We touched on it on Monday in our weekly Hoosier Baseball Report, and really, there is no way around it — it has been a less than pleasant few weeks for the Indiana baseball program. After surging into the Top 10 in multiple national polls, IU can’t seem to get out of its own way.
After completing a 3-game sweep of Northwestern on April 15 by a combined score of 40-4, the Hoosiers appeared to be on top of the world. A few folks might have even purchased tickets for the College World Series at Omaha in June. The combination of a best-in-nation team ERA to go with what was at the time a top 20 team batting average made this team nearly impossible to contend with.
Indiana stood at 29-6 after that Northwestern series, marking one of their best starts in program history.
Fast forward three weeks, and now some are wondering if they will even need tickets for Omaha in May. Nebraska hosts the Big Ten tournament later this month, and only the top eight teams in the conference are invited. IU currently sits in 7th place.
Starting with a loss to Ohio State on April 21, Indiana has lost eight of its last ten games, watching their record drop to 31-14 overall. IU has suffered two four gaming losing streaks in the 10-game struggle. While baseball can be a funny game at times with dominant teams still only winning 70% of their games at best, bad stretches seem to be magnified with the relatively short college baseball season.
There is good news for Indiana, however. Despite their recent slump, they are still projected to be an NCAA tournament team. D1baseball.com has Indiana currently slated as a No. 3-seed in the 64 team field. Baseball America has IU as a No. 2 seed.
The NCAA baseball tournament assigns 16 teams each as 1, 2, 3, and 4 seeds, with each of the 16 No. 1 seeds hosting.
While certainly is not where IU wants to be, or where it thought it would be only a few weeks ago, for now it is good to see that their overall body of work is still holding up. And there is still plenty of time to reverse course.
Indiana has 7 regular season games remaining:
- at Nebraska for a 3-game series this weekend. The Huskers are ranked 109th in the RPI. This trip to the Cornhusker state is guaranteed.
- at Louisville next Monday. Louisville is ranked 36th in the RPI.
- vs. Maryland for a 3-game series starting next Thursday in Bloomington. Maryland is ranked 116th in the RPI.
(Indiana is currently ranked 29th in the RPI)
The good news is that the remaining Big Ten games are clearly winnable. These are series that Indiana will be expected to take and they will have a good opportunity to move up in the conference standings. The bad news is that both Nebraska and Maryland are teams that still have a shot to slip into the Big Ten tournament. They want what Indiana has, and they will have a chance to take it away.
Going back to the bigger picture here, Indiana still appears to be in good shape overall. Should they make the NCAA tournament, they’ll be a tough out no matter where they end up. Pitching is king in postseason baseball.
Indiana coach Chris Lemonis knows that this team has what it takes — it just has to start executing better and start winning close games again. He alluded to that after their most recent loss against Kentucky:
“We’ve played close ones all year long,” Lemonis said. “It’s time for us to push through the door and start playing good baseball.”
If Indiana can start playing good baseball and turn things around, they can solidify a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. With a prolonged hot streak down the stretch including a deep run in the Big Ten Tournament, getting back to a No. 1 seed likely still isn’t out of the question. They were just playing at that level three weeks ago.
First things first, though, IU needs to take care of business in Nebraska this weekend. That road trip could decide whether they get to come back to the Cornhusker state again this season.
You can follow us on Twitter: @daily_hoosier
Find us on Facebook: thedailyhoosier