Ohio State Basketball: The Top 5 Seasons in Buckeye History

Scott PolacekFeatured ColumnistJuly 28, 2012

Ohio State Basketball: The Top 5 Seasons in Buckeye History

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    Comparing basketball teams across different eras is not an easy task. The game today is drastically different than it was back when, say, George Mikan was its most dominant force.

    That being said, the task becomes that much more difficult when selecting the greatest teams from a program as decorated as Ohio State’s. Yes, the Buckeyes are better known for the successes of their football counterparts, but the basketball program is nothing to sneeze at.

    In fact, there have been 11 Final Four appearances in Ohio State history—good enough for sixth of all time.

    Those teams that did not at least make the Final Four were not considered for this list. After all, if enough Buckeye rosters reached college basketball’s grandest stage, it becomes hard to crack a top-five list if yours didn’t.

    With that in mind, here are the top-five seasons in Ohio State basketball history.

    *All stats and facts are courtesy of www.basketball-reference.com.

Honorable Mention: 1998-99 Season

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    Perhaps an asterisk may be more appropriate than an honorable mention for the 1998-99 Buckeye season.

    In the official NCAA record book, this team never existed. Recruiting violations under former Ohio State coach Jim O’Brien’s staff resulted in NCAA penalties that included the forfeiture of the 1998-99 Final Four appearance and a postseason ban.

    Nevertheless, this was certainly a successful season for Buckeye basketball, especially since the program had missed the NCAA Tournament entirely the previous six years. Yes, there have been better Ohio State teams and seasons, but considering preseason expectations, it earns an honorable mention.

    Buckeye fans will remember this team for its backcourt of Scoonie Penn and Michael Redd, who combined to average more than 35 points a game for the scarlet and gray. Penn scored 22 points and Redd added 20 in Ohio State’s thrilling victory over Ron Artest’s St. John’s squad to earn a surprising spot in the Final Four.

No. 5: 2011-12 Season

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    Just because we are ranking the top seasons in Ohio State history doesn’t mean we have to go that far back in the history books. In fact, last year’s team was plenty successful in its own right.

    Among the highlights on the resume was a beat-down of Duke, a regular season Big Ten championship, a first-team All-American and a trip to the Final Four.

    That’s not to say the entire year was smooth sailing. A stretch in February that saw Ohio State lose three of five games had Buckeye Nation fretting.

    By the end of the regular season, however, the worrying seemed for naught. William Buford (whose inconsistent play was directly responsible for a large portion of the concern) capped off the 2011-12 season with a buzzer-beating (and Big Ten winning) jump shot over Michigan State.

    The NCAA Tournament was a combination of gut-wrenching moments, excitement and ultimately, heartbreak. Still, a trip to the Final Four and a Big Ten regular season championship was enough to land last year’s Ohio State squad on this list of successful seasons.

No. 4: 2006-07 Season

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    The beginning of the 2006 basketball season was accompanied by the type of preseason expectations that are typically reserved for the gridiron in Columbus.

    The “Thad-Five” recruiting class was on its way, key members of the previous year’s Big Ten championship team were returning and a buzz was running through the campus.

    Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and company did not disappoint. The Buckeyes cruised through the regular season and lost only three games (North Carolina, Florida and Wisconsin), none of which were at home.

    A 15-1 conference record earned the young Bucks a regular season championship and the top seed in the conference tournament. Ohio State won each game in the Big Ten Tournament by double digits, reaffirming its spot at the top of the conference totem pole.

    The victories didn’t come as easily in the NCAA Tournament. Serious scares against Xavier and Tennessee probably led to a remote toss or two in Columbus living rooms.

    Ultimately, the Ohio State basketball team met the same fate as its football team that season—a national championship loss to the Florida Gators (at least we got their football coach now).

    Even with a difficult championship loss, a trip to the national finals, regular season and tournament conference championships gives the 2006-07 Buckeyes the number four spot on the list.

No. 3: 1961-62 Season

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    Get ready for a pattern to close out this list of Buckeye seasons. Ohio State was good in the early 1960s—really good. In the 1961-62 season, head coach Fred Taylor led his squad to an impressive 26-2 mark and a Big Ten championship.

    Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek, arguably the two best players in Ohio State history, provided the Buckeyes with one of the most formidable one-two punches in the history of the Big Ten (and college basketball as a whole).

    The powerhouse Buckeyes finished with a 13-1 record in conference play and were primed as one of the primary national title contenders as NCAA Tournament play began. But they ran into a familiar foe in the national title game—the Cincinnati Bearcats.

    If Ohio State fans of this generation are tired of seeing the Florida Gators blocking the light at the end of their championship tunnels, fans in the early 60s had to be sick of the Bearcats. The 1961-62 season marked the second consecutive year that the in-state rivals met in the national championship game.

    While this season ended in defeat for Ohio State, it was certainly not an unsuccessful campaign.

No. 2: 1960-61 Season

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    The 1960-61 season marked another year and another national championship appearance for the Ohio State Buckeyes of the early 1960s.

    Fred Taylor’s squad, behind that dynamic duo of Lucas and Havlicek, steamrolled its way through an undefeated regular season. Coming off of a national championship season the year before (sorry, spoiler alert), it appeared as if this team would continue the program’s dominance through the NCAA Tournament.

    Then came the national championship match-up with, you guessed it, the Cincinnati Bearcats. Despite an undefeated season and the fact that they entered the game as the clear favorites, the Buckeyes fell to Cincinnati in heartbreaking fashion.

    Ohio State certainly has a decorated basketball program, but its history would be that much more impressive if it could have figured out a way to beat the Bearcats in the early 60s.

No. 1: 1959-60 Season

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    When ranking the best seasons in Ohio State history, the top spot is never going to be in doubt. Sure, the program has 11 Final Four appearances, but only one of those seasons resulted in the ultimate triumph—the national championship.

    Stop me if this duo seems familiar—Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek led the Bucks to a Big Ten championship and a 13-1 conference record before entering the NCAA Tournament. You may have heard of another player on the roster—future Indiana coach Bob Knight came off the bench for coach Fred Taylor.

    Good news though—the Cincinnati Bearcats weren’t awaiting their in-state rivals in the 1960 national championship game.

    In one of the most dominant tournament performances in history, the Buckeyes won their first three games by margins of 19, 17 and 22 respectively. In the final game, the scarlet and gray cruised to a 20-point victory over California.

    As if there was ever a doubt, the lone championship season ranks as the greatest year in Ohio State basketball history. But if Thad Matta continues to win at his current pace, Buckeye fans may be treated to another one sooner rather than later.