The Big Ten Men’s Soccer tournament is set to kick off today at Lakeside Field on the campus of Northwestern following a wild ride to the finish of the regular season last weekend. Penn State and Northwestern each claimed a share of the regular season crown and the Nittany Lions will come into the tournament as the No. 1 seed receiving the bye to the semi-finals due to their head-to-head victory over the Wildcats.
Here we are in the final week of the Big Ten regular season and just as everybody expected the defending champion Northwestern Wildcats and seven-time national champion Indiana Hoosiers are battling for the championship – the two teams play tonight at 8 p.m. ET on 8 p.m. ET on BTN/BTN2GO. Only, it’s not quite that simple as Michigan State and Penn State are alive as well.
All that talk about the highly touted Indiana Hoosiers and Northwestern Wildcats, both unbeaten going into last weekend at 3-0, and guess who is in sole possession of first place now? That would be the scrappy Penn State Nittany Lions, albeit with a game in-hand, at 3-1-1 with 10 points to lead the Hoosiers and Wildcats who are each 3-1 with nine points apiece. How did that happen?
Week 4 of Big Ten play is in the books as Northwestern was able to hold serve against Ohio State with Indiana idle to move back into a first place tie with the Hoosiers at 3-0. Both other home teams were able to grab the win as well with Wisconsin posting a mild upset of Michigan for their first win of the 2012 conference campaign and Penn State defeating Michigan State to stay afloat in the race.
Week 2 of Big Ten competition saw three hard-fought games that needed more than 90 minutes of play to be decided. It showed that there is not much separating each team in the conference and that many games are going to come down to one shot, one save, or one executed set piece. So, no matter the records, easy games are few and far between in the Big Ten with only two games having been decided by more than one goal so far.
Each year, the Big Ten is arguably the most competitive conference top to bottom. Every team believes they have a legitimate chance to win the conference. Not only do all seven teams usually believe they can win, in many years, all seven truly do have the ability to take the Big Ten crown. As I look at the action shaping up this weekend, this year may be a little bit different story with three haves and four have-nots.
The Big Ten men’s soccer season is right around the corner, but the teams have one last weekend of non-conference games to shape their squad and prepare for the grind that has come to characterize Big Ten soccer. This upcoming weekend, the seven schools that represent the conference have matches that may not count toward the Big Ten standings (see standings at BigTen.org), but they will be important come NCAA tournament time.