Ohio State Basketball: Power Ranking the Buckeyes' Toughest Losses of All Time
I’m a Cubs fan, so I guess that makes me somewhat of a masochist when it comes to my sports fandom.
Whether that makes me qualified to power rank the toughest losses of all time for the Ohio State basketball program is really up to you. Just remember that nobody understands losing better than Cubs fans.
That being said, the Buckeyes are one of the most successful collegiate basketball teams in the sport. In fact, only five programs have been to more Final Fours than Ohio State.
Despite those 11 trips to college basketball’s final weekend, there is only one national championship banner hanging in Value City Arena. That means there have been plenty of difficult losses.
Read on to see the 10 toughest.
No. 10: 2012 Final Four Versus Kansas
This loss was just last season, but it had a historical sting.
Ohio State was playing Kansas for the right to go to the national championship game against Kentucky. That in itself was a motivating factor because the Buckeyes were knocked out of the NCAA tournament in 2011 by the Wildcats and were looking for a chance to enact some revenge.
Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas, William Buford, Aaron Craft and company dominated the first half of the game versus Kansas right from the tip.
The Buckeyes were the first ones to loose balls, were hitting everything they threw up and were even dominating a big Jayhawk team on the boards. It seemed as if the double-digit lead was insurmountable.
And then came the second half.
Kansas slowly chipped away at the Scarlet and Gray’s lead and eventually hung on to a narrow two-point victory. It marked the end of Buford and Sullinger’s collegiate careers, and that chance to pay the Wildcats back in the national championship game slipped through their fingers.
No. 9: 1991 Sweet 16 Versus St. John’s
The 1990-91 Buckeyes were not supposed to go home after the Sweet 16.
Led by All-American and tremendous scorer Jim Jackson, Ohio State was No. 2 in the country and eventually earned the top seed in the Midwest bracket of the NCAA tournament.
While the Scarlet and Gray finished with a formidable 27-4 mark and won the Big Ten, it was clear that something was a bit off in the postseason. The Buckeyes struggled a bit with No. 16 seed Towson, only winning by 11 points, and then had to scrape their way by No. 8 seed Georgia Tech by four.
Still, a win is a win in March. Destiny with Duke in the Elite Eight was still there for the taking.
Problem was, nobody told St. John’s. The Red Storm methodically dispatched the Buckeyes by double digits, only to go on and get crushed by the Blue Devils.
Considering Jackson was one of the best players in the nation and Ohio State had a No. 1 seed, anything short of a Final Four would have been a disappointment. Losing in the Sweet 16 definitely was.
No. 8: 1999 Final Four Versus Connecticut
According to the NCAA, this game never happened for Ohio State, so let’s keep it on the down low.
Head coach Jim O’Brien allegedly gave money to a Serbian recruit, which eventually cost him his job. The Buckeyes were also forced to vacate the 1998-99 season.
The difference between this Ohio State loss and most of the other ones mentioned here is that the Buckeyes were somewhat of a Cinderella story. They earned a No. 4 seed heading into the tournament, but ran straight through the South bracket.
After knocking off top-seeded Auburn by double digits, the Scarlet and Gray enacted some overdue revenge on St. John’s in the Elite Eight to earn a trip to the Final Four.
Richard Hamilton and the eventual national champion Connecticut Huskies were waiting there, however. The Bucks lost a heartbreaker 64-58, ending any hopes of a national title shot against Duke.
Despite the vacated games from this year, Michael Redd and Scoonie Penn will always be remembered by Ohio State fans for this tournament run.
No. 7: 2011 Sweet 16 Versus Kentucky
It may seem strange that a Sweet 16 loss is one of the worst 10 losses in program history considering how many Final Fours Ohio State has played in, but this one was particularly crushing.
The Buckeyes cruised through the regular season in 2010-11 and were ranked No. 1 for the majority of the year.
Jared Sullinger was a freshman superstar, Jon Diebler made seemingly every three he took, David Lighty provided great senior leadership, William Buford did a little bit of everything and Aaron Craft harassed opposing ball defenders every night.
Ohio State was a clear favorite heading into the NCAA tournament and had only lost two games all season, both in difficult environments. It didn’t make the Bucks any less of a favorite when they won their first two tournament games by a combined 61 points.
Kentucky was a No. 4 seed in the tournament and had struggled for much of the year to play up to typical Wildcat expectations.
However, the freshman-dominated Cats broke the Buckeyes’ hearts by swishing a game-winning shot with merely seconds remaining. Buford’s buzzer-beating three just rimmed out, and suddenly the overwhelming favorites were going home.
Had Ohio State won that game, it was hard to envision anyone else knocking them out.
No. 6: 1968 Final Four Versus North Carolina
The 1960s was somewhat of a golden decade for Ohio State basketball, but it could have been so much better were it not for a handful of heartbreaking losses.
This is one of those games.
The 1967-68 Buckeyes, led by head coach Fred Taylor, won the Big Ten and finished with a 21-8 record. Perhaps the best game of the season for Ohio State was the Elite Eight contest in which it knocked off historically-excellent Kentucky 82-81.
Following a game like that it seemed like almost destiny that this Buckeyes team was in for something special. However, a disappointing loss to North Carolina in the Final Four put those wishes to a grinding halt.
The Buckeyes beat Houston in the third place game, something that doesn’t exist anymore, but I doubt that was much consolation.
No. 5: 1939 National Championship Versus Oregon
There probably aren’t too many people reading this that remember the 1939 national championship game, but that doesn’t change the fact that losing in the final game is always difficult to deal with.
The 1938-39 Ohio State basketball team won the Big Ten with an impressive 10-2 mark and was ready for the NCAA tournament. A 12-point victory in the Elite Eight over Wake Forest and an impressive 17-point win against Villanova in the Final Four did nothing to spoil the momentum.
However, the Oregon Ducks were waiting in the national championship game and defeated the Buckeyes 46-33. Despite unsubstantiated rumors, Oregon did not play that game in futuristic pro combat jerseys with chrome gym shoes.
It was Ohio State’s first of 11 trips to the Final Four (per sports-reference.com), so a national title would have been particularly special.
No. 4: 1992 Elite Eight Versus Michigan & the Fab Five
Ask any Buckeye fan what the only thing worse than losing is and they will all tell you the same thing—losing to Michigan.
That’s exactly what happened in the Elite Eight of the 1992 NCAA tournament. It’s hard to remember at this point because of the mythology surrounding that Wolverine team and the Fab Five, but the Buckeyes were definitely favorites for this one.
In fact, Ohio State had defeated Michigan both times the rivals met earlier that season, and each time by double digits.
All-American Jim Jackson and the Buckeyes were Big Ten champions, a Top Three team nationally and ready to obliterate the hated Wolverines on the way to the Final Four.
However, the maize and blue freshmen played one of their best games of the season and upset Ohio State in overtime. College basketball fans tend to remember that Michigan team as one of the best (or at least memorable) squads of all time, but if the favorite Buckeyes had won this game that would perhaps not be the case.
No. 3: 2007 National Championship Versus Florida
To truly get a sense of how crushing this loss was, consider the overall mood on Ohio State’s campus when it came to sports.
On Jan. 1, 2007 the Buckeyes were No. 1 in the nation by a mile in football. Troy Smith had just won the Heisman Trophy and Jim Tressel and company were heavy favorites against the Florida Gators in the upcoming national championship game.
What’s more, a freshmen-dominated basketball team led by Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. was considered by many to be a serious national championship contender.
And then Urban Meyer, Billy Donovan and the rest of the Florida athletic department changed everything seemingly overnight.
The Gators destroyed the Buckeyes in the football game, and somber Buckeye fans clung to the national championship basketball game as a potential source of revenge and solace.
However, Joakim Noah, Al Horford and the rest of the basketball Gators methodically defeated Oden and company, meaning it was an oh-for-Florida year for the Buckeyes.
The feeling surrounding Ohio State sports went from pure elation to borderline depression in the course of two games.
No. 2: 1961 National Championship Versus Cincinnati
It isn’t talked about much anymore since it took place more than 50 years ago, but the 1961 national championship game was one of the biggest upsets in the history of college basketball.
Ohio State came into the game as an overwhelming favorite. The Buckeyes had lost only once all season, finished undefeated in the Big Ten and were led by future NBA superstars Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek.
The fact that the Scarlet and Gray dispatched St. John’s by 26 points in the Final Four did nothing to quell the feelings that Ohio State was going to dominate Cincinnati in the championship game.
Oscar Robertson had moved on to the NBA, and many felt that the Bearcats should just be happy to be there.
Nobody told unheralded forward Bob Wiesenhahn that he was supposed to roll over though. Wiesenhahn outscored Havlicek 17-to-four and led Cincinnati to a shocking upset over the mighty Buckeyes.
The only good news for Ohio State was that Havlicek and Lucas were returning the next season.
No. 1: 1962 National Championship Versus Cincinnati
The good news of the return of John Havlicek and Jerry Lucas was playing out just as Buckeye fans envisioned.
Ohio State was once again dominating the Big Ten and finished with a 26-2 overall record (13-1 in conference). Havlicek averaged 17 points and about 10 rebounds per game, and Lucas put up the astronomical numbers of 21.8 points and 17.8 rebounds a night.
In fact, you could make the argument that Lucas was the best player in the history of the Big Ten. He even shot better than 60 percent from the field that season.
The NCAA tournament rolled around, and things continued to look absolutely rosy for the Bucks. They beat Western Kentucky by 20, Kentucky by 10 and Wake Forest by 16 and were once again sitting in the national title game.
And once again, the Cincinnati Bearcats were sitting there waiting for them.
Cincinnati once again shocked Lucas, Havlicek and the Buckeyes. However, this time it was by 12 points, and the Bearcats were not considered the giant underdogs they were the previous season.
Ultimately, Ohio State won a national title in the 1960s, but two national championship game losses and a defeat in the Final Four prevented it from being one of the best decades in the sport’s history.