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Ohio State finds itself in a potential win-or-go-home spot against Indiana

Is the big matchup essentially an NCAA play-in game?

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Indiana Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Plenty has been said of the magnitude of Ohio State’s opening round matchup against Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament, tipping off today at 12:30 p.m. ET. It’s been said that this game is essentially a play-in game for the NCAA Tournament, with the winner almost certain to fill one of the few remaining spots in the field, and the loser falling into what would likely be a high seed in the NIT. Given what we know about this bubble, and what we know about Ohio State and Indiana’s resumes, that’s probably a pretty fair assumption.

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had Ohio State and Indiana as the first two teams out of the field in his most recent bracketology until Clemson lost in the ACC Tournament, putting Ohio State in. With Clemson’s loss, the Tigers fell out of the field, moving Ohio State in; of course that all depends on Thursday’s matchup.

So, if the winner is almost a sure thing for locking up one of the final spots in the tournament, what does the loser get? Is it an equally sure thing that an 18-14 Ohio State team would be left out, or is there still a chance that Ohio State could sneak in with a close loss to a surging Indiana team? Well, the loss would be a Quadrant 2 loss, where the Buckeyes are currently 4-3. A 4-4 record in Q2 certainly isn’t great, but it’s still not disqualifying from the tournament given the Buckeyes’ four Q1 wins, which is better than most bubble teams.

However, if the Buckeyes do fall to Indiana, they’d likely be forced to depend on losses for other teams on the bubble, and perhaps a nice run for the Hoosiers in the Big Ten Tournament to make the loss look a bit better. So, who might Buckeye fans need to root for if Ohio State can’t get the job done?

Well, the Buckeyes already got some good news with N.C. State knocking off Clemson. However, the bigger, more important games for Buckeye fans to follow happen down the road this week. Most importantly, according to the excellent, OSU fans need to root for Creighton to lose to Xavier, Minnesota to lose to Penn State, and least likely of all, New Mexico State to fall to three-win Chicago State.

If Ohio State gets all of that luck — and that’s a big if — along with no more stolen bids by teams that wouldn’t have made the tournament without an automatic qualification, then they may be able to grab a bid despite a loss to Indiana. The far more likely result — and the result that makes this game so crucial — is that only one or two of those necessary results happen, and the Buckeyes miss the tournament by one or two spots, replaced by Indiana and possibly a second or third team like Belmont or Creighton.

So, now that we’ve talked about the options if Ohio State can’t bounce back and knock Indiana out of the tournament, let’s play some devil’s advocate and say that the Buckeyes have one of their famous “good games.” Kaleb Wesson returns to form in his first game back from suspension, the shots start falling again for Justin Ahrens and Luther Muhammad, C.J. Jackson and Keyshawn Woods keep the turnovers limited, and the Buckeyes are able to pull away for the win, and advance to the next round to take on top-seeded Michigan State.

If the Buckeyes are able to get that done, their chances at the tournament increase by quite a bit according to Barttovik, all the way up to 71.6 percent. Because the rest of the bubble is fairly weak this year, that means that the Buckeyes — sitting at a theoretical 19-13, with yet another Q2 win over Indiana — would likely be able to breathe easy.

With a win, barring any unforeseen surprises (like a non-bubble team winning a conference like the Pac-12), the Buckeyes will be in. Now, what exactly does that mean? All tournament bids are not made equally, and because the Buckeyes are so close to the brink of the bracket, they could find themselves as one of the final four teams in, which would in turn, send Ohio State about an hour and half west on I-70 to Dayton for the First Four. There, it becomes pretty tough to predict who the Buckeyes may have to face to fight their way into the actual tournament field. TCU, N.C. State, Temple, Texas, Florida, St. Johns and Florida are all possible options, as are a few of the teams currently on the outside of the bubble like Belmont, Creighton, Lipscomb and UNC Greensboro.

That brings up yet another question, can the Buckeyes avoid the dreaded First Four, and vault into the field without having to prove themselves in yet another play-in game? The answer to that, as most things related to bracketology are, is complicated. The Buckeyes likely don’t miss a play-in just with a win over Indiana, but instead by beating Michigan State, or losses by a few of the teams currently in the field.

More rooting interests; to secure a spot in the field, Ohio State would likely need Texas to lose to Kansas, Arizona State to lose to either UCLA or Stanford, and Florida to lose to Arkansas.

Again, fairly unlikely that Ohio State can bank on all of that happening — despite the fact that the Buckeyes, with a team loaded with underclassmen, decimated by a few key injuries and suspensions in key moments, and piled on in the Big Ten — are still in this spot speaks to the effort of the team and the job that Chris Holtmann has done to manage the challenges of this season. Ohio State was in a ditch when Holtmann arrived, and he’s a win away from two tournament berths in two years, with a third-straight looking extremely likely next season.

That’s astounding. Hell, even if the Buckeyes narrowly miss the tournament this year, a long NIT run would provide valuable experience for the young roster, and there’s no doubt in my mind that the effort level from this team in the NIT would remain excellent, as it has all season. Given where this program was at the end of the Thad Matta era, the current state of Ohio State as a well-coached, high-effort team, continuing to build talent in each recruiting class is something to be applauded, regardless of one Big Ten Tournament game.

An NCAA tournament berth sure would be nice though.