Conference tournament week is a great warm-up for the teams bound to either the NCAA Tournament or NIT. Win and you play another day; lose, and you pack up your stuff and head home.
The Ohio State Buckeyes won a game in the Big Ten Tournament — a much needed one at that — on Thursday, before getting wiped out by the top-seeded Michigan State Spartans. The quarterfinal game versus MSU was a combination of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Chris Holtmann’s squad was at one point down by more than 20 points before putting together a furious rally at the end. Maybe with a little more time, the Bucks could’ve pulled off the comeback at the United Center.
That’s the breaks, though, especially when it’s a single elimination tournament.
As four teams stay another day in Chicago, OSU now awaits its postseason fate. But, before we delve too deeply into the scenarios on Selection Sunday, let’s rewind and take a look at a few observations that caught my eye in Friday’s loss.
It’s the presence that counts
From a statistical side, Kaleb Wesson wasn’t as effective as he’s been. He only scored seven points and grabbed three rebounds, but his presence on the floor kept this game close. When he fouled out with 9:42 remaining in the second half, the Buckeyes were down 11. Not too far back, but not too close, either.
Over the next five minutes, MSU went on an 18-8 run, and pulled up by 21, 75-54. While OSU closed out the game with a 16-2 run of their own, the fact is that having the younger Wesson down low is a difference maker down the stretch. Playing the “What If” game, what if Kaleb had stayed in the game for another three minutes? Would the Spartans have been able to hold off the furious Buckeye rally late?
In the three-game stretch that Kaleb was suspended, OSU looked lost on both sides of the ball. Northwestern beat OSU down low; Wisconsin and Purdue had enough offensive firepower to hang on for wins — albeit Purdue’s victory was by a much larger margin.
Just having Kaleb on the court makes a difference. Even if he doesn’t have a stellar game stats wise, teams have to respect and focus on him. Otherwise, he’ll take everything that’s around the basket.
Someone steps up
Yes, OSU lost the game, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. The Buckeyes gutted out this performance, even leading at times. However, the Spartans had one thing that Ohio State didn’t, depth. Freshman Foster Loyer came off of the bench and scored 14 points on four three-point makes. Prior to entering Friday’s game, he had only made three threes in his career.
Personally, that’s how I believe teams survive the month of March: big performances from guys who normally don’t have big performances.
Luther Muhammad had one of his better games in recent memory, scoring seven points. Musa Jallow also churned together a seven-point game, while Justin Ahrens managed to score zero points on 0-of-2 shooting. If Ohio State was going to pull off the improbable from here on out (i.e., make a run in the tournament) then these three have to have some big performances, or solid ones if all three can contribute. It would be a sight to behold if those three could put up 30 combined points, while the likes of C.J. Jackson, Keyshawn Woods and Andre Wesson put up 12-15 points each.
At times, someone has had the hot hand — but never more than a couple. Woods has had it over the last two games. Ahrens had it during the Iowa game, and Jackson and Andre have had their own share of team-leading displays on the scoring front.
Solve that problem, or at least get solid performances from the role players, and OSU might be able to stick around for a second weekend in the NCAA Tournament.
Speaking of the Big Dance...
Entering the Big Ten Tournament, Holtmann’s squad was teetering on the brink. Some projections had OSU as a First Four participant; others had the Bucks at a No. 11 spot, depending upon what else happened with fellow bubble teams.
All that talk, though, was before OSU beat Indiana. That was their biggest hurdle this week, as the Hoosiers were even closer to the brink than the Buckeyes. That win elevated them, in practically ever bracketologist’s book, to “safety.”
The Selection Show will be Sunday evening, but it’s probably a very good assumption that OSU dances its way in as a No. 11 seed, forgoing the “play-in” games in Dayton. I don’t feel that we need another tournament projection piece because 1) it’ll keep changing between now and Sunday and 2) it’s all out of the Buckeyes’ hands now.
But when the seeding and tip-off times are announced, we’ll have you covered.