Big Challenge, Big Preview

Taking stock of the inaugural Big East-Big Ten Challenge




BIG EAST

South Florida Bulls
Coach: Lelo Prado (65-53 record at school, 2 years)
Last Big East Title: N/A.
Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 2002.
School Record, Wins In A Season: 52 (1986).
2008 Record: 31-27.
Top Returning Hitters: Ryan Lockwood, So., cf (.415/.493/.513); Stephen Hunt, So., dh (.331/.408/.500); Brandon Smith, Sr., 1b (.288/.443/.390)
Top Returning Pitchers: Derrick Stultz, So., rhp (4-3, 3.08, 64.1 IP/53 SO); Randy Fontanez, So., rhp (5-3, 3.54, 81.1 IP/58 SO); Matt Stull, So., rhp (5-2, 4.57, 41.1 IP/25 SO).
The lone warm-weather team in the conference is expected to challenge for the league's title after solid recruiting efforts the last two years. South Florida returns a core group of sophomores led by OF Ryan Lockwood, who enters the season on a 30-game hitting streak. DH Stephen Hunt should provide more run production from the heart of the Bulls' order while continuing in his two-way role (he picked up two saves while pitching last spring). RHPs Randy Fontanez and Derrick Stultz will anchor the top of a rotation that helped South Florida accumulate the third-most strikeouts in the conference last season. Hunt will close games for the Bulls and will be aided by junior RHP Andrew Salgueiro, a transfer from conference rival Louisville whom Prado coached during his 11-year tenure with the Cardinals prior to joining South Florida.

BIG PROSPECTS
Top 5 Current Minor League Prospects
Big East
1. Todd Frazier, if/of, Reds (Rutgers)
2. Jeff Manship, rhp, Twins (Notre Dame)
3. Kevin Mulvey, rhp, Twins (Villanova)
4. Scott Barnes, lhp, Giants (St. John's)
5. Jim Negrych, 2b/3b, Pirates (Pittsburgh)
Big Ten
1. Zach Putnam, rhp, Indians (Michigan)
2. Clayton Richard, lhp, White Sox (Michigan)
3. Josh Lindblom, rhp, Dodgers (Purdue)
4. George Kontos, rhp, Yankees (Northwestern)
5. Cory Luebke, lhp, Indians (Ohio State)
Top 5 College Prospects
2009 draft
Big East
1. A.J. Pollock, of, Notre Dame)
2. Chris Dominguez, rhp, Louisville
3. Sean Black, rhp, Seton Hall
4. Justin Marks, lhp, Louisville
5. Andrew Clark, 1b, Louisville
Big Ten
1. Josh Phegley, c, Indiana
2. Matt Bashore, lhp, Indiana
3. Eric Decker, of, Minnesota
4. Derek McCallum, 2b/ss, Minnesota
5. Matt Nohelty, of, Minnesota
Connecticut Huskies
Coach: James Penders (160-124, 5 years)
Last Big East Title: 1994.
Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 1994
School Record, Wins In A Season: 39 (2006).
2008 Record: 27-28
Top Returning Hitters: Michael Olt, So., ss (.318/.386/.577); Pete Fatse, Jr., of (.289/.383/.473); Pierre LePage, So., 2b (.341/.398/.404)
Top Returning Pitchers: David Erickson, Sr., rhp (3-2, 2.70, 36.2 IP/34 SO); John Folino, Sr., rhp (4-4, 5.02, 57.1 IP/39 SO); Dan Mahoney (0-5, 7.91, 46.2 IP/30 SO).
Connecticut will attempt to improve upon its ninth-place finish in the league last year with a lineup that includes just two upperclassmen. Sophomore SS Michael Olt used a sound approach and legitimate plus power to hit 13 home runs and 61 RBIs as a freshman and emerged as the best pro prospect on the team. Junior OF Pete Fatse offers good pop from the left side of the plate and will be critical for a team that struggled to generate power a season ago. The Huskies return their top three starters from 2008, headed by senior RHP John Folino, a strikethrower who mixes his pitches well. Sophomore LHP Elliot Glynn (1-3, 6.00, 42 IP/26 SO) will serve as both the team's No. 2 starter and DH. Sophomore RHP Dan Mahoney's power arm moves to a setup role ahead of senior RHP David Erickson, whose sinking fastball allowed him to thrive in the closer's role last year.

Georgetown Hoyas
Coach: Pete Wilk (166-321, 10 years)
Last Big East Title: N/A.
Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: N/A.
School Record, Wins In A Season: 31 (1984).
2008 Record: 18-32.
Top Returning Hitters: Sean Lamont, So., 3b (.285/.377/.564); Dan Capeless, So., 1b (.306/.425/.503); Tom Elliott, Jr., ss (.325/.392/.470)
Top Returning Pitchers: Cary Piligian, Jr., rhp (1-0, 4.43, 22.1 IP/15 SO); Jimmy Saris, Sr., rhp (6-5, 6.14, 55.2 IP/44 SO); Tim Adleman, Jr., rhp (3-8, 6.42, 61.2 IP/45 SO).
The Hoyas have finished last in the conference in six of the last seven seasons and struggle to solve their deficiencies at the plate and on the mound with only five scholarships (out of a maximum of 11.7) at their disposal. Sophomore corner infielders Sean Lamont and Dan Capeless will need to carry the offense if the team hopes to improve upon its league-worst 297 runs scored from last year. Junior SS Tom Elliott and senior OF Tommy Lee (.283/.361/.342) offer decent speed at the top of the order. On the mound, Georgetown does not return a starter who finished with an ERA under 6.00 last season. Junior LHP Alex Meyer (0-4, 10.44, 35.1 IP/32 SO), who performed well in the fall, features an improved slider and could become a stabilizing force that the team desperately needs. A pair of junior RHPs in Cary Piligian and Jack Bender will look to secure the back end of the bullpen.

St. John's Red Storm
Coach: Ed Blankmeyer (440-263-3, 13 years)
Last Big East Title: 1997.
Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 2008.
School Record, Wins In A Season: 42 (2008).
2008 Record: 42-16.
Top Returning Hitters: Carlos Del Rosario, Sr., lf (.347/.407/.563); Brian Kemp, Jr., cf (.360/.446/.475); Greg Hopkins, So., 3b (.304/.386/.473)
Top Returning Pitchers: Nick Cenatiempo, Jr., rhp (0-0, 3.44, 36.2 IP/39 SO); Miguel Valcarcel, Jr., rhp (2-1, 4.46, 36.1 IP/33 SO); Ryan Cole, Jr., rhp (3-1, 4.76, 45.1 IP/46 SO).
Coming off the best season in school history and an at-large regional bid, the Red Storm will look to their bats for a repeat of last season's success. Junior OF Brian Kemp, a premium athlete with good speed, leads a cast of hitters that includes power-hitting senior OF Carlos Del Rosario (.347/.407/.563). The real test for St. John's will be overcoming the loss of its top two starters and closer from a year ago, however. Despite having never started a game in his collegiate career, junior RHP Nick Cenatiempo is slated to take the ball on Friday nights. Coach Ed Blankmeyer will count on two newcomers in junior RHP Bruce Kern, a transfer from Suffolk County CC, and freshman LHP Brendan Lobban to round out the rotation. Junior RHP Ryan Cole inherits closing duties after logging over 80 innings in relief the last two seasons.

Seton Hall Pirates
Coach: Rob Sheppard (107-152-1, 5 years)
Last Big East Title: 2001. Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 2001.
School Record, Wins In A Season: 45 (1987).
2008 Record: 31-25.
Top Returning Hitters: Chris Affinito, Sr., dh (.308/.385/.532); Chris Spagnuolo, Jr., lf (.333/.414/.357); A.J. Rusbarsky, So., ss (.300/.366/.343);
Top Returning Pitchers: Matt Singer, Jr., rhp (4-0, 3.12, 40.1 IP/21 SO); Sean Black, Jr., rhp (3-3, 3.44, 65.1 IP/59 SO); Keith Cantwell, Sr., rhp (0-0, 5.25, 24 IP/23 SO).
Seton Hall will introduce 16 new players to a 2009 club that will look to eclipse last year's fifth-place finish in the conference. The returns of senior C/DH Chris Affinito and sophomore SS A.J. Rusbarsky will be critical to the improvement of an offense that ranked last in the league in team batting average, on-base percentage and slugging. Sophomore catcher Frank Esposito (.281/.369/.337) will work in tandem with Affinito to provide stability behind the plate for a pitching staff that carried the Pirates last year. Junior RHP Sean Black is perhaps the best pro pitching prospect in the Big East and gives Seton Hall a chance to win every Friday night. Senior RHP Keith Cantwell and sophomore RHP Joe DiRocco (3-3, 6.11, 35 IP/32 SO) will attempt to fill the No. 2 and No. 3 starter spots that were vacated. The Pirates' most reliable bullpen arm, junior RHP Matt Singer is charged with the responsibility of finishing games.

West Virginia Mountaineers
Coach: Greg Van Zant (413-344-1, 14 years)
Last Big East Title: 1996.
Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 1996.
School Record, Wins In A Season: 40-21 (1994).
2008 Record: 35-21.
Top Returning Hitters: Jedd Gyorko, So., ss (.409/.450/.612); Joe Agreste, Sr., 1b (.369/.426/.620); Justin Parks, Sr., lf (.378/.470/.522)
Top Returning Pitchers: Billy Gross, Jr., rhp (5-2, 3.01, 74.2 IP/53 SO); Chris Enourato, Jr., rhp (5-1, 4.15, 30.1 IP/34 SO); Stephen Morrison, Jr., lhp (6-3, 4.20, 83.2 IP/56 SO).
The Mountaineers return eight of nine position players to a team that ranked fifth in the nation in team batting at .341. The one loss was senior IF Tyler Kuhn (.424), but seniors Joe Agreste (also a fine defender at first base), speedy OF Austin Markel (.313/.402/.587) and versatile OF Justin Parks (who also can catch or play the infield) give the lineup a balance of power and speed that should keep it productive even without Kuhn. SS Jedd Gyorko gives the infield a steady hand to replace Kuhn. West Virginia lacks a defined Friday starter but has experience with juniors Billy Gross and Steve Morrison. Sophomore RHP Jarryd Summers (4-3, 4.93), who struck out 50 in just 46 innings last season, has perhaps the staff's biggest arm, and if he harnesses his power stuff he could push toward the front of the rotation.

Cincinnati Bearcats
Coach: Brian Cleary (306-374-1, 12 years)
Last Big East Title: N/A
Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 1974
School Record, Wins In A Season: 39 (2008)
2008 Record: 39-20
Top Returning Hitters: Mike Spina, Sr., 3b (.377/.441/.731); Cameron Satterwhite, Sr., rf (.364/.436/.662); Jamel Scott, Jr., cf (.311/.387/.366)
Top Returning Pitchers: Billy Welsh, Sr., rhp (1-0, 2.08, 17.1 IP/7 SO); Jake Geglein, Sr., rhp (3-0, 2.30, 43 IP/36 SO); Michael Hill, Sr., rhp (6-4, 3.46, 80.2 IP/65 SO).
The Bearcats set a school record for victories in 2008 but still couldn't get an at-large regional bid. The program is on the upswing with Marge Schott Stadium, considered the Big East's best ballpark. The team's offensive focus will shift from speed to power after losing first-team all-league choices OF Tony Campana and 2B Josh Harrison to the pro ranks. Senior 3B Mike Spina returns 21 homers and 79 RBIs to the lineup after leading the Big East in both categories last season, and the Cincinnati coaching staff expects him to improve defensively this season as well. Senior RHP Michael Hill slides into the Friday starter role vacated by LHP Dan Osterbrock, whom the Twins drafted in the seventh round. The Bearcats will depend on Hill and closer Jake Geglein on a staff with no set third starter and several other roles up for grabs.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Coach: Dave Schrage (61-49-1, 2 years)
Last Big East Title: 2006
Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 2006
School Record, Wins In A Season: 50 (2002)
2008 Record: 33-21-1
Top Returning Hitters: Evan Sharpley, Sr., 1b (.324/.388/.691); A.J. Pollock, Jr., cf (.352/.414/.505); Jeremy Barnes, Sr., 2b (.307/.395/.513)
Top Returning Pitchers: Eric Maust, Jr., rhp (6-3, 4.52, 69.2 IP/46 SO); Cole Johnson, So., rhp (2-2, 5.30, 35.2 IP/28 SO); Brian Dupra, So., rhp (3-3, 5.44, 46.1 IP/30 SO).
The Fighting Irish made six straight regionals from 1999 to 2006, with a trip to the 2002 College World Series, but Notre Dame is still looking for its first regional trip in the Dave Schrage era. Expect power-armed RHPs Evan Danieli and Brian Dupra to take major steps forward as sophomores, filling the Saturday starter and closer roles. The offense is built around preseason All-America OF A.J. Pollock, MVP of the Cape Cod League last summer. He's not the only elite athlete on the field for the Irish: 1B Evan Sharpley appeared in thee games as a backup quarterback for the football team last fall, while OF Golden Tate racked up 1,080 yards and 10 touchdowns as a wide receiver. Matt Scioscia, the son of Angels manager Mike, has strong catch-and-throw skills behind the plate, enhancing a defense that ranked 21st in the nation with a .972 fielding percentage a year ago.

BIG TEN

Michigan Wolverines
Coach: Rich Maloney (237-126 record at school)
Last Big Ten Title: 2008.
Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 2008
School Record, Wins In A Season: 50 (1989).
2008 Record: 46-14
Top Returning Hitters (AVG/OBP/SLG): Kevin Cislo, 2b (.348/.456/.416), Kenny Fellows, lf (.333/.455/.361), Mike Dufek, 1b (.321/.356/.459).
Top Returning Pitchers (W-L, ERA, IP/SO): Chris Fetter, rhp (10-2, 2.47, 94.2/82), Eric Katzman, lhp (2-1, 3.52, 38.1/33), Travis Smith, rhp (5-1, 4.40, 43/28).
Michigan has owned the Big Ten in recent years, capturing three straight Big Ten titles (2006-2008). To return to regionals, Michigan must overcome three major losses: RHP/DH Zach Putnam, the league pitcher of the year and a second-team All-American; 1B Nate Recknagel, the league player of the year; and SS Jason Christian, like Putnam a fifth-round pick. In their absence, two seniors will lead the Wolverines: RHP Chris Fetter, who led the Big Ten in ERA (2.47), innings pitched (94.2) and wins (10), and finished second in strikeouts (82); and 2B Kevin Cislo, a second-team all-league selection last season as an outfielder who will move to second base full time for 2009.

Ohio State Buckeyes
Coach: Bob Todd (831-435-2 record at school)
Last Big Ten Title: 2001.
Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 2007
School Record, Wins In A Season: 52 (1991).
2008 Record: 30-26
Top Returning Hitters (AVG/OBP/SLG): Justin Miller, 1b (.395/.437/.535), Michael Arp, dh (.367/.414/.443), Cory Kovanda, 2b (.324/.441/.368).
Top Returning Pitchers (W-L, ERA, IP/SO): Dean Wolosiansky, rhp (7-4, 4.22, 70.1/37), Eric Best, lhp (4-2, 4.29, 35.2/33), Andrew Armstrong, lhp (4-3, 4.42, 38.2/26).
The Buckeyes return seven starters in what should be a potent lineup. 1B Justin Miller finished sixth in the Big Ten in batting and has led the team in hitting the last two seasons. CF Michael Stephens, who hit .426 at Fullerton (Calif.) JC last year, should contribute significantly as well. Ohio State's key loss was LHP J.B. Shuck, a sixth-round draft pick (Astros). Despite losing Shuck, Ohio State returns a solid pitching staff that finished third in the Big Ten with a 4.99 ERA in 2008. The staff will be led by sophomore RHP Dean Wolosiansky, a second-team all-Big 10 choice as a freshman last year, when he finished in the top 10 in the league in both ERA (eighth) and wins (fifth).

Penn State Nittany Lions
Coach: Robbie Wine (106-120 record at school)
Last Big Ten Title: 1996.
Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 2000
School Record, Wins In A Season: 45 (2000).
2008 Record: 27-31
Top Returning Hitters (AVG/OBP/SLG): Rick Marlin, rf (.313/.417/.359), Cory Wine, 1b (.278/.326/.431), Ryan Boonie, lf (.295/.386/.369).
Top Returning Pitchers (W-L, ERA, IP/SO): Mike Wanamaker, rhp (6-5, 3.41, 87/59), T.J. Macy, rhp (4-2, 5.35, 35.1/22), Mike Lorentson, lhp (4-6, 5.48, 64/22).
Penn State has finished third in the Big Ten regular season in both 2007 and 2008. This year's Nittany Lions are going to need a lot of things to go their way in order to maintain that streak. Penn State lost its most dominant pitcher in righthander Drew O'Neil (11 saves, 1.88 ERA), a first-team all-league choice and fourth-round pick (White Sox). Penn State will attempt to replace its losses with a slew of junior-college transfers, led by SS Michael Glantz (Young Harris, Ga., JC), and CF Blake Lynd (Alvin, Texas, JC). The Nittany Lions hope transfer Drew Palen (Scottsdale, Ariz., JC) will step into the closer role in 2009, though holdover Scott Kelley emerged in the fall as a relief option as well. Previously an outfielder, Kelly hit four homers a year ago but will focus exclusively on pitching in 2009 after showing a power arm.

Purdue Boilermakers
Coach: Doug Schreiber (285-278 record at school)
Last Big Ten Title: 1909.
Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 1987
School Record, Wins In A Season: 37 (1986).
2008 Record: 32-26
Top Returning Hitters (AVG/OBP/SLG): Dan Black, 3b (.320/.444/.675), Jonathan Lilly, rf (.425/.480/.529), Brandon Haveman, lf (.379/.453/.525).
Top Returning Pitchers (W-L, ERA, IP/SO): Matt Bischoff, rhp (6-3, 3.96, 77.1/55), Kevin Cahill, rhp (3-0, 4.28, 27.1/22), Kyle Cook, lhp (5-3, 4.65, 50.1/22).
The Boilermakers last won a Big Ten title about the same time the Cubs won a World Series, in 1909. Purdue has managed to finish in the top five of the Big Ten four times since 2000, and second in 2008. However, Purdue lost its closer in RHP Josh Lindblom, a second-round pick in 2008 (Dodgers), while top hitter 1B Ryne White went in the fourth round (Diamondbacks). However, the pitching staff returns experience, led by junior RHP Matt Bischoff, an all-league selection a year ago and the Big Ten freshman of the year in 2007. Bischoff anchors a staff that finished second in the Big Ten in ERA at 4.54. The top returning hitter, 3B Dan Black, was drafted in the 35th round by the Giants but did not sign. Black finished second in the Big Ten with 18 home runs. He's a switch-hitter with power from both sides of the plate and could do some catching in addition to playing the hot corner.

Iowa Hawkeyes
Coach: Jack Dahm (124-153 record at school)
Last Big Ten Title: 1990.
Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 1990
School Record, Wins In A Season: 44 (1981).
2008 Record: 22-33
Top Returning Hitters (AVG/OBP/SLG): Justin Toole, ss (.395/.458/.500), Kevin Hoef, 3b (.357/.460/.490), Wes Freie, dh/rhp (.342/.414/.500).
Top Returning Pitchers (W-L, ERA, IP/SO): Michael Jacobs, lhp (3-5, 6.63, 55/18), Steve Turnbull, rhp (3-5, 7.30, 40/31), Mike Schurz, rhp (2007: 6-1, 3.72, 29/35).
The Hawkeyes have finished higher than seventh in the league three times since 1995. This season's Hawkeyes return five of their top hitters from a 2008 team that scored 384 runs, good for fourth in the Big 10. Iowa returns its two top hitters, SS Justin Toole and 3B Kevin Hoef. A senior, Hoef was a 48th-round draft pick of the Red Sox in 2008 and didn't sign. Toole, the top returning hitter, stole 24 of Iowa's league-high 138 bases last season. Iowa had a team ERA of 6.63 in 2008, and finished ninth in the Big 10. The Hawkeyes will look to seniors to anchor the staff, including DH/RHP Wes Freie, who hasn't pitched since 2006 due to a dead arm but who flashed average velocity and a good curveball in fall practice. Sophomore RHP Zach Kenyon, an unsigned ninth-round pick in 2007 (Royals) out of high school, must improve on last year's 1-3, 7.52 showing.

Michigan State Spartans
Coach: Jake Boss (0-0 record at school)
Last Big Ten Title: 1979.
Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 1979
School Record, Wins In A Season: 44 (1988).
2008 Record: 24-29
Top Returning Hitters (AVG/OBP/SLG): Chris Roberts, 3b (.363/.433/.503), Eric Roof, c (.308/.404/.423), Jeff Holm, 1b (.385/.439/.385).
Top Returning Pitchers (W-L, ERA, IP/SO): Kurt Wunderlich, rhp (3-2, 5.67, 27/22), A.J. Achter, rhp (1-3, 5.88, 33.2/17), Nolan Moody, rhp (2-4, 5.88, 26/21).
The Spartans have not finished higher than sixth in the conference since 2004 and have a new head coach in Jake Boss, formerly of Eastern Michigan. He replaces David Grewe, who became an assistant coach at Louisiana State. The best returning player in East Lansing will be junior 3B Chris Roberts, the team's best pure hitter and a team leader. He moves back to the infield after spending time in left field the last two seasons. Following a strong fall, freshman RHP Tony Bucciferro won a rotation spot and should provide depth to a staff that finished fourth in the Big Ten in ERA last season at 5.84. The Spartans also return senior C Eric Roof, who was taken in the 46th round by the Tigers, but chose to return to school. Roof's brother Jonathan, a sophomore, will start at shortstop for the Spartans.

Indiana Hoosiers
Coach: Tracy Smith (72-99 record at school)
Last Big Ten Title: 1996.
Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 1996.
School Record, Wins In A Season: 57 (1985).
2008 Record: 31-30
Top Returning Hitters (AVG/OBP/SLG): Josh Phegley, c (.438/.507/.746), Jerrud Sabourin, 1b, (.383/.418/.517), Chris Hervey, rf (.373/.463/.466).
Top Returning Pitchers (W-L, ERA, IP/SO): Matt Bashore, lhp (7-3, 3.59, 82.2/86), Eric Arnett, rhp (4-5, 5.45, 66/37), Matt Carr, rhp (3-1, 3.12, 26/12).
The Hoosiers finished sixth in the conference in 2008. Indiana has finished last in the Big Ten four times in the last five years. This year's team has expectations, however, and is BA's pick to win the league. Junior C Josh Phegley enters 2009 ranked No. 32 prospect among college draft prospects after leading the league in batting and ranking second nationally; he also led the Big Ten in RBIs. Indiana led the Big Ten in batting average at .339. Sophomore OF Kipp Schutz (.317/.394/.482) will chip in after spending the winter as a reserve on the Indiana basketball team. LHP Matt Bashore, the No. 45 prospect, led the league in strikeouts in 2008 using a low-90s fastball and plus breaking ball. Top recruit LHP Blake Monar, an unsigned 26th-round pick (Yankees, is expected to win a spot in the weekend rotation.

Northwestern Wildcats
Coach: Paul Stevens (539-609-5 record at school)
Last Big Ten Title: 1957.
Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 1957
School Record, Wins In A Season: 44 (1984).
2008 Record: 21-28.
Top Returning Hitters (AVG/OBP/SLG): Jake Goebbert, lf (.353/.458/.665), Chris Lashmet, 3b (.299/.349/.443), Tony Vercelli, rf (.256/.343/.489).
Top Returning Pitchers (W-L, ERA, IP/SO): Eric Jokisch, lhp (8-2, 4.17, 73.1/42), Matt Havey, rhp (3-2, 4.47, 48.1/36), Cole Livermore, rhp (2007: 2-9, 6.45, 67/36).
Northwestern is going to be one of the youngest teams in the Big 10. The Wildcats will have a minimum of six freshmen play a significant role in 2009. They do return one of the top hitters in the Big Ten in OF Jake Goebbert, who finished fourth in the Big Ten in slugging in 2008 at .665. The likely starter at second base is freshman Trevor Stevens, son of coach Paul Stevens. Junior C Chad Noble follows in the footsteps of Wildcats alum Joe Girardi as a defense-first catcher and has raw power. The pitching staff will be led by LHP Eric Jokisch, last year's league freshman of the year, who ranked 10th in the league in ERA and third in wins. The Wildcats hope for similar freshman seasons by RHPs Francis Brooke and Zach Morton.

Minnesota Golden Gophers
Coach: John Anderson (964-626 record at school)
Last Big Ten Title: 2004.
Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 2007.
School Record, Wins In A Season: 46 (1999).
2008 Record: 20-35.
Top Returning Hitters (AVG/OBP/SLG): Eric Decker, lf (.329/.439/.478), Matt Nohelty, cf (.397/.437/.473), Derek McCallum, 2b (.291/.352/.398).
Top Returning Pitchers (W-L, ERA, IP/SO): Seth Rosin, rhp (1-1, 4.34, 47.2/32), Scott Matyas, rhp (3-4, 4.45, 32.1/33), Tom Buske, rhp (4-6, 4.92, 75/50).
Minnesota is coming off its first losing season in coach John Anderson's 27-year tenure. Minnesota will start eight underclassmen on offense. OF Eric Decker, who is also an all-Big 10 selection as a wide receiver in football, keys the offense along with OF Matt Nohelty, a fifth-year senior who turned down the hometown Twins as an 18th-round pick last year. The pitching staff will look to a pair of sophomores to lead the way. RHP Seth Rosin takes over the Friday starter role, while RHP Scott Matyas will close following a seven-saves summer in the Northwoods League.

Illinois Fighting Illini
Coach: Dan Hartleb (91-81 record at school)
Last Big Ten Title: 2005.
Last NCAA Tournament Appearance: 2000.
School Record, Wins In A Season: 49 (1982).
2008 Record: 31-25.
Top Returning Hitters (AVG/OBP/SLG): Dominic Altobelli, 3b (.329/.403/.486), Joe Bonadonna, 2b (.356/.438/.439), Brandon Wikoff, ss (.369/.407/.458).
Top Returning Pitchers (W-L, ERA, IP/SO): Ben Reeser, rhp (3-2, 4.04, 35.2/26), Kevin Manson, rhp (8-2, 5.42, 74.2/41), Phil Haig, lhp (2-3, 6.19, 36.1/19).
Illinois won the Big Ten in 2005 and has finished above .500 the last two seasons. However, Illinois lost its top two hitters in OF Kyle Hudson (.398/ 40 SB), a fourth-round pick last year (Orioles), and OF Daniel Webb (.391/ 46 RBI). The Illini's top returning hitter is SS Brandon Wikoff . Jr. C Aaron Johnson (.306/.379/.459), a solid defender, helps make the team strong up the middle. The pitching staff returns its top weekend starter in 6-foot-8 RHP Kevin Manson. Illinois will ask incoming freshman RHP Bryan Roberts to take over the Friday starter role this season.

BIG STARS, BIG ARMS

The Big East has its share of offensive stars in 2009. This trio of outfielders should battle each other for the league's hitting title.

Brian Kemp, of, St. John's

One of the premier athletes in the Big East, Kemp is a well-above-average runner and an exceptional defender in center field, though he doesn't have a ton of arm strength. He also handles the bat very well—he hit .348 as a freshman and .360 as a sophomore, and he's more than held his own with a wood bat in the New England Collegiate and Cape Cod leagues over the last two summers. In 2007, he ranked as the No. 10 prospect in a loaded NECBL crop.

A.J. Pollock, of, Notre Dame

Pollock also made a name for himself in the summer of 2007, ranking as the No. 3 prospect on the same NECBL list where Kemp ranked 10th. He followed it up by winning MVP honors in the prestigious Cape Cod League in 2008, ranking as the No. 7 prospect in that league. A former infielder, Pollock has average speed in center field, but his instincts make it play up. Pollock stands out most for his simple offensive approach, compact swing and bat speed—a package that makes him the best pure hitter in the Big East. His .361 career batting average for the Irish reinforces his rare hitting ability.

Ryan Lockwood, of, South Florida

Like Pollock, Lockwood was born to hit. Not only did he bat .415/.493/.513 to earn first-team freshman All-America honors in 2008, but he also hit a Big East-best .454 in conference games. For about a two-month stretch in 2008, opponents could barely get Lockwood out. On March 19, he launched a hitting streak that reached 30 games before he broke his hand on May 10, ending his season and putting the streak on hold. It's scary to think what kind of numbers Lockwood (who took a medical redshirt as a freshman at Florida in 2007 before transferring to USF) could put up if he can stay healthy for a full season.

BIG ARMS
Hits will be hard to come by on Friday nights in the Big Ten. Here are three power arms vying for pitcher of the year honors.

Matt Bashore, lhp, Indiana

No pitcher in the Big Ten has a higher ceiling than Bashore, who cracked the top 30 prospects list in the Cape Cod League last summer after going 2-2, 3.15 with 32 strikeouts and nine walks in 20 innings for Wareham. If he pounds the strike zone this spring like he did last summer, he could be destined for All-America honors, because he has terrific stuff from the left side. Bashore works in the low 90s with his fastball and touches 94, and he flashes an excellent curveball and decent changeup.

Chris Fetter, rhp, Michigan

The towering Fetter is the preseason favorite for Big Ten pitcher of the year honors. As a junior in 2008, he led the conference in wins (10) and ERA (2.47). He finished four strikeouts shy of league leader Bashore, preventing him from taking the league's pitching triple crown. The 6-foot-8 Fetter pitches downhill with a fastball that can reach 91 mph, but he's had some trouble maintaining his velocity in the past. He added strength in the offseason and could see his draft stock jump. Fetter also has good feel for a slider and changeup, and he gives hitters fits by working from two different arm slots. Most importantly, he's a fierce competitor.

Eric Jokisch, lhp, Northwestern

Jokisch captured Big Ten freshman of the year honors in 2008, becoming the first true freshman in conference history ever to win seven conference games. In his final start of the year, Jokisch twirled a complete-game shutout against Michigan's powerful offense, the only time the Wolverines were shut out all season. The 6-foot-3, 175-pounder relies on his exceptional changeup and lively two-seam fastball, and he has very good feel for pitching, though he needs to improve the 42-39 strikeout-walk ratio he posted in 73 innings as a freshman.