For the first time in nearly a month, Ohio State basketball is on a winning streak.
It wasn’t easy, but the Buckeyes held off Rutgers last night, 70-64, to extend a winning streak to a whopping two games, thanks to their earlier road win over the hated Michigan Wolverines. Ohio State hasn’t won three games in a row since they beat Marshall, back in November.
With the win, Ohio State has improved to 15-10 on the year, and gave themselves a little bit of space from the basement in the Big Ten. Given how mushy the middle of the conference is right now, with a strong finish, Ohio State could easily finish 7th, or close, in the conference.
Of course, if your aspirations are to finish in the middle of the conference, an NCAA Tournament bid is a longshot. Even with back-to-back wins, Ohio State’s profile would need major, extensive renovations if they hope to make the Big Dance. The Buckeyes would probably need to win five of their next six, plus make some noise in the Big Ten Tournament, just to get back in the conversation for an at-large bid. After an embarrassing 0-4 start to Big Ten play, that ship pretty much sailed a long time ago.
But that doesn’t mean Ohio State’s hopes for the postseason are shot. There is, after all, still the NIT.
Of course, even that isn’t a guarantee at this point. The Buckeyes made last year’s NIT as a #3 seed with 20 wins, and no major conference team grabbed an at-large spot with fewer than 18. The Buckeyes might only be favored in two remaining regular season games this season (at home against Nebraska, on the road at Penn State), and if their play this season has proven anything, absolutely nothing should be taken for granted. After all, Ohio State hasn’t won a game by double-digits since Youngstown State. That was in December.
So 18 is probably the magic number for Ohio State, and given that their best win of the season is probably against Michigan State, getting to 19 would probably be a good idea. Their chances of extending Thad Matta’s 20 game win streak don’t look very good at this point.
Does it even matter? NIT bid or not, Ohio State doesn’t look like a team that’s ready to make a deep run in March, no matter what tournament they’re playing in. The Buckeyes have already been shorthanded thanks to Keita Bates-Diop being lost for the season, and with JaQuan Lyle looking a little beat up, the Buckeyes may not have the horses to bring home any trophies this season.
But, even if it doesn’t end in another banner, and even if it doesn’t capture the imagination of Buckeye fans, extra basketball games are still better for the team. If an NIT bid gives players like Andre Wesson and Micah Potter a chance to appreciate what postseason basketball is like, and ideally a few more minutes of shine, it might help give momentum into what will be a critical offseason for the program. The next time Ohio State basketball is truly good, they’ll need the youngest players in the program now to really step up; so the extra time to shine may be good for them.
There’s not a ton of NIT Bracketology out right now, but NYC Buckets, one of the few sites that does the prognostications, had Ohio State as a #3 seed back on January 30th, facing Utah in a region that also included Memphis, Alabama and Rhode Island. But since conference regular season champions are guaranteed spots in the NIT, a run of upsets in one-bid conferences wreck havoc to other mock NIT brackets.
Ohio State probably isn’t going to be in the running for a top seed, so if you’re looking for the Buckeyes to get an invite, root for chalk in conference tournaments, and hope that the Buckeyes are able to find at least two, and ideally three, more wins down the stretch. Anything is possible, but even an early exit in the postseason is better than not getting a bid at all. And after an up-and-down season, Ohio State basketball could use any bit of positive momentum that they can get.