There is still plenty of basketball to be played, but we're deep enough into the season that we have an idea that we can start to put together a picture of what the NCAA Tournament bubble might look like. A few days ago, despite having been ranked relatively recently and with a profile that lacked any terrible losses, it appeared there was a non-trivial chance Ohio State could miss the tournament entirely if they hit some bad luck. That's still possible now, but after knocking off Northwestern and Indiana, things look much better for the Buckeyes.
How much better? Let's take a look.
RPI Ranking: 40
If you want to argue that the RPI is a stupid stat and easily gamed, sure, we won't argue with you. However, the selection committee cares about it, and that means that we have to care about it. Per the official NCAA page, Ohio State jumped 12 spots, and now finds themselves in a much more comfortable range as far as at-large selections go. The highest rated major conference team to miss the NCAAs ever was Cincinnati in 2006, also at 40. Teams missing the tournament in this range are quite rate though.
Most recent ESPN Bracketology prediction: 9 seed against Miami (FL)
Ohio State didn't jump much in Lunardi's most recent projection, but if the Buckeyes are doomed to be in the 8-9 slot, the rest of that bracket doesn't seem so terrible, all things considered, with Gonzaga as the top seed. Nobody wants to see Ohio State lose by 34 to Kentucky.
Most recent CBS Bracketology Prediction: Ohio State has a 12 seed, play in team against NC State
I majored in Political Science, not math, but being the absolute last team in the tournament feels a little low. In this scenario, should the Buckeyes advance, they'd face Butler. Ohio State was not in Palm's bracket prior to Ohio State knocking off Indiana.
Most recent Bracket Matrix Prediction: Ohio State a 9 seed.
The wisdom of the crowds averages out to a high 9 seed for Ohio State. Bracket Matrix takes an average of a wide number of bracket projections. These find Ohio State everywhere from out of the tournament to a three seed. Not all of these are updated every day, so take it with a grain of salt. Or several.
Most recent SB Nation prediction: Ohio State an 8 seed against Miami (FL)
So the good news is that SB Nation thinks a little higher of Ohio State's bracket profile right now. The bad news is that in their projected bracket, should the Buckeyes have the good fortune to beat the Hurricanes, they'd face Kentucky in the next round....in LOUISVILLE. That would be a disaster. We do not want this.
Big Ten Tournament Projection: 4th (double bye, would face winner of Michigan/Rutgers/Penn State)
Since the Big Ten is now even bigger (sup, Maryland and Rutgers), the Big Ten Tournament had to expand as well. The top four seeds get a double bye, and the four bottom seeds have to play on the first day. Ohio State would love to crack that top four, as even the dregs of the conference can put the fear of God into anybody on the right night, as Northwestern has shown this season. The standings are super close right now, so expect quite a bit of movement here over the next few weeks. Ohio State could potentially finish anywhere from first to ninth.
The good news:
As of right now, Ohio State doesn't have a single bad loss, they've won 16 games, and they're projected to play the rest of their schedule against RPI Top 100 teams (although Penn State and Rutgers are close to that line). The Buckeyes only play conference leaders Maryland and Wisconsin once, and get both teams at home. Even just splitting that series would be a significant boost for Ohio State. Ohio State is also done playing Indiana and Iowa, and is in good shape to finish with around 22, 23 wins heading into the Big Ten Tournament.
The bad news:
Ohio State's nonconference schedule was pretty putrid. Ohio State's best nonconference wins came against High Point (RPI 94) and Marquette (116), after missing their chances against North Carolina and Louisville. Everybody plays some creampuffs, but Ohio State also played a few of the very worst teams in college basketball, like North Carolina A&T (341), Campbell (308), Miami(OH) (278) and UMass-Lowell (239). Even clobbering squads like that can take the shine off a computer profile.
Also, the fact that Ohio State's Big Ten conference is pretty manageable also could potentially hurt their ability to climb dramatically along the brackets. This Big Ten isn't as strong as it was last year, and a single dumb loss could make Selection Sunday more uncomfortable.
I think Ohio State finishes as either a six or a seven seed, and that their next game against Maryland will tell us a lot about their potential. Ohio State has finished much better than they've started the past few seasons, so maybe they can catch fire again. With D'Angelo Russell on this team, the Buckeyes could catch fire and beat just about anybody they'll face before the tournament. The next few weeks will tell us how easy they can make that for themselves.