Unlike a lot of college sports fans, Ohio State fans aren't really used to having a "little brother". The football team hasn't lost to an in-state squad since the days when Wooster and Oberlin would be considered quality out of conference matchups, and unless Cincinnati is able to pull of an epic upset next season, that isn't likely to change in the near future.
The story in basketball hasn't been as stark, but during the recent Thad Matta era, the Buckeyes have been without peer in Ohio. Over the last four seasons, Ohio State has never won fewer than 29 games, and made the Sweet 16 every time. The team had been an NCAA mainstay for nearly a decade, and coupled with the comparable decline of Cincinnati, the Buckeyes have been pretty consistently the best team in Ohio, 2007-2008 not withstanding (I see you, Xavier).
On paper, that wasn't expected to change this season, or even three weeks ago, but Ohio State's recent four game slide, including an embarrassing loss to Nebraska, might have changed that perception. After the final horn sounded to the Buckeyes' defeat at the hands of the Cornhuskers, one SB Nation blog proclaimed that the "Best in Ohio" belt no longer resided in Columbus.
The story, same as always, is that the polls aren't how you should judge your team. Right now, Xavier is the best team in Ohio and unranked.— Banners on the Park (@BannersParkway) January 21, 2014
So leaving aside the poll factor aside, which probably deserves its own article, the tweet did get me thinking. Is Ohio State the best team in Ohio right now? If they aren't, is it Xavier, or somebody else? And if Ohio State *isn't* the best team in Ohio this year, do they have the capacity to regain that title? After all, it looks like any other titles, at this point in the season, might be unattainable.
Let's look at the numbers. All numbers current as of 2:00 EST, Wednesday,
Ohio State: 15-4
Best Win: 79-62 over North Dakota State. Seriously, they have a better RPI than Marquette, Maryland or Notre Dame.
Worst Loss: 68-62 at Nebraska
RPI: 15 KenPom: 16
So critics can point to Ohio State's lack of a particularly interesting win, and they'd be right. But both pollsters and the numbers guys still seem to be fairly high on Ohio State. For the humans, sure, we can probably point to inertia, but that's less compelling a case for KenPom.
Best Win: 44-43 vs Pitt, in a game that probably made even the peach-basket YMCAers cringe.
Worst Loss: 63-54 at New Mexico, which isn't really a bad loss at all. Better teams than this year's Bearcat squad have struggled at New Mexico.
RPI: 21 KenPom: 22
The Bearcats now find themselves well within shouting distance of Ohio State in the computers, and can boast a gaudier record, AND better signature wins (they also won at Memphis), AND they have won 10 games in a row. FWIW, Cincinnati ALSO beat Nebraska. If you wanted to say Cincinnati should be ranked about Ohio State in any poll right *now*, I wouldn't argue with you.
Best Win: 64-47 over Cincinnati.
Worst Loss: 84-78 vs USC.
RPI: 32 KenPom: 28
So here is an interesting case study in the importance of head to head matchups. Xavier has a slightly worse computer profile than Cincinnati, and doesn't quite have as gaudy of non conference wins as the Bearcats. However, they've lost only once since Dec 7th, and they beat Cincinnati fairly soundly. I *guess* I'd put Cincinnati above Xavier, given that the Bearcats have a slightly more impressive body of work, but if legions of Xavier bros came on here to yell at me, I could probably be talked out of it.
Best Win: 84-79 vs Gonzaga
Worst Loss: 81-75 at Illinois State
RPI: 52 KenPom: 52
The Flyers have a pair of pretty nice wins in their non conference (Gonzaga and Cal, both on neutral courts), but also have a few puzzling losses, to Illinois State and USC. Dayton can't credibly claim any "Best in Ohio" title on the basis of their resume now (and thanks to conference realignment, they won't get a chance to face Xavier this season), but they have big games left in the A10 and could charge their way into the tourney with a strong finish to the season.
Best Win: 70-69 at Richmond
Worst Loss: 73-56 at Oakland.
RPI: 74 KenPom: 66
Best Win: 77-61 over Sam Houston State.
Worst Loss: 87-76 at Western Michigan
RPI: 39 KenPom: 65
Barring something unexpected, the MAC is pretty much a one bid league, so the March fortunes of either of these Ohio teams will be decided in the conference tourney. Toledo can boast the gaudier record, and did play Kansas tough, but they also have pretty terrible loss to WMU. The Buckeyes already beat the Bobcats earlier in this season in a closer than expected game.
So what can we take from all this? First, as we've seen for the last several years, Ohio, as a state, has some solid depth in the college basketball department, and should send at least four teams to the NCAAs, to say nothing of teams like Wright State, which is in 2nd place in the Horizon League, or Akron, which leads the MAC East.
You'd think that the team with the best coach, the best resources, the best facilities and (according to recruiting rankings) the best players would easily get "the best team" crown, but I don't think you can conclusively say that for Ohio State right now. Luckily, given the meat grinder of the Big Ten schedule, the Buckeyes could go on another quick run, beat a few more top 30 RPI teams, and render this debate moot.
But right not, Ohio State is playing some of their worst basketball in years, and Cincinnati and Xavier have been outstanding over the last month. If Ohio State and Cincinnati played now, would you be confident they'd win? Or Xavier? Maybe in March, but right now, I don't think I'd put Ohio State over either of them. If you put a gun to my head, I GUESS I'd say Cincinnati is "the best team in Ohio", but Xavier is right up there.
Of course, we could say Ohio State retains the belt, on account of the fact that "Cincinnati isn't really in Ohio", and I wouldn't argue either.
No matter who you think is the best team in the Queen City, or how liberal your views are on Ohio geography, it's clear that Ohio State has a lot of room to grow if they want to go after any big titles this season.
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