Last night, the Ohio State Buckeyes solidified a potential late-season run for the NCAA Tournament, with a 71-70 win at Penn State (14-16, 6-11). The run will not be easy, but it’s a self-inflicted wound, so the struggle is to be expected.
There’s plenty of blame to go around the Columbus locker room; the team had incredibly high expectations after nearly knocking-off #6 Virginia on the road. Since, the Buckeyes have sputtered to a 17-13 (7-10) record, which would normally be the death note for a team in a struggling conference.
However, the Buckeyes have picked a great time of the season to get hot, as right now, it appears that a good Big 10 tournament could push this mediocre regime into the March Madness party.
So, here’s what’s going right for the team: they’re on a two-game winning streak (unimpressive) and knocked-off the sweet-shooting, tough-defending #16 Wisconsin 83-73 (quite impressive).
The defining test will come Saturday afternoon against a tough Indiana Hoosiers team, who started off playing very good basketball. However, they lost their star forward, O.G. Anunoby, around the midway point of the season.
Indiana will come into Columbus on Sunday with a record of 16-14 (6-11), but are 2-8 in their last 10 games.
If Ohio State loses to Indiana on Saturday, they’re effectively out of the tournament, baring a conference tournament win, which they probably wouldn’t capture, as the momentum crash from a home loss to Indiana.
Now, let’s say the Buckeyes head into next week’s conference tournament riding a three-game winning streak; things start looking better.
The Big 10 is not what it has been in the past. Normally, the conference will feature 3-5 teams ranked in the AP Top 25, but as of now, only two teams, #16 Purdue and #22 Wisconsin, survive the poll.
While the conference struggles in ranks, there are a good amount of teams that could act as resume builders for the Buckeyes, who, according to ESPN, have the #67 resume in Division I college basketball; 68 teams make the NCAA tournament, but you have to account for all of the lower-tier teams who obtain automatic bids via conference tournament victories.
Heading into the Big 10 tournament, the conference seems quite malleable. Atop the league are teams the Buckeyes have either previously conquered or played tight, with the exception of Maryland.
Coming up next week via the conference tournament, the Buckeyes will have a the chance to obtain two-to-three resume-building wins against any combination of (league standings in order, by the way) #16 Purdue (24-6, 13-4), #22 Wisconsin (22-7, 11-5), Maryland (23-7, 11-6), Minnesota (23-7, 10-6), Michigan State (18-11, 10-6), and/or Northwestern (20-9, 9-7).
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has ALL of the aforementioned clubs in the tournament.
BPI is another key part of the metrics used by the tournament selection committee, and the Buckeyes are heating up.
While they sit at 59th in the county in this metric today, their win over Penn State last night moved them up 5 spots in the polling; a win against Indiana will likely move them within inches of the top 50, another place that would position them very well heading into the conference tournament.
Ohio State should be cautiously optimistic for the future; many of the conference’s top teams are hitting their rough patch in the wrong moment. Maryland, Northwestern and Wisconsin, who earlier in the season gave the Buckeyes fits at the beginning of conference play, seem incredibly beatable heading into the month of March.
Winning against Indiana comes first, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel for the journey of Thad Matta & company; whether it’s the NCAA Tournament or a fright train will soon be revealed.