a little something special to win in tournaments.
“A lot of it comes down to mental approach and if you’re physically ready to battle, because that’s what it takes this time of year,” Bluem said.
Ohio State and Michigan State played to a 1-1 draw in their first meeting in East Lansing, Mich. Oct. 13.
The match is set to begin at 2 p.m. Wednesday.
#4 Michigan vs. #5 Indiana
Michigan (8-6-3. 3-3) comes into the tournament after winning four of six of its last games. Sophomore forward James Murphy is leading the team with four goals and two assists. Michigan was the third seed in last year’s tournament. The Wolverines finished as the runner-up after losing to MSU in the finals.
Coach Chaka Daley said it is hard to prepare for consecutive matches in a short period of time.
“You prepare for one game in one day. I don’t think you can certainly overlook one opponent. We certainly are not,” Daley said.
Indiana (6-11-1, 2-4) is the reigning NCAA champion. IU was the preseason No. 1, but fell out of the top spot after consecutive losses against University of California-Los Angeles, University of Alabama-Birmingham, and West Virginia in September.
Senior midfielder Nikita Kotlov leads the Hoosiers with five goals and 3 assists. Last season, IU was the fourth seed in the Big Ten tournament but lost in the first round to MSU, 2-1.
IU senior midfielder Harrison Petts said the team has to play “one game at a time.”
“We need to win (the Big Ten tournament) to move on to the NCAA tournament,” Petts said. “We won’t hold back. It’s win or go home for us.”
Michigan defeated Indiana earlier this season by a score of 2-1 in Ann Arbor, Mich. The match is set for 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.
#2 Wisconsin vs. #7 Northwestern
Wisconsin (13-3-2, 4-2) comes into the tournament as the second seed with an 8-1-1 record in its last 10 matches.
Badger coach John Trask said his team is peaking at the right time.
“We’re playing great soccer,” Trask said. “I think we seem to be improving every training session.”
Leading the Badgers is senior midfielder/forward Nick Janus with nine goals and two assists. Last year, Wisconsin was the sixth seed and was bounced from the tournament with a loss to UM in the first round.
Northwestern (9-6-3, 1-4-1) goes from first to worst after earning a share of the 2012 Big Ten regular season title, but this year, coming into the Big Ten Tournament as the seventh seed. The Wildcats are led by sophomore forward Joey Calistri who has 12 goals and four assists.
“We have to go into every game with a good game plan and we have to play smart,” Calistri said. “We’re excited. It’s a great opportunity and we aren’t taking it lightly. Somebody’s got to do it.”
Last year, the wildcats reached the semi-finals in the Big Ten tournament before losing to Michigan, 3-0.
Coach Tim Lenahan said records are thrown out the window in postseason play.
“The thing about the Big Ten with men’s soccer is that it is the only conference in the country where every team believes it will win the tournament and can win it,” Lenahan said. “No matter the record, they are still capable of winning it all. The parity is everything.”
Wisconsin beat Northwestern in their first meeting of the season, 1-0 in Evanston, Ill., Nov. 3. The match is set for 7 p.m.
#1 Penn State First Round Bye
Penn State (11-5-1, 5-1) clinched a share of its second consecutive Big Ten conference title and the top overall seed in the conference tournament.
Coach Bob Warming said the team learned last year that a first round bye does not guarantee a tournament championship, after losing in their first tournament game to Michigan State 3-1.
“We have a first round bye. It’s the second year in a row and the only time we’ve gotten it twice in a row,” Warming said. “It didn’t help us last year at all and (Michigan State) deserved to win.”
PSU comes into the tournament on a two game, double overtime losing streak, dropping games against OSU and Akron.
Warming said the level of play in the Big Ten is a tremendous competition.
“In this league, we all recognize the margin of victory is one possession,” Warming said. “What I mean by that is it’s won by one goal and an incredible amount of games have been won in overtime.”
PSU is slated to face the winner of UM and IU on Friday at noon.