BLOOMINGTON -- Tracy Smith is no fool. He isn't going to blow a potential NCAA baseball tourney title run by wearing out his best Indiana pitchers in this week's Big Ten tournament.
Does that mean the Hoosier coach will accept early elimination this week for better prospects in future weeks?
“When you're in a do-or-die situation, you will extend your pitching staff a lot more,” Smith says. “You'll bring your starters back on short rest. We will not do that. It's not in our best interest.”
Consider the Hoosiers are 40-13, are ranked in the top 20 in all the national polls and are the No. 1 seed in the conference tourney, which begins Wednesday in Minneapolis. That means you won't see Smith joining other IU coaches tonight in Fort Wayne for the annual Tailgate tour stop at Ceruti's.
IU is coming off its first outright Big Ten title since 1932, when Herbert Hoover was the president and the Great Depression was in full force. It is a lock for an at-large NCAA tourney bid no matter what happens in Minneapolis. It almost certainly will get a chance to host an NCAA regional.
Making history with an outright championship, Smith says, makes a special season even better.
“It is very significant. It didn't dawn on me until we had fun with it on Twitter, tweeting all the things that have changed since 1932. That's been a long time. We hope it won't be a long time again before we get the next one. We want to build on this and make it more consistent.”
The Hoosiers have a goal of reaching the College World Series. They want to make sure they're at full strength when it really matters.
“Look at the SEC and the ACC,” Smith says. “It's not unusually for top teams to make quick exits in their conference tournaments because they're saving their pitchers.
“I'm not saying we'll do that, but we will not bring our pitchers back on short rest. We won't extend pitch counts. We'll be very mindful of our season extending beyond the Big Ten Tournament.”
IU's best pitchers are Aaron Slegers, Joey DeNato and Kyle Hart. They have thrown the most innings and pitched in the biggest games.
Look for Slegers or DeNato to start the Hoosiers' conference tourney opening game Thursday. Slegers is 8-1 with a 1.98 earned run average. DeNato is 7-2 with a 2.63 ERA.
“We'll have both ready to go,” Smith says.
IU won the Big Ten by wining the final two games in the regular-season ending series at Ohio State. It wouldn't have happened, Smith says, with the outstanding play of senior shortstop Michael Basil, whose heroics earned him his first Big Ten player of the week award.
During the three games he went 5 for 10 with four doubles and five RBIs. In last Friday's extra-inning victory over the Buckeyes, he drove in one ninth-inning run with a double, stole third and scored to send the game into overtime, then had a perfect sacrifice bunt in the 10th inning to drive in the winning run.
During Saturday's victory, Basil hit two doubles, drove in two runs and scored two runs.
“It's a very deserving honor,” Smith says. “I don't know, and I've been a head coach for 17 years, if I've ever seen a performance from a kid who flat-out put a team on his back. The will and determination he showed. His actions and words during the game. If we didn't have Michael Basil, we would not be talking about an outright championship. That dude made it happen.”
Added Basil: “It turned into a do-or-die moment. Our No. 1 goal all season was to be Big Ten champs. We didn't want to share it.
“As far as the player of the week, I'm very excited about it. This was probably my last chance to get it. It felt good to do it the way I did.”
Basil and the Hoosiers hope their feel-good moment extends well into the summer.
“Our guys are going to be competitive and try to win every game,” Smith says. “That's something they want to do. The position we're in will work in our favor in terms of being relaxed. We'll play good baseball and see what happens.”
In Wednesday's opening-round games, No. 4 seed Minnesota plays No. 5 Illinois, and No. 3 seed Nebraska plays No. 6 seed Michigan. The Hoosiers will play the lowest seed of those two winners Thursday.
IU football signs another player
IU coach Kevin Wilson is set to be at Ceruti's tonight, and he'll be able to talk about his program's latest recruiting signing.
Nate Hoff, a 6-2, 320-pound lineman, has joined the Hoosiers out of the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Rhode Island.
He thrives as a defensive and offensive lineman. He also placed fifth in the Ohio state wrestling tourney while at Solon (Ohio) High School. He arrives with a solid strength-training background. He has bench-pressed 475 pounds and squatted 600 pounds.
Hoff had originally signed with the Naval Academy, but had to attend the prep school because his grades and test scores -- although good enough to qualify at nearly every college in the country -- weren't good enough for the Naval Academy.
This gives the Hoosiers 24 players in their incoming recruiting class.
Could IU get Pinson
IU will find out Wednesday whether Theo Pinson, a five-star small forward in the Class of 2014, will commit to the Hoosiers.
The 6-5 Pinson, who is from North Carolina, is ranked No. 15 overall in the class by Rivals.com, a national Internet recruiting service. He is set to choose among Indiana, Duke, Louisville, North Carolina and Georgetown. His only official visit was to IU during this past season.
Pinson couldn't officially sign until November.