While Ohio State fans were busy watching their team clank all 11 of its three-point attempts and nine free throws on Sunday in the midst of turning in yet another subpar performance, it became only natural to think about where this season is going.
After all, every college basketball campaign builds toward the end of March.
Most years, Thad Matta’s Buckeyes seem to get stronger as the winter turns to spring. Perhaps this year’s late snow is delaying that development. Ohio State is heading backward after a week that included losses to Indiana and lowly Penn State.
If Aaron Craft and Co. continue to play like this, another loss to Michigan State will probably be how the regular season ends.
In a worst-case scenario, could the Buckeyes miss the NCAA tournament altogether?
Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors doesn’t think the NIT will come into play, but he does leave a little wiggle room in case things really go south:
Have received NIT questions from followers. I think OSU is safe. History says so. 4th straight loss being blowout could make it interesting.— Kyle Rowland (@KyleRowland) March 3, 2014
The history Rowland alludes to is the fact that since the Big Ten returned to an 18-game conference slate in the 2007-08 season, 10 of the 14 teams that finished either 10-8 or 9-9 in league play went dancing. Whether Ohio State finishes 10-8 or 9-9 depends on the Michigan State game. Either way, the Buckeyes should find their way into the field.
If Buckeye Nation is still worried about Selection Sunday, let Eamonn Brennan of ESPN.com ease your mind even more:
With top-20 RPI and schedule numbers and just two sub-100 losses (both to Penn State, in fact), it is impossible that Thad Matta's team could lose at Indiana and at home against Michigan State in the next nine days and not be a No. 8 seed at minimum entering the Big Ten tournament. It feels weird to lock up a team after a loss to Penn State, but hey, live and learn.
Therefore, if we are to assume that a 9-9 Buckeye team with a weak nonconference schedule is still a lock on the back of a strong Big Ten and solid RPI numbers, the worst-case scenario now becomes losing in the first game of the NCAA tournament.
Anyone who has watched this year’s squad knows this is certainly a possibility—and arguably even likely, depending on matchups.
If the Buckeyes end up somewhere in the No. 6-9 seed range when the brackets come out, they will face a dangerous squad. Ohio State’s strong defense will keep it in almost any game, but you can’t go far in March if you can’t score.
In this worst-case scenario, we are already talking about an Ohio State team that would have four consecutive losses. If it struggled to find the basket from the early going, a crisis of confidence could occur, and the Buckeyes could be out of the NCAA tournament before the ink dries on some office brackets.
However, March has a way of surprising us every year.
In the one-and-done tournament format, any team with enough talent can get hot at the right time. Former Buckeye David Lighty was looking for that silver lining after the loss to Indiana:
Say the Buckeyes do get hot in the NCAA tournament. What’s the realistic best-case scenario for this squad?
The thought here is the Sweet 16, which would mark the fifth straight year Matta led his team at least that far. Ohio State’s defense alone is good enough to win the first game in the tournament and even spring an upset in the second one.
Will Ohio State reach the Sweet 16?
However, the lack of scoring and a consistent threat outside of LaQuinton Ross will catch up to the Buckeyes when the competition reaches the elite level it typically does on the second weekend of March Madness.
Unless there are a handful of upsets in Ohio State’s bracket, it simply doesn’t have the talent necessary to extend its season beyond the Sweet 16.
Don’t worry. With the recruiting class heading to Columbus next year, things will soon be much better.
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