The good news is, no matter how inconsistent Ohio State has looked this season, the general consensus is that they are headed to the NCAA tournament, even if they lose against Wisconsin and drop their opening game in the Big Ten tourney. The Buckeyes should also safely be out of the play-in game territory, and are forecasted right now to be somewhere in the 7-9 seed range area.
The bad news is that practically speaking, Ohio State doesn't have much time to drastically improve their seeding. The regular season finale against Wisconsin is huge, and a win there might be enough to bump them up a seed line. But even if Ohio State catches fire and wins the entire Big Ten Tournament, a five-seed is probably their best case scenario. Outside of beating Wisconsin twice in a row (a tall order, to say the least), there just aren't that many opportunities to pick up particularly impressive wins. Knocking off Minnesota and say, Purdue, in the Big Ten Tournament won't drastically change Ohio State's profile.
So if we're going to assume Ohio State stays in the 7-9 range, we can take a stab a looking at some of the potential schools Ohio State might face in their opening round game, just like we did last year. We were right about Dayton deserving a healthy amount of panic, no?
All numbers as of Friday, Mar. 6.
RPI: 28 (this is better than Ohio State, btw)
Best Win: at VCU, 59-54
Worst Loss: at George Washington, 65-64 OT
Best Player: Their leading scorer is none other than former Ohio State Buckeye Jordan Sibert, who is pouring in 16.6 points per game.
Panic Level: HIGHEST LEVELS OF PANIC. This actually isn't the worst potential matchup for Ohio State, given Dayton's lack of size, and Ohio State's relative success at playing small in stretches. But we remember what happened last year, when Dayton upset the Buckeyes in the first round on their way to a miracle NCAA Tournament run. There is a reason Ohio State doesn't like to schedule these teams during the regular season. Dayton is well coached, they're disciplined, and they're another team in Ohio and for the love of my ticket let's hope the Buckeyes avoid them in the NCAAs.
Oklahoma State (18-11, 8-9)
Best Win: 67-62 over Kansas
Worst Loss: 63-62 at Texas Tech
Best Player: Le'Bryan Nash is an NBA prospect, and the 6-7 swingman leads the team at 17 points per game, and is near the top in rebounds and assists as well. As Nash goes, so go the Pokes.
Panic Level: Moderate panic. Oklahoma State is more talented than their record indicates, and when they're playing their best, they're capable of beating some exceptional teams. But they're also not the best coached team in the world, don't have the specific personnel to really challenge Ohio State, and they aren't super big. All of these teams will be difficult, but there would be worse matchups for Ohio State, and if they played, I think the Buckeyes would win the battle of the OSUs.
Georgia (19-10, 10-7)
Best Win: at Texas A&M 62-53
Worst Loss: 69-68 to Auburn
Best Player: Senior forward Marcus Thornton is a load, averaging 12.4 points and 7.1 rebounds a game, leading the team in both.
Panic Level: Responsible amount of panic. After years of underachieving, it is nice to see the Georgia Bulldogs as a probable NCAA team. They beat a few decent teams out of conference (Seton Hall, Kansas State, Colorado), but nothing on this resume screams out at you, and the Bulldogs have also dropped multiple games to some decidedly meh SEC competition. They played Gonzaga and Kentucky though, but Ohio State could probably beat them if Thornton doesn't go crazy. Minnesota did, after all.
Xavier (18-12, 8-9)
Best Win: 73-56 vs Butler
Worst Loss: 73-70 to Long Beach State
Best Player: He isn't their leading scorer, but 6-10 big man Matt Stainbrook may be their best all around player, and 11.5 points, 6.7 boards, and 2.5 assists per game. Stainbrook's fingerprints are all over this team.
Panic Level: HIGH. The Xavier's profile is strange, given their high number of losses (historically high for an at-large contending team), number of head scratching losses, and low-ish RPI, but KenPom loves them, they're coached well, and they have some size, something that Ohio State struggles with. Plus, it's always a heart attack when Ohio State and Xavier meet. Remember this game?
Colorado State (25-5, 12-5)
Best Win: 71-65 over Boise State
Worst Loss: 66-53 at New Mexico
Best Player: J.J Avila is exciting and can do lots of things on the basketball court, throwing in 16.5 points and 7.3 boards, while also averaging nearly two steals a game.
Panic Level: Not very high. Colorado State has a very gaudy record (they were undefeated out of conference), but in a down MWC, they haven't exactly set the world on fire against their top teams, and probably won't win the league. Throw that in with the fact that KenPom is down on them, and you have to feel okay about this matchup, even though the Rams can push the ball and clean up the glass.
Ole Miss (20-10, 11-6)
Best Win: 79-73 at Oregon
Worst Loss: 66-65 against Charleston Southern
Best Player: The diminutive Stefan Moody is capable of bombing away from downtown, and he paces the Rebels with 16.7 points per game.
Panic Level: Not that much panic. Moody can be dangerous if he's unconscious from three, but he's not even six feet, and the Buckeyes could throw a lot of athletic perimeter defenders at him. Ole Miss can score, but this team isn't really playing their best basketball right now, and doesn't seem exceptionally dangerous for Ohio State, compared to other teams. Of course, given how Ohio State has played this season, ANY game will require some panic.
Cincinnati (21-9, 12-5)
Best Win: 56-50 over SMU
Worst Loss: 50-49 vs Tulane
Best Player: There isn't a single Bearcat who averages double figures, but junior big man Octavius Ellis can lock down his man, and leads the team in both scoring an rebounding.
Panic Level: HEALTHY PANIC. Beyond the obvious panic bump from an in-state battle, the Bearcats play at a slow pace and play lockdown defense, which lowers the numbers of possessions in a game and will make everything close. Cincinnati can't score at all, but if Russell started slowly, the Bearcats could hypothetically ugly things up enough to make the game frustrating and scary.
Boise State (23-7, 13-4)
Best Win: 56-46 against San Diego State
Worst Loss: 48-45 to Loyola (IL)
Best Player: Derrick Marks, a senior guard from Chicago, can score in multiple ways, and leads the Broncos with 19.8 points per game.
Panic Level: Average. Marks can be dangerous if he can get going from outside, and the Broncos have a few guys with some size. Most importantly though, they've been on fire lately, losing just once since January 13. This might not be the most talented team on this list, but they're peaking at just the right time, and that can make anybody nervous if they're shooting well.
Temple (21-9, 12-5)
Best Win: 77-52 over Kansas. No, seriously, that happened. I double checked.
Worst Loss: 58-56 against Saint Joseph's.
Best Player: The 6-2 Will Cummings does everything for the Owls, averaging two steals a game, along with his team leading 13.8 points and second best 4.3 boards a game. He isn't the most efficient player, but he can get a lot done.
Panic Level: Measured. Outside of their surprise Kansas blowout, the Owls generally beat teams they were supposed to beat, and got clobbered by teams with superior talent. Ohio State has more athleticism and upside across the roster, and would be favored in an Anthony Lee revenge game matchup.
BYU (23-8, 13-5)
Best Win: At Gonzaga 73-70
Worst Loss: 67-61 against Pepperdine
Best Player: There may not be a better pure scorer in college basketball than Tyler Haws, who averages 21.9 points per game, and is about as automatic in the mid range game as you can get. BYU pushes the pace and has lots of guys who can score, but Haws can get buckets with the best of them.
Panic Level: EXISTENTIAL CRISIS. Luckily, this isn't likely to happen unless BYU wins the WCC tournament and creeps into the 9-10 seed level, but this would be a tricky matchup for Ohio State. While most of college basketball is pushing towards tight defense and slower pay, BYU pushes the tempo and can score in bunches, not just from Haws, but from their triple double machine Kyle Collinsworth. The Cougars are not great at rebounding or scoring in the post, but they could make Ohio State play an uncomfortable game.
NC State (18-12, 9-8)
Best Win: 87-75 against Duke
Worst Loss: 79-63 at Boston College
Best Player: Trevor Lacy can bomb away from downtown, and he leads the Wolfpack with 16 points a game. Two other NC State players average double figures though.
Panic Level: Moderate. This is how State has been these past few years, right? When they're on, they can beat almost anybody, including two of the most talented teams in the ACC. When they're not all on the same page, they lose to Wofford, Wake and BC. They have some depth and may have some personnel to give Ohio State fits, but can they deploy it?