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Here’s what Ohio State basketball still has to play for

Barring a huge upset, the Buckeyes aren’t making the NCAAs. But all’s not lost.

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State basketball showed what they were truly capable of against Wisconsin, riding some uncharacteristically strong three-point shooting to a big upset win, probably their biggest Big Ten win over the last two seasons.

The win snapped a three-game losing streak and washed out some of the poor taste of an otherwise highly disappointing season for the Buckeyes, but it didn’t change anything structural. The Big Ten is too weak, and the Buckeyes have too many bad losses for Ohio State to sneak in the NCAA Tournament with anything other than a Big Ten Tournament title. And that upset doesn’t meaningfully change Ohio State’s seeding situation either.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t interesting things left to play for this season. The Buckeyes have two more regular season games left, at Penn State tomorrow, and at home against Indiana on Saturday. They have a decent shot of winning both of them. Here’s what’s at stake for the rest of this year.

A winning record

Okay, let’s start small. The Buckeyes haven’t finished with an overall losing record since they finished 14-16 in 2003-2004, the last year before Thad Matta arrived on campus. That Buckeye team lost to teams like San Francisco, San Diego State, Seton Hall and Texas Tech. It was gross.

At 16-13, the Buckeyes could finish at .500 if they drop both of their regular season games, plus their first game of the Big Ten Tournament. A win in the regular season, or in DC, ensures the Buckeyes will at least finish above .500 before any postseason play. That’s the smallest of small victories, but it is something.

A shot at 20 wins

Thad Matta has won at least 20 games every single season he’s been at Ohio State, which is pretty remarkable given the state of the program once he arrived. At 16 wins right now, getting there would be tricky, but not impossible. If the Buckeyes split the regular season games and win their Big Ten Tournament opening game, they’d need two wins in the NIT to get to 20. If they win them both, the Buckeyes have a great shot to get there. 20 wins may seem arbitrary, but it would signify a strong finish to this season, building momentum to the future. Every other win helps get the Buckeyes there.

The NIT

The Wisconsin win went a long way towards erasing the the damage from the Nebraska loss to Ohio State’s NIT resume. Right now, the Buckeyes probably aren’t in if they lose both of these game, and their Big Ten Tournament opener, but one more win just might be enough (although it’s a good idea to not lose to like, Rutgers, if you can). 18 total wins would almost certainly lock the Buckeyes in.

The most updated NIT projections have Ohio State as a three seed (currently facing Valparaiso, if you’re curious). Going on a little bit of a run to end the season could certainly bolster their NIT seeding, making it more likely they’ll host a game, and get a draw that could help them avoid an upset at the hands of a tough mid or low-major.

The NCAAs

Okay, so this is still technically possible. The Buckeyes need to win out in the Big Ten Tournament to make the Big Dance, and that’s a lot easier if you don’t have to play every single night. Beating Penn State and Indiana makes Ohio State’s road through D.C. just a teensy bit easier.


These aren’t the goals that Ohio State thought they’d be playing for to start the season, but they’re not nothing. In a lot of ways, the Buckeyes can make their lives a bit easier by pulling together a few more wins to end the season. Their path starts tomorrow night.