IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR, BABY! MARCH MADNESS!
With that being said, it’s time to take an in-depth look at Ohio State’s potential road to the Big Ten title and an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament. Ohio State finished the season with an overall record of 18-8 (12-8), which placed them 5th in the Big Ten. The overall record was tied for the 4th best record with Purdue, while their conference record placed them 2 games in front of Wisconsin and Rutgers for 5th, while they trailed #4 Purdue (18-8, 13-6) for the 4th and final double-bye position in the conference tournament.
Ohio State’s first opponent will be determined when the very first game of the whole tournament is played, in which #12 Northwestern (9-14, 6-13) will take on #13 Minnesota (13-14, 6-14) at 6:30 PM on Big Ten Network. Minnesota is actually 13-4 at home, but winless is ALL GAMES away from home, and they are currently on a 7 game losing streak. Northwestern is the “higher seed” while playing fewer games due to COVID-19 protocols, and riding the hot hand on a 3 game winning streak.
The irony in the matchup is that BOTH teams beat Ohio State early in the season, and Minnesota did so convincingly in a dominant home win. Ohio State split with Northwestern, while Minnesota beat the Buckeyes 77-60. Ohio State won’t play until Thursday at 2 PM on Big Ten Network against the Northwestern/Minnesota winner, and the winner of this game plays #4 Purdue on Friday at 2 PM on Big Ten Network again.
Once again, Ohio State runs into an opponent that beat them in the regular season. This time, the difference is that Purdue SWEPT the Buckeyes in their meetings, handling them at home in their first meeting before handing the Buckeyes a brutal home loss on a late game-winning three pointer from a freshman. This year’s Purdue is screaming memories of the Keita Bates-Diop and Jae-Sean Tate led Buckeyes back in Chris Holtmann’s first year with Ohio State, when Ohio State went 25-8, and lost to Penn State THREE TIMES… very reminiscent of what Purdue could do to. That same season, Ohio State met Gonzaga twice, losing both times, early on in the regular season and in the NCAA Tournament.
If Ohio State can get by the Boilermakers, they would have to face the winner of #1 Michigan vs #8 Maryland /#9 Michigan State in the Big Ten Semifinals, which would be played on Saturday at 1 PM on CBS. Michigan (19-3, 14-3) is a team Ohio State lost to in a Game of the Year candidate 92-87 at home, while Ohio State handled Maryland (15-12, 9-11) on the road by 8. As for Michigan State (15-11, 9-11), Ohio State split with the red-hot Spartans, who may very well beat Maryland (who they just lost to), then beat Michigan (they also just lost to AND BEAT), then beat us (who they also just beat). Big Ten basketball is WEIRD. Anyway, back to the hypotheticals.
Next would be the Big Ten Championship Game on Sunday at 3:30 PM on CBS. The likelier of scenarios is #2 Illinois, #3 Iowa, or #6 Wisconsin, but don’t rule out #7 Rutgers, either. Ohio State split with Illinois (20-6, 16-4) and Iowa (20-7, 14-6) this year, but fell to both teams in the last two weeks, while they beat Wisconsin (16-11, 10-10) in their only meeting. The Buckeyes swept Rutgers (14-10, 10-10) in their two meetings midway through the season.
In summary, there is a path to the title. Do I foresee this happening? Not with how Ohio State is currently playing, I do not. But, if they can get back to the level of basketball they were playing earlier this season, they can beat almost anyone in the country (Gonzaga and Baylor are for another discussion). Defensively, the miscues HAVE TO STOP, especially late in games. Offensively, the execution has to be better, and they need to capitalize on free throws. Wasted opportunities at the free throw line and too many turnovers simply cannot happen in the best league in the country.
Photo: AP Photo