Disappointing. Disheartening. Perplexing.
Pick the adjective and that would describe Ohio State’s performance in the first 30 minutes of its 70-66 loss to Wichita State in the Elite Eight. The Buckeyes, who had to be considered formidable favorites heading into a contest with the Shockers of the Missouri Valley Conference, played one of their worst games of the season at the most inopportune time.
As a result, a golden opportunity to reach the Final Four for the second straight year went up in flames. Instead, the real Cinderella story of the tournament (sorry, Florida Gulf Coast) will be dancing on the sport’s grandest stage.
The biggest question looking back on the game has to be where Ohio State’s urgency was until it was basically too late. Thad Matta’s squad looked thoroughly unprepared for much of the contest, and Wichita State took full advantage.
A late charge, which highlighted how the Buckeyes could have played from the opening tip, only made it more difficult to accept for those clad in scarlet and gray.
The three-point shooting was nonexistent, the shot-selection was reminiscent of those taken during the midseason swoon and Ohio State’s typical tenacious defense did not make an appearance.
But what does it mean in terms of the big picture? Does a failure to make the Final Four, especially in a region that was completely wide open after a rash of upsets, mean the Buckeyes’ entire season was a bust?
Let’s start from the beginning. Deshaun Thomas, Aaron Craft and company were ranked in the Top Five in the initial AP poll, which set the bar incredibly high from the start. It may have been a bit too lofty, especially considering the fact that Jared Sullinger and William Buford were no longer lacing it up in Columbus, but that is the level of expectation Matta has established.
For the first two-thirds of the schedule, the Buckeyes failed to live up to the ranking. Blowout losses at Illinois and Wisconsin, along with heartbreaking failures at Michigan and Duke, had Buckeye Nation counting down the days until spring football.
A late-season charge, spurred by the defensive combination of Craft and Shannon Scott, the development of Sam Thompson and LaQuinton Ross and Thomas’ nose for the basket, completely altered the entire trajectory of the year.
Ohio State spoiled Indiana’s senior night, knocked off a talented and physically bruising Michigan State squad and carried the momentum all the way to a Big Ten tournament championship.
While the conference-tournament banner was certainly a welcome addition to the rafters of the Schottenstein Center, a regular-season crown would have meant a bit more than a trophy from a generated-solely-for-television-dollars competition.
The NCAA tournament details don’t have to be thoroughly rehashed.
Thrilling victories against Iowa State and Arizona meant the Buckeyes had to win one more game to reach another Final Four. The fact that the matchup was against an underrated-but-still-not-overwhelming Wichita State squad probably doesn’t make the loss any easier to swallow for Ohio State supporters.
So, is the season a bust?
The easy answer is no.
The Buckeyes finished second in the toughest conference in America, won a Big Ten tournament title, qualified for the Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive season and made the Elite Eight for the second straight year.
But this was a top-five team from the start, and it did not really add anything to the program’s storied history. There was no regular-season conference title and no berth in the Final Four, which is even more disappointing considering the loss came to a No. 9 seed and not the likes of Louisville, Duke or Indiana.
If you assume that point of view, the argument can be made that the season was a bust.
College basketball is a results-oriented sport, and the desired results and overarching goals were simply not met.
Ultimately, Ohio State was a bit overrated to start the year, which set the unrealistic expectations in the first place. A conference-tournament championship is nothing to sneeze at, and neither is an appearance in the Elite Eight.
Therefore, the 2012-13 season was not a bust, but it wasn’t exactly a runaway success, either. That is not only a testament to what Matta has built in Columbus but also the other side of the double-edged sword of success.
Don’t worry, Buckeye fans. If nothing else, there are only 154 more days until opening kickoff.