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Hoosiers drop pair at Illinois, fall in standings

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Even after the midweek duds the Hoosiers had with Indiana State and Evansville, there was plenty to play for this weekend. The sweep of Rutgers had put Indiana within a game of 6th place and qualifying for the Big Ten Tournament. But after an 0-2 weekend in Champaign, the club finds itself in its biggest hole yet.

Big Ten Conference

Friday night, Indiana jumped out to a 1-0 lead over Illinois in the top of the first and Caleb Baragar took the mound in the biggest start of his career. But this start would end like so many of Indiana's have over the past month -- with a starter failing to get the game to the 6th inning. Baragar only allowed two earned runs but gave up five total on eight hits. And the Indiana offense went dormant as it so often has, failing to score in any of the final eight innings.

Saturday's first inning saw two Hoosier runs, giving Jake Kelzer a lead as he walked out to the hill. But Kelzer allowed four Illini runs in the bottom half and that was all she wrote. IU tacked on one more in the 5th, but then gave up 2 more in the bottom of that inning. That was all the scoring in a 6-3 loss.

Mercifully, Sunday was rained out.

After the Rutgers series, Indiana was one game out of 6th in the Big Ten standings and looked prime to make a run at not only the conference tournament, but at sneaking into a regional.

But now, after four consecutive losses, including the two games dropped at Illinois, Indiana is a mere 21-15, 5-8 in the Big Ten, and 2.5 games out of 6th place. And the news gets worse: On the outside looking in at the top-6 right now? Nebraska, who finds itself in 7th place.

The danger to the Hoosiers is if Minnesota, currently in 8th at 6-9 sneaks into 6th, which isn't out of the question. (As a reminder, the top six teams in the Big Ten standings, and then the two remaining teams with the highest RPI rankings qualify for the conference tournament.)

4-20 Standings

Minnesota has a meeting set for the last weekend of the season with Michigan State, currently in 6th. If Minnesota were to get in, and Nebraska and Michigan State finish in 7th and 8th, or vice versa, Indiana has no chance, unless they do something stupid, like win out.

Why? RPI. Here are the current RPI rankings:

Nebraska: 23

Michigan State: 41

Indiana: 77

Minnesota: 130

So, here are some questions you might be asking yourself along with answers:

What should I be rooting for? Indiana to win, obviously. It's not out of the question that Indiana get into the Top-6, but it will probably require six or seven wins in the last nine Big Ten games (Michigan State, Maryland, Ohio State). In addition to that, root for everyone playing against Minnesota. Look at those RPIs again. If Minnesota gets in, IU is done.

Does it really matter at this point if they get in or not? Maybe. The truth of the matter is that if Indiana plays in the Big Ten Tournament the way they've played the last months, it'll be waste of University resources to make the trip. But, in arguendo, let's assume that the pitching from February and early March returns. Now find me a team that wants to play in a double elimination setting that includes that team. There are enough arms with enough talent to win several games in the short term. The depth is there. So, it might matter.

Will they turn it around? No. Sorry to get your hopes up in the answer to the last question. But it has become obvious that this team just doesn't have "it." In typical Indiana athletics fashion, they'll probably tease you and toy with your emotions. They'll probably slip into the Big Ten Tournament, due more to the incompetence of Minnesota than the achievements of this club. And they may win a game there and look like the Hoosiers of early March. And then they won't.

There has not been a single contest over the past month that suggests you should have any hope that this team will get itself fixed. So don't.