Despite the tough end to conference play last season, the No. 11 Hoosiers have been the favorite to win the Big Ten this season.
Last season, Big Ten play ended in a devastating way for IU baseball.
In its third game of the double-elimination conference tournament, IU went into the bottom of the eighth inning leading 8-4 against Minnesota.
The team gave up five runs that inning and saw itself eliminated from the tournament just three outs later.
Yet they have been the only Big Ten team ranked in the top 25 of major polls this year.
Now, IU will carry a 15-4 record and a six-game winning streak to Iowa to take on the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten opener for both teams. Iowa owns a record of 12-7 and is 5-1 at home this season.
Here are five things to expect before first pitch at 1 p.m. this Friday.
The Hawkeyes surprised many last year as they won the Big Ten tournament at Bart Kaufman Field, despite being the fifth seed of eight teams in the tournament.
Iowa averaged 8.5 runs per game in the four games it played in the tournament. Of the nine players in the Iowa starting lineup for the Big Ten championship game, seven are on the roster this season.
The tournament win for Iowa last season was the program’s first Big Ten title since winning the regular season in 1990.
Under Coach Rick Heller, Iowa has had its best four-year stretch in program history. Heller led the Hawkeyes to 140 victories at the helm of the team.
Iowa has also advanced to the postseason in four straight seasons for the first time in program history.
Heller has been coaching collegiate baseball for 30 years. He has spent most of that time coaching in the state of Iowa, starting at Upper Iowa and Northern Iowa before being named head coach at Indiana State.
Before returning to Iowa to coach the Hawkeyes, Heller lead the Sycamores to a Missouri Valley Conference tournament title in 2013.
Success in close games
Despite averaging more than five runs per game, Iowa has a team batting average under .270.
Only two regular starters for the Hawkeyes own a batting average over .300, whereas four Hoosiers own that statistic.
The Iowa offense is also not getting the power numbers it would like to see, hitting just 10 home runs this season.
Iowa pitching has a combined earned run average close to four, but the Hawkeyes are pulling out victories thanks to their ability to succeed in close games.
The team is 7-1 in games decided by three runs or less. IU is 7-3 in that category.
Strength of schedule
Iowa comes into Big Ten play ranking fifth in the conference with a 12-7 non-conference record.
However, IU will be the first ranked opponent this season for the Hawkeyes. Along with that, the teams have not faced any of the same teams.
The Hawkeyes are 3-1 this season against opponents from Indiana. Their lone defeat came in late February against Ball State. They earned a three-game sweep of Evansville last weekend.
Despite the lack of offensive production from individual players, one standout has been junior outfielder Robert Neustrom.
Neustrom has been the third hitter for the Hawkeyes while starting in every game. Neustrom also started for Iowa in all 61 games last season.
The Sioux City, Iowa, native is hitting .347 this year while hitting four home runs.
He was named to the Second Team All-Big Ten last season while hitting .310 with nine home runs and 55 runs batted in. Neustrom was also a Cape Cod League All-Star in 2017.
The left-handed batter could pose a threat against IU’s top two starter — juniors Jonathan Stiever and Pauly Milto — who are both right-handed.