Season finales are a helluva thing. For example, The Bachelor has their two-night season finale beginning tonight — and something completely asinine will probably happen. Some shows have very resolute, happy landing spots (like “The Office”) while others leave things up in the air (like “The Sopranos”).
For the Ohio State Buckeyes, this season has been a roller coaster; from an incredible 7-0 start, to losing six of seven in January, to leveling off in February, the highest of highs and lowest of lows have been experienced by this squad.
On Sunday, OSU shot 6-of-29 in the first half and had 16 points to show for it. Midway through the second half, they trailed by as many as 23 to the Wisconsin Badgers. This had the makings of being another blowout — on Senior Day no less.
However, the team rallied, and made big play after big play to chip away at the Badgers’ lead. A 47-point second half performance erased the deficit, and forced overtime. But in the end, the ranked team from Madison escaped Columbus with a win, bringing the regular season to a close.
This game was an interesting one. The Buckeyes rose from the dead and nearly toppled Wisconsin in the process. Things that weren’t going well for Ohio State in the first half (like making shots) seemed to be a non-problem in the second half. Now on the bubble and trending in the wrong direction, the Big Ten Tournament looks and feels like a play-in game for the NCAA Tournament.
But before we get there, let’s look at a few things from the unbelievable comeback OSU assembled on Senior Day.
A Tale of Two Halves
If you were a connoisseur—or masochist—in search for bad basketball, then you found the filet mignon in the first half. In five minutes of play, which took us into a media timeout, the Badgers had an astounding 4-0 lead. When we hit halftime, Wiscy had 26 points—an improvement. On the other side, OSU was held to a season-low 16 points, and shot an astoundingly bad 6-of-29 from the field. From downtown, the Buckeyes were 1-of-8 through 20 minutes.
Ohio State missed their first 11 shots to begin the game, nearly as bad as their 0-for-12 start against Northwestern earlier in the week. Duane Washington Jr. broke things open, making shots from inside and three-point range.
It’s almost like a lid was on the rim at Value City Arena. Andre Wesson missed a layup, and even the Badgers had trouble making shots close to the basket. Wisconsin, though, got better as the game went on, while Ohio State sputtered into the waxing minutes of the second half.
Mistakes also were aplenty for the Bucks. In the first half, Keyshawn Woods’ errant pass led to a backcourt violation. Washington sailed a pass to Andre Wesson, who was whistled for an offensive foul as he pushed off a defender to reach the ball. Foul trouble hit the older Wesson, as he had four not even a minute into the second half.
Opposing teams figured out that without Kaleb Wesson, you can constrict the offensive flow of the Buckeyes. In each of the three games Wesson was suspended, OSU scored fewer and fewer points in the first half. Against Purdue, they put up 20; at Northwestern, they only scored 17; and then on Sunday, 16 points were tallied against Wisconsin.
And then the second half happened. More specifically, the final four minutes of the game, where the Buckeyes erased a 15-point deficit. During that stretch, OSU outscored Wiscy 16-1. Though Justin Ahrens and Woods made shots during the run, Jackson carried the team.
Defensively, the press defense worked—causing the Badgers to panic. Seven turnovers were committed in the second half by the No. 21 team in the land, compared to only two in the first half.
Though the Badgers dug deep for points in overtime, there’s something to be said about this Buckeye team. They could’ve folded in the final four minutes of regulation and lost by 18. Instead, they took it one play at a time, one basket at a time.
I think there are dueling questions about how this game unfolded. Did Wisconsin try to choke this game away? Or did Ohio State try to win the game? I think there’s a combination of both; like 80/20 in favor of OSU’s efforts down the stretch to win. Road games in the Big Ten are a minefield. Just look at the games this past week. Nebraska toppled Iowa at home, and Minnesota spoiled an outright Big Ten regular season crown for Purdue. The ante gets upped with it being Senior Day.
Kaleb Wesson coming back from suspension will be huge for the Buckeyes on both sides of the ball. Defensively, he’ll be the rebound machine; offensively, he can be an inside presence. Additionally, another dimension to their attack is added back: three-point shooting. With defenders having to respect Kaleb down low, the likes of Andre Wesson, Jackson, and Ahrens can launch shots. Even Kaleb can be a deep-ball threat at times, too.
Life just gets easier when the big man is back in the fold.
Ethan Happ entered the game as Wisconsin’s go-to player. Easily a candidate for First Team All-Big Ten, I think there was an expectation that he would be the one that paced the Badgers out front. He did exactly that, hitting the double-double plateau with 16 points and 14 rebounds.
But if Khalil Iverson doesn’t scrap together a double-double effort as well, the Buckeyes get the win. Iverson led Wiscy with 22 points on 10-of-14 shooting and gobbled 14 rebounds. He also was a main character in both halves, scoring 10 in the first and eight in the second. In overtime, he made the first basket for either team, and made the only two field goals of the extra period for the visitors.
Between the two, they steered the Badgers away from the upset.
However, I think today’s game proves that anybody is susceptible to an “L” at this juncture of the season. And that’s a bad thing. Top teams showing gashes in their armor at this point doesn’t really inspire confidence for a run in March.
[Jazz hands] It’s happening...
Speaking of confidence, we are now fully locked-in on bubble watch. Ohio State began the week placed firmly within the No. 8-No.10 range for the NCAA Tournament. Now, some predictors have OSU as a No. 12 seed, partaking in the First Four games.
Indiana is a team living on the bubble as well. They also happen to be OSU’s opponent in the Second Round of the Big Ten tourney. That game, effectively, is a play-in game for a chance to be in the Big Dance.
The stakes are now tremendously high for the Buckeyes, and equally as high for the Hoosiers. Both teams tip-off around 12:30 ET on Thursday, leading off second day action in Chicago.
BONUS: The Selection Show format is changing (and that’s a good thing)
Last season, the NCAA Tournament selection was, uh, different. Instead of unveiling the matchups, the teams that made the Big Dance were announced in alphabetical order. Then, after knowing who was in/wasn’t in, then we got the matchups.
That whole event was comically bad.
Good news though: We’re going back to the old way of doing things.
Some (very good) sports media news:— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) March 10, 2019
CBS will be changing the NCAA Selection Show from last year's broadcast on TBS. No rolling out all the teams in alphabetical order this year. They will return to unveiling the teams in brackets when you first see them on the screen.