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Indiana baseball takes big step forward, has work left to do

The Hoosiers have had two big weekends in a row. But there’s plenty more that needs to be done.

Alex Robbins

Despite a dud performance in one game against both Minnesota and Michigan, the Indiana Hoosiers have been impressive the last two weekends and have grabbed two big series wins and made big waves in the Big Ten and national baseball landscapes.

But at 21-16-2, and 8-6-1 in the Big Ten (6th place), there is plenty of work to be done if the Hoosiers will secure a place in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments.

Big Ten Race

The Big Ten is in the hands of the Maryland Terrapins. Having won seven straight games and sitting at 12-3 in conference play, the Terps are 2.5 games clear of second-place Minnesota (8-4) and have just one potentially tough series remaining, that being this weekend at Indiana. After that, Maryland will play at Illinois and host Northwestern to finish their conference slate.

That all but certainly leaves Maryland out of Indiana’s reach. Even if the Hoosiers were to sweep Maryland this coming weekend (which is highly unlikely), they would still be 0.5 game back in the standings due to their tie with Nebraska. To surpass Maryland in the standings, Indiana would likely have to win its last nine conference games, which if they sweep the Terps wouldn’t be out of the question given that their last six are against bottom feeders Penn State and Ohio State. Still, though, start thinking two through five.

Why such a big range? The other four teams ahead of the Hoosiers have already played them. The control is out of Indiana’s hands.

Team Overall Record B1G Record

B1G Opp. Remaining

1 Maryland 28-11 12-3 IU, ILL, NW
2 Minnesota 23-12 8-4 ILL, PSU, PU
3 Nebraska 23-15-1 7-4-1 OSU, RU, MSU, PSU
4 Purdue 22-18 9-6 NW, MICH, MINN
5 Michigan 31-9 7-5 RU, OSU, PU, MSU
6 Indiana 21-16-2 8-6-1 MD, PSU, OSU
7 Iowa 23-15 6-6 PSU, MSU, OSU, ILL
8 Rutgers 15-22 4-5 MICH, NEB, ILL, NW
9 Michigan State 20-16 5-7 NW, NEB, IOWA, MICH
10 Northwestern 16-23 5-7 MSU, PU, MD, NEB
11 Ohio State 16-24 4-8 NEB, MICH, IOWA, IU
12 Illinois 15-2 3-9 MINN, MD, RUT, IOWA
13 Penn State 13-26 2-10 IOWA, MINN, IU, NEB

Nonetheless, two wins against Maryland and five of six against Penn State and Ohio State should be good enough to at least pass Purdue or Michigan (since they play each other and both sit just 0.5 game ahead of the Hoosiers. Minnesota and Purdue play each other the final weekend of the season, which means at least one of those teams has a minimum of two more losses coming. Purdue also plays Michigan. Nebraska has 12 Big Ten games remaining, but nine come against Rutgers, Penn State, and Ohio State, while the other three are against a struggling Michigan State team.

On the other end, the Hoosiers should be safe, as Rutgers, Michigan State, and Northwestern all have tough schedules remaining.

The Big Ten Tournament picture will become increasingly clear in each of the next four weeks, but as of now, here are the Crimson Quarry projections:

(1) Maryland vs. (8) Rutgers

Michigan State is clearly a better team than Rutgers. Both teams have tough schedules ahead of them, playing Nebraska and Michigan. They also both play Northwestern. The difference, on paper, is that Rutgers plays Illinois and Michigan State plays Iowa. Right now, maybe by just a game, it looks like Rutgers has a better and easier path to Bloomington. And if both teams go 6-6, Rutgers would get the nod on win percentage thanks to a cancelled series with Minnesota.

(4) Michigan vs. (5) Indiana

Indiana and Iowa will probably be neck-and-neck coming down the stretch. Iowa has been just as inconsistent as Indiana, winning two games against both Nebraska and Purdue, but losing two to each Northwestern and Rutgers. In the end, it is that the Hoosiers have less opportunities to implode that makes you think Indiana will finish ahead of the Hawkeyes.

(3) Nebraska vs. (6) Iowa

The Huskers have four Big Ten series left on the schedule and could conceivably win nine or 10 of the contests. It probably still isn't enough, though, to catch Minnesota, who, thanks to that cancelled series with Rutgers and win percentage, could stay out of Nebraska's reach with seven or eight wins of its own, despite the Huskers having taken the head-to-head series.

(2) Minnesota vs. (7) Purdue

So far, Purdue has had a great season, and there is no way they will miss the Big Ten Tournament. But with six games against Michigan and Minnesota, in addition to a series with Northwestern, the Boilers would be lucky to be above .500 in league play the rest of the way. For that reason, they will probably fall to right around .500 for the entire Big Ten campaign, a couple games behind Indiana and Iowa.

The bottom line for the Hoosiers, though, is that four or five wins will be sufficient to get into the Big Ten Tournament.

NCAA Tournament Picture

Thanks to the series wins against Minnesota and at Michigan, the Hoosiers will likely be projected as IN when releases their next Field of 64 projections.

But take notice of the word "bubble," which clearly indicates that the Hoosiers have plenty of work left to do to solidify their place in the NCAA Tournament.

Indiana currently sports the 11th ranked Strength of Schedule in the country, which should stay the same, despite the remaining series with Xavier (RPI: 109), Ohio State (RPI: 164), and Penn State (RPI: 203), thanks to the series with Maryland (RPI: 27) and games with Louisville (RPI: 6) and Kentucky (RPI: 5).

While the Big Ten games are critical for qualifying for the conference tournament and keeping hopes of the automatic bid alive, the two biggest games for the NCAA resumé are the contests with Louisville and Kentucky. The Hoosiers are 0-2 to date against teams in the Top 25 of the RPI (two losses to No. 1 Oregon State to open the season). Just one win against top-notch competition could do wonders for the Hoosiers.

Like the Big Ten race, it will become clearer where Indiana stands in the coming weeks, but suffice it to say that a series win against Maryland, a win over Kentucky or Louisville, and two more series wins (Xavier, Ohio State, Penn State) would give the Hoosiers a great chance to qualify without the automatic bid.