With their backs against the wall, the Buckeyes take on Nebraska at 4:35 ET, live on BTN. 35-22 on the season, Ohio State is squarely on the bubble to make the NCAA Tournament, entering the day with an RPI of 60 according to Boyd's World. Such an RPI places them at the mercy of the selection committee, a rating that in prior seasons have been a virtual cut-off point for inclusive in the field of 64.
Of course Ohio State still has an opportunity to remove all doubt to whether they will be playing a week from now by claiming the Big Ten's automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament in capturing the tournament title. In order to do so Ohio State will need to knock off the Cornhuskers then topple Baseball America's No. 12 Indiana twice, once this evening and again tomorrow as the Hoosiers have yet to lose in the double-elimination tournament.
IU and OSU have met four times over the last nine days, Indiana claiming the last three after a 2-1 Ohio State win last Thursday placed them one game away from claiming a Big Ten championship.
To extend the Big Ten Tournament to Sunday, Ohio State would not only need to buck their recent trend against the Hoosiers, but that of Big Ten teams in recent years. The Big Ten Tournament has not been stretch to a one-game winner-takes-all contest since 2006 when Michigan won four consecutive after dropping their opening match as the tournament's No. 1 seed, knocking off Minnesota twice to claim the title.
As faint as Ohio State's at-large hopes may be, the door has not slammed shut on that possibility.
The Buckeyes need the bubble to stay as big as possible, for teams that would not claim an at-large berth to not claim automatic bids, for favorites to serve court. Here is a quick look at which teams Buckeye Nation should be rooting for in respective conference tournaments, any other champion is not good for the Buckeyes.
Big XII: Either Oklahoma or Kansas State
Big East: Notre Dame
Colonial Athletic: William & Mary
Conference USA: Rice
Missouri Valley: Illinois State
Mountain West: New Mexico
Ohio Valley: Austin Peay
Southland: Central Arkansas
West Coast: San Diego
Notes on Nebraska
Unusual, a pair of pitchers that opened conference play as their team's ace are taking to the mound for the first time all week in an elimination Saturday game.
Ohio State junior right-handed pitcher Jaron Long has been the Buckeyes' No. 3 for a month now, moving from the front of the rotation to the back after a procedured removed a wart and the Buckeyes wanted to give him extra rest to ensure a full recovery. Nebraska sophomore right-handed pitcher, Christian DeLeon, has been held out of competition due to an elbow issue, one that Nebraska head coach Darin Erstad is confident he is over.
With Nebraska sending a right-handed pitcher on the mound, typically Greg Beals will load Ohio State's lineup with left-handed bats. This would likely see sophomore catcher Aaron Gretz replace senior Greg Solomon in the lineup. In prior weeks outfielder Mike Carroll would emerge as the team's DH, but due outfielder Pat Porter unable to swing a bat due to a hand/wrist injury, Carroll has stepped into the Ohio State lineup as the team's right fielder.
Freshman Zach Ratcliff should continue serving as OSU's DH, even though he is a right-handed bat. The newcomer has a pair of three-hit games over the last week, showing as solid of a plate approach as any Buckeye as over the final month.
All said, there isn't many options for Greg Beals to exercise when looking for help off the bench, to isolate matchups. Two of Ohio State's bats can't be used due to injury, Porter and second baseman Ryan Cypret. Two of the Buckeyes on the bench have yet to play this season, should be red-shirted, Matt Emge and Ryan Wonders. Solomon is available, as are freshmen Craig Nennig and Jacob Brobst, but Nennig is batting .125 in 48 at-bats, Brobst yet to collect a hit in nine at-bats.
Ohio State will have to hope Long performs at the level that made him a 2012 All-Big Ten First-team selection and not in the manner that saw Nebraska tag him for nine runs, seven earned off 13 hits in 4.1 innings. The Buckeyes have a rested bullpen, depth to carry the Buckeyes through if Long shows any signs of struggle.
The Buckeyes are 3-1 against the Cornhuskers this season, taking an April 12-14 series in Lincoln 2-1 and topping the Huskers 3-2 on Thursday. Ohio State seeks to eliminate Nebraska from the Big Ten tournament for the second consecutive season, the Bucks did so with a 6-2 win on May 25, 2012.