The Ohio State basketball program ranks sixth all time with 11 Final Fours (10 if you take the NCAA’s word for it that the 1999 NCAA tournament run never happened), but it only counts one single national championship to its name.
That title came in the 1959-60 season behind the unstoppable combination of John Havlicek and Jerry Lucas.
While the Buckeyes don’t have a Lucas or Havlicek lacing it up this year, Deshaun Thomas, Aaron Craft and company have an opportunity to bring the crystal ball back to Columbus for the first time in decades. Considering the remaining squads in the field, what would be the clearest path for the Scarlet and Gray to take if they want to make that dream a reality?
Before delving into hypotheticals, it is important to remember that easy games in March don't actually exist, especially once the schedule has turned to the Sweet 16 and beyond. Sure, a plucky underdog may luck its way into a first-round victory, but there is a reason each team is still alive in this one-and-done tournament—talent.
In this parity-driven season the difference between a No. 1 seed and No. 9 seed is miniscule at best (and in Gonzaga’s case nonexistent). Ohio State would be wise to avoid overlooking any potential opponent, less it wants to watch the rest of the postseason from the snowy confines of Columbus, Ohio.
That being said, let’s assume the role of devil’s advocate and lay out the easiest road to that national title. The first step would obviously be beating Mark Lyons, Solomon Hill and the rest of the Arizona Wildcats in Los Angeles in the Sweet 16.
Determining who would be a preferable matchup in the Elite Eight between Wichita State and La Salle is not a simple task. Both are mid-major schools that are playing above their head after knocking off some dangerous competition to get this far, but the Buckeyes would stand a better chance against the Explorers of La Salle.
Ohio State’s primary weakness thus far in the NCAA tournament has been rebounding the basketball, which is something Wichita State would be able to exploit more efficiently than La Salle. The Explorers rank 292nd in the country in total rebounds per game, while the Shockers weigh in at 27th.
La Salle is also more reliant on one superstar than Wichita State is (Ramon Galloway), which means Thad Matta could unleash the defensive wizard that is Aaron Craft on one particular target. For as great as the Explorers have played in the postseason, we are still talking about the No. 4 seed in the Atlantic 10 tournament that lost to Central Connecticut State earlier this year.
The next stop would be a return trip to the Final Four where the good news is Ohio State would at least avoid thorn-in-the-side Kansas until a potential national title matchup. The Buckeyes would face off with Louisville, Duke, Michigan State or Oregon in the national semifinal.
No disrespect to the Ducks, but the choice is clear from that group. The Scarlet and Gray already lost to Duke (albeit on the road in a closely contested contest), would rather avoid the red-hot and overall No. 1 seed Cardinals and probably don’t want to deal with the bruising Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne down low for a fourth time this year.
That leaves the unfairly seeded and Pac-12 tournament champion Oregon. The Ducks are a balanced team that spreads the scoring, but an athletic backcourt that includes Dominic Artis and Johnathan Loyd sets the tone through transition and efficient passing. Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott would be tasked with slowing Oregon’s pace and exploiting a team that averages 15 turnovers per night.
If the Buckeyes were to find themselves in the national championship game, the clear choice for easiest opponent would be Florida Gulf Coast. As enjoyable as the Eagles have been to watch and follow, they are still the second-place finishers in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
It would not be the cakewalk for Ohio State that a typical No. 15 seed presents, but the Scarlet and Gray’s defense would be too much for a squad that lost to Maine, East Tennessee State, Mercer, Stetson and Lipscomb twice to overcome.
In fact, the most difficult aspect of that hypothetical game would be fending off the fact that every person in America who is not a Buckeye fan would likely be pulling for Florida Gulf Coast, including the thousands inside the Georgia Dome.
While each of these potential matchups bring possible potholes for Ohio State, if the Buckeyes want to ride a road with the least resistance all the way to a title, this the one they should take.