Saturday, February 07, 2009

2009 Preview: Indiana

Indiana Hoosiers
Head Coach: Tracy Smith
2008 Record: 28-28 (15-17, sixth in Big Ten)

At The Plate: The Hoosiers may have the most potent offense in the Big Ten. IU’s bats are led by C Josh Phegley. Last year, Phegley paced the conference in batting average (.438), hits (98), on base percentage (.507), runs batted in (80), total bases (167) and sacrifice flies (9). He was also second in runs scored and slugging percentage.

The junior backstop enters ‘09 as the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten Player of the Year award and first-team All-America selection. As good as Phegley is, he’s not a one-man wrecking crew.

In his freshman campaign, 1B Jerrud Sabourin walked right into the middle of IU’s lineup and didn’t disappoint. Sabourin hit .383 and finished in the top ten in batting average, hits, runs batted in and total bases. Sabourin’s fine first year garnered him some freshman All-America attention and he should contend for all-conference honors in '09.

3B Ethan Wilson hit .292 in only 106 at bats last year. 2B Tyler Rogers hit .316. The outfield features Kipp Schutz (.317 and 5th in the conference in doubles with 16), Evan Crawford (.335 with 18 steals; spent his summer in the Cape Cod League) and Chris Hervey (.373 with a .463 OBP, 18 steals and 20 HBP that led the Big 10).

The new additions are JUCO transfer Jake Dunning at shortstop and freshman DH Alex Dickerson.

On The Mound: While the Hoosiers’ bats are deserving of all the praise thrown their way, IU’s rotation could be very good as well. The group is led by junior LHP Matt Bashore. Bashore, like Crawford, spent his summer in the Cape Cod League after going 7-3 and leading the Big Ten in strikeouts (86). Like Phegley, Bashore was a first team All-Big Ten selection in 2008.

Eric Arnett will hold down one of the weekend spots, as well. Arnett went 4-5 last season with a 5.45 ERA. The final weekend slot will belong to freshman sensation Blake Monar. The lefty was drafted by the New York Yankees last year, but opted to pitch college ball.

The closer spot remains a bit up-in-the-air. Junior Chris Squires is in the mix, so, too, is Dunning. Finding a reliable finisher will be a priority for Coach Smith.

The Schedule: The 2009 slate could be a barrier for IU. There are some good opponents, but not enough opportunities against the kind of programs that will elevate their RPI (or impress the tournament committee). In the non-conference portion of their ’09 schedule, IU will see the likes of East Carolina, Georgia Southern, Kentucky and a home-and-home (albeit the games are weeks apart) against nationally ranked Louisville. Like much of the Big Ten, Indiana’s midweek opposition will feature a number of MAC programs.

In conference, the Hoosiers will have to travel to Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Purdue. Visiting Bloomington are Minnesota, Penn State, Northwestern and Michigan State.

Bottom Line: Like everyone else, IU has some concerns. The Hoosiers need to shore up an erratic defense. Indiana needs to find a reliable closer. There’s a schedule that isn’t going to impress the NCAA tournament committee. Finally, this team has precious little experience in playing (and winning) big games. In spite of this, expectations in Bloomington are high and they should be.

Featuring an array of quality hitters and a potentially solid weekend rotation, IU looks poised to contend for the Big Ten’s regular season and conference tournament titles and a NCAA Tournament spot. The job for Coach Smith is to turn all his squad's potential into production.