Just like in their opening contest against Iowa on Wednesday, Thursday’s elimination game saw almost nothing go right for the Indiana Hoosiers, who saw their tournament title hopes waste away in a 9-4 loss to four-seed Minnesota.
An early defensive blunder by Grant Richardson put Indiana behind the eight ball and despite taking a short-lived 3-2 lead in the 4th inning, the Hoosiers were never able to recover from porous pitching and defense and a stunningly quiet offense.
Disclaimer: None of the three things will be about this game in particular. Sorry.
1. Pitiful postseason play
With the losses to Iowa and Minnesota, Indiana is now 2-8 in their last 10 Big Ten Tournament games and hasn’t even played in the league’s semifinals on Saturday since 2015. It’s tempting to blame the lack of success on TD Ameritrade Park, which sees home runs about as often as Indiana football plays in the Rose Bowl, but Indiana’s struggles in the postseason go beyond Omaha.
Don’t forget that Indiana hosted the Big Ten Tournament on its own field in 2016 and that 11-19 record includes regionals played in Bloomington and at Vanderbilt, Kentucky, and Texas.
In 2014, the Hoosiers won the Big Ten Tournament. Since then, Indiana is 11-19 in 30 postseason games and has played in exactly two games where an Indiana win would have captured a title — both losses against Stanford in the 2014 NCAA Regional at Bart Kaufman Field.
2. Next week will almost certainly be better
All that said, TD Ameritrade is a big part of Indiana’s problem. The club led the NCAA in home runs this season (90) and didn’t have a single ball threaten to leave the park in 18 innings this week. It was visible to the naked, untrained eye that the Indiana offense was pressing and trying to create action, and it’s not far-fetched to think that the club probably knew they would have to play a different kind of game than they’ve played all season to score runs in this tournament. That puts pressure on the pitching as well, and it showed.
But Indiana’s season isn’t over. The Hoosiers will get an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and won’t be playing in Omaha next week. The offense will find a groove, the pitching staff will know the bats are going to show up, and Indiana will be a threat to win whatever regional they draw. In fact, if Indiana falls to the 3-seed line, there will be a 1-seed somewhere not at all happy about the fact that they have such a high-quality club with that kind of offensive firepower coming into their regional as a 3-seed rather than a 2-seed. Essentially, the 1-seed that draws Indiana will have to go through two 2-seeds.
3. The Big Ten has a scheduling problem
Indiana would not have won the Big Ten Tournament this week if the regular season schedule was any different. However, things might have played out differently.
Every season, the unbalanced regular season schedule results in jumbled standings that don’t accurately reflect the quality of its clubs. There are years — like last season with Minnesota and this season with Indiana — where the league’s best team wins the regular season title, but the other seeds are the issue.
Iowa was not the Big Ten’s eighth-best team this season. Michigan was not the Big Ten’s second-best team this season. The five teams between them probably weren’t placed in the right spots either.
It wouldn’t be easy to fix the problem:
With 13 northern baseball teams, cold weather certainly hurts the ability to play a round-robin and even if the schools were in better locales, 36 conference games would be a lot. But the Pac-12 forgoes a conference tournament altogether and their teams play 30 conference games. The ACC plays 30 and still holds a conference tournament.
One (probably bad) idea would be to play two two-game series every weekend — either Thursday through Sunday or a doubleheader on one day. Each team would still play 24 league games at that point, leaving the better programs (read: Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, and Nebraska) free to schedule a number of quality non-conference opponents on a weekend if they so choose. Traveling would be a logistical nightmare, though, and I have no idea how you would work around that.
But when the five-, six-, seven-, and eight-seeds all win their opening round games, it signals that the seeding process hasn’t accurately placed each team on the correct line.
Since the tournament expanded to eight teams in 2014, the finals have pitted the following seeds against each other:
2014 - 1 vs 2
2015 - 3 vs 4
2016 - 4 vs 8
2017 - 5 vs 7
2018 - 1 vs 2
And now with the Hoosiers eliminated after two games, the No. 1 seed has gone 0-2 in three of the six Big Ten Tournaments since the change in format.
Bottom line? The seeding is not an accurate reflection of the best eight teams, or their qualities in relation to each other, and the league and its teams deserve better.