Indiana at Nebraska Preview
What: Indiana Hoosiers (31-18, 15-6) at Nebraska Cornhuskers (34-18, 13-8)
Where: Hawks Field at Haymarket Park; Lincoln, Nebraska
When: Thursday, 7:35 p.m.; Friday, 7:35 p.m.; Saturday, 2:00 p.m. (BTN)
I could think of about 41 states where it would be better to spend 10+ days than Nebraska. But Chris Lemonis must be hoping that his team will be doing exactly that. The club finishes its season with a three-game series at Nebraska that starts today. Then the must-win Big Ten Tournament begins on Wednesday at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, concluding ten days from now on May 29.
The series with Nebraska ultimately will not matter in Indiana's push for an NCAA berth. Sitting 93rd in the RPI, a sweep of the Chicago Cubs wouldn't be enough to get them an at-large bid. And 4.0 games ahead of 9th-place in the Big Ten standings, three games going the other way won't knock them out of the Big Ten Tournament.
Nonetheless, the weekend presents a great opportunity to get back on track after a meltdown Tuesday night in Louisville, to get into position for an easier path to a Big Ten title, and to get acquainted with one of the handful of challengers for that title.
The clubs are just two of three teams (Ohio State) to qualify for each of the Big Ten Tournaments since Nebraska joined the conference. And this year is no different as Nebraska has already locked up a spot as well. They've done so in large part thanks to the bat of Scott Schreiber, the hottest hitter in the Big Ten, and perhaps the entire country. Schreiber is hitting .316 with 15 homers and 52 RBIs this season. Tuesday night against Creighton in Omaha, he went 5-for-6 with two home runs. He's hit four in his last 10 at-bats, in which he's had nine hits.
With two other sluggers hitting above .300 and another at .299, Nebraska's offense has been able to score 6.0 runs per game this season.
Pitching has been a different story, though, for Darin Erstad's team. Although the bullpen has been good for the Huskers (two relievers with at least 23 appearances and an ERA under 1.65 and another with an ERA under 2.50), the starters have been, well, it's hard to say.
Jakes Meyers, a lefty who has played in all 52 games (most in the outfield), recently became a starter for Erstad to help fix the bleeding. In his seven starts, he has a 1.63 ERA and is 5-1 (going just 38.2 IP in those seven starts though). He replaced Jake McSteen in the rotation who still sports a 4.56 ERA after seven bullpen appearances have been added to his seven starts.
The other starters, Matt Waldron and Derek Burkamper, have a 6-2 and 5-2 record, respectively. But all-in-all, the staff has not been as good as their 34-18 record, sporting a 4.04 ERA across the board and allowing 4.6 runs per game. But the offense has picked them up all season, like in a series with Purdue where, despite giving up five, six, and eight runs, the Huskers swept the Boilers with 9-5, 11-6, and 9-8 wins.
But there does seem to be a recipe to beating this Nebraska team. The Huskers are just 2-11 on the season when they score three runs or less. Indiana is 21-4 this season when they hold opponents to three runs or less. And with Kyle Hart, Caleb Baragar, and Evan Bell coming off the best weekend they've put together as a group all season, there's no reason to think that the Hoosiers don't have a chance to slow down the Huskers' red hot offense.
Big Ten Tournament Outlook
Coming into the final weekend of play, four teams have a chance to win the Big Ten's regular season championship and earn the top seed in the Big Ten Tournament. Minnesota sits at 15-5 and in the driver's seat, leading the Hoosiers by 0.5 game (Minnesota had a rainout at Michigan in April). Ohio State and Nebraska are tied for third at 13-8. And like Nebraska with Indiana, Ohio State will get a crack at one of the teams in front of them in the Gophers.
So much is still to be decided this weekend with no team locked in to any seed, and still 11 teams, including 8-13 Rutgers, who could qualify for the tournament depending on this weekend's results.
Just as an example of the drama we'll see in the Big Ten this weekend, Minnesota could be anything between the one and four seed. Indiana could be the one seed or the five and everything in between. Maryland could move as high as the three seed or could fail to qualify for the tournament altogether. Michigan could be the two or not qualify. Michigan State could be the four seed or not qualify.
Only Northwestern (5-16) and Purdue (2-22) have been eliminated. And thankfully, on this weekend where the results of every series matter, Purdue gets its bye week in the Big Ten and will be playing Tiddlywinks with Cal State Northridge and nowhere near any ballpark where postseason hopes can be affected.
Anyway, here's the schedule with the seeds as they stand today:
2. Indiana (15-6) at T-3. Nebraska (13-8)
T-9. Iowa (10-11) at T-7. Penn State (11-10)
T-7. Maryland (11-10) at 6. Michigan State (12-9)
5. Michigan (12-8) at T-9. Illinois (10-11)
Northwestern (5-16) at 11. Rutgers (8-13)
T-3. Ohio State (13-8) at 1. Minnesota (15-5)
Final Week Prediction
Here's a shot-in-the-dark prediction of how the tournament seeds will look when this weekend ends:
1. Minnesota (17-6)
2. Indiana (16-8)
3. Michigan (15-8)
4. Nebraska (15-9)
5. Ohio State (14-10)
6. Maryland (13-11)
7. Michigan State (13-11)
8. Iowa (12-12)
9. Penn State (12-12) 10. Rutger (11-13) 11. Illinois (10-14) 12. Northwestern (5-19) 13. Purdue (2-22)