20 media members hunkered down with the NCAA for the annual Media Mock Bracket, a 2 day simulation of the actual selection process. The full bracket can be seen here, along with a recap from CBS Chicago's Adam Hoge on the process.
Ohio State was voted on as a 3 seed, but the "committee" eventually put them down as a 6 seed, facing 11 seed Memphis in Lexington. If the Buckeyes survived that game, they'd face either 3 seeded Louisville or 14 seeded Detroit. Talk about a tough bracket.
Perhaps the most surprising seed in the media bracket comes from Illinois, a team that many thought might have been NIT bound before big wins against Indiana and Minnesota. The Illini are listed as a 5 seed in the Media Bracket, facing 12 seeded Creighton. I know this isn't the real bracket, but go ahead and pencil that matchup in for my obligatory 5/12 upset special.
Other bracket projections have been a little more kind to the Buckeyes. Both ESPN and our own SB Nation projections have Ohio State as a 4 seed, facing 13 seeded Akron. ESPN has the Buckeyes facing the winner of 5 seeded Pitt and either Virginia or Indiana State in Kansas City, while SBN sees the Buckeyes facing either Marquette or Iowa State if Ohio State could defeat Akron, which would be no sure thing given the size of the Zips.
Of course, fretting about a possible first round matchup over a month before the actual bracket is announced feels kind of stupid.
Why did the Media Bracket have the Buckeyes so much lower? The big reason was the paucity of quality wins for Ohio State. The Buckeyes have only defeated two ranked teams this year, Michigan and Wisconsin, and both were at home. Ohio State has certainly been in the game against some very tough competition, only Indiana and Illinois really blew them out, but "quality losses" only get you so far. Eventually, you have to acquire more prestigious notches in the ol' belt than Nebraska, Long Beach State and Albany.
Fortunately for Ohio State, they have plenty of chances to improve their seeding. Here is the remaining schedule for Ohio State:
The Buckeyes currently sit at 18-6, 8-4 at the moment as well.
The bad news is that there really isn't a "gimmie" left on that schedule. Northwestern may be a struggling (and profoundly injured) team, but they've always played Ohio State exceptionally tough in Evanston and should have Alex Olah back to help fortify the middle. Plus, they were awfully close to beating Ohio State yesterday.
The good news is that other than the @ Indiana game (sorry folks, just being realistic) all of those games are perfectly winnable. If the Buckeyes go 4-2 and win a game in the B1G tourney, they very likely establish themselves as a top 4 seed. Depending on how the rest of the country goes and which games they win, even a 3 seed is not totally out of reach for Ohio State.
The biggest game in this series is probably Wisconsin. Ohio State lacks a quality win on the road, and as intimidating as the high school gym north of Chicago may be, finding a way to grab a W in Madison may be their last legitimate chance to do so this season. Wisconsin's end of season schedule is also significantly easier than Ohio State's (with only a road game at Michigan State against a ranked team), so a win against Bo Ryan's crew may prove critical in making sure the Buckeyes grab a top 4 regular season finish in the Big Ten.
I think it's pretty unlikely that Ohio State totally melts down and drops 5 games on this list, considering how difficult it is to win on the road in the Big Ten (only Indiana has beaten OSU in Columbus during league play), which means that anything between a 3 and a 7 seed is possible for Ohio State, with a 4 or 5 probably being the most likely scenarios.
Of course, seeding may prove to be totally moot. Few would argue that this is a flawed Buckeye squad, and their matchups more than anything may determine how far Ohio State can dance this season. An unfavorable matchup with a team deep with frontcourt scoring options could easily lead to a first round upset. It's also not hard to see Ohio State slowing the game down, having Thomas "go off", and defending their way to an Elite 8 appearance.
The way to give themselves the best chance for a strong performance in March is to finish February strong, starting on Sunday in Madison. After then, we'll get a better idea as to which set of bracket predictions is closer to where Ohio State will end up in a few weeks.