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Do the Hoosiers face a must-win against Michigan?

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Indiana will face the Wolverines in an elimination game tomorrow morning at Bart Kaufman Field. But the game may have implications beyond this weekend.

The Indiana Hoosiers had a less-than-ideal start to the Big Ten Tournament that they are hosting this weekend. After jumping out to a 4-1 lead over the 3-seed Minnesota, a two-run home run, a tough call that wiped a run off the board, and a few base hits thrusted the Hoosiers into the loser’s bracket and onto the brink of elimination.

Though the first round loss was not surprising in the least (after all, the Hoosiers have lost the opening game of five of its eight Big Ten series this season, including the last two against lowly Penn State and Ohio State clubs, as well as the opener against Minnesota several weeks ago), it is troubling. There is the obvious problem that the team could see moving forward, that being that they could potentially find themselves in the same spot next weekend — the verge of elimination from the NCAA Tournament after playing just nine innings. But there is a more pressing issue: a loss tomorrow might keep them out of the NCAA Tournament.

After the series win against Maryland, it was tough to imagine Indiana missing the NCAA Tournament. But after losing one game each against Penn State and Ohio State, the Hoosiers needed a non-disastrous showing in the Big Ten Tournament to solidify their position.

Now, the Hoosiers will face a Top-25 team in Michigan and could potentially go 0-2 in their own ballpark. D1baseball.com recently stated about Michigan and Indiana that they are “locked in,” as they “are both in the 20s in RPI and have solid metrics.” But the logic behind this surely rested upon the assumption that both teams would win at least one game this weekend in Bloomington. Why wouldn’t it? They are, perhaps, the two best teams in the Big Ten (the RPI says they are). And even if you didn’t assume that Indiana would beat Minnesota, surely it would not have been unfair before today to assume that both teams could and would beat Northwestern.

But instead, the Big Ten’s two highest rated RPI teams are on the brink of elimination. After Wednesdays losses, neither will be in the Top-30 of the RPI. And while the RPI’s may be helped out by playing each other tomorrow, Indiana is not guaranteed anything if they find themselves eliminated early on Thursday afternoon.

Michigan would seem to have much more room for error. The Wolverines are 42-14 and 3-0 against teams in the Top-25 of the RPI and 5-4 against the Top-50. They also finished as the 2-seed in a power five conference. The Hoosiers, on the other hand, are just 32-20-2 after the loss today. They are 1-3 against the RPI Top-25 and 5-7-1 against the Top-50. To top it off, they finished sixth in the conference, and though they finished just 1.5 games out of second and 1.0 game out of third, that could be the difference if Indiana goes 0-2, the committee determines this is a four-bid league, and none of Michigan, Maryland, and Nebraska wins the Big Ten Tournament.

Now perhaps conference tournaments all across the land will be won by teams that are locks for at-large bids. Maybe Nebraska and Maryland will both win today and one of them will find themselves in the driver’s seat on Friday morning. But “perhaps” and “maybe” could all be washed away with one win tomorrow against Michigan.

It might not be a must-win for Indiana’s NCAA Tournament hopes, but it’s the closest thing without being such. With a win tomorrow, the Hoosiers can breathe easy and play loose the rest of the weekend. With a loss, they will spend Memorial Day weekend playing host to the rest of the league and waiting, tortuously, for Monday’s selections.