Crimson Quarry: The Buckeyes started 12-3 in Big Ten play, but have lost five of their last six (swept by Illinois and dropping two of three to Maryland, both at home). Was the fast start due to playing Rutgers, Penn State, and Northwestern? Were the last two weekends just a matter of Illinois being the class of the conference and catching Maryland at a bad time after they were swept a week earlier? Which team is the real Ohio State?
Land-Grant Holy Land: Ohio State's conference schedule was definitely back-loaded this season. That said, you play who is on the schedule, and the Buckeyes handled business early, not losing a series in Big Ten play until Illinois. The troubling thing of losing the last five of six in conference has been the starting pitching, which prior to the sweep by the Illini was in the top ten in the country in ERA. In the six games against Illinois and Maryland, the starters allowed 41 runs, 39 of which were earned.
CQ: Ohio State is still ranked 24th in the RPI (as of Tuesday afternoon). How damaging would a series loss or sweep to Indiana be for the Buckeyes when it comes to an NCAA berth or seeding?
LGHL: A couple of weeks ago, there was talk about Ohio State potentially hosting a regional, and now they've moved a lot closer to the bubble. Right now, I'd say their body of work still has them firmly in the NCAA tournament. A series loss or sweep to the Hoosiers, who sit 51st in the RPI, would add some pressure for the team to make a significant showing in the Big Ten tournament to solidify its postseason chances.
CQ: Indiana’s pitching has been fantastic or terrible with no real in between, and it can change from game to game. The IU starters rarely last more than five innings. What kind of offense does Ohio State have and will they present problems for a Hoosier squad that relies heavily on its bullpen?
LGHL: The Buckeyes are built on speed. This is a team that will play small ball, going gap-to-gap, stealing bases, and sacrificing runners over to keep pressure on the defense. A few guys in the lineup (Pat Porter, Ronnie Dawson, and Troy Kuhn) have home run pop, but for the most part, Ohio State manufactures runs. A key for Indiana will be keeping leadoff man Troy Montgomery off the bases. He leads the Big Ten in stolen bases, and is really the catalyst for everything the Buckeyes do offensively.
CQ: IU’s offense is dependent upon timely hitting. They don’t have much power and they don’t have much speed. A lot of their wins, especially recently, have depended on late rallies and a stout bullpen. How does the Ohio State rotation stack up and is the bullpen susceptible to allowing late runs?
LHGL: As I mentioned, the starters have struggled the past two weekends. The bullpen had been on a hot streak up until last weekend. Prior to the Terps scoring 18 runs on the relievers, Ohio State's pen had allowed just one earned run in 11 games. The hope is that the Maryland series was an aberration for the relief corps and they'll get back to closing the door late in games.
CQ: What’s going to happen this weekend?
LGHL: Recent history says the Hoosiers should fare well, as they've won six of seven against the Buckeyes the past two seasons. Both teams really need this series, so I expect it to be hard-fought. If Ohio State is to take the next step in the evolution of the program, it has to get past the Indiana hurdle, even if the team isn't as strong as in years past.
CG: Thanks, Ben!
You can check out our answers to their questions at landgrantholyland.com. Look out tomorrow for our full series preview, analysis of where IU stands in the NCAA tournament hunt, and all things #iubase.