Like so many others, I watched the Iowa-Illinois game on Sunday evening hoping to God that the Hawkeyes would pull it off. If Iowa won (there were endless caveats and variables to the seeding on the final day), Ohio State would play the winner of Indiana-Nebraska, and then Maryland after that if they won.
If Illinois won, however, Ohio State would line up with Michigan State again, assuming the Buckeyes beat Purdue. Low and behold, Illinois pulled it out, and Ohio State could get their rematch with the Spartans on Friday if they’re able to get through Matt Haarms’ hair on Thursday night.
Yeah, it’ll be fun eliminating him in particular.
The Buckeyes wound up as the 7-seed. Not bad for a team who began the season 2-6 in conference play and were destined for the NIT according to media members and Twitter trolls. Heck, they were a Marcus Carr buzzer beater away from potentially being higher than that. Unfortunately, none of that matters, and a potential rematch with the three-time defending Big Ten champ now looms on the horizon.
If you haven’t seen the bracket itself, here’s how everything shook out after the final buzzer of the regular season:
Now, Ohio State certainly has the toughest road to the championship out of the six single-bye teams. An argument could be made for Purdue as well, but if the Buckeyes put them out of their misery on day one, then that’s irrelevant.
Winning one game or less in the conference tournament really would not hurt the Buckeyes as far as tournament seeding goes. They seem to be a pretty firm 5-6 seed based on their strong NET ranking (16), strength of schedule (4), AP Poll ranking (19), and KenPom ranking (8). Even if Ohio State loses to Purdue Thursday, dropping to a 6-seed may be the worst that happens.
However, if they beat Purdue and Michigan State, the BasketBucks could see their stock rise a bit. A top-10 win on a neutral court would be a big boost to their resume, and they could potentially make that jump up to a 4-seed. Beating Maryland too (or whoever makes it to the semi-finals in that slot) could solidify Ohio State as a 4-seed in the NCAA Tournament on selection Sunday.
Would I put my money on Chris Holtmann’s team making a three-day run to the Big Ten Championship game? Probably not, but it isn’t impossible by any means. Ken Pomeroy recently tweeted out odds for each team to win the B1G tournament, and he has Ohio State as the fourth most likely to win it. He gave both Ohio State and Illinois an 8.9% chance of winning, despite Illinois possessing the coveted double-bye while Ohio State will start playing one day earlier.
Now, if they were to make a magical run into Sunday, what would need to happen? Nothing miraculous really, but a few chips would need to fall in Ohio State’s favor for it to work out that way.
1) Stay out of foul trouble
I think Ohio State’s game plan on Sunday vs Michigan State was sound. They were trapping the ball handler almost every play, forcing the Spartans to pass to the perimeter and daring the Spartans to beat them from the outside. This has been a staple of Chris Holtmann’s defense over the years. Ohio State is willing to give up some open looks outside while simultaneously closing off the paint completely. The offense was not great, but they got enough contributions across the board to at least hang with Michigan State.
That was, until OSU got into foul trouble. With Kaleb Wesson, Andre Wesson, Luther Muhammad, and CJ Walker all picking up three or more fouls, Ohio State had a decision to make: continue to play aggressive defense and potentially foul out, or play defense more cautiously, knowing that Michigan State will have a better chance of scoring? With a short bench, the Buckeyes don’t have many bodies to sub in if Walker, Muhammad, or either Wesson were to foul out. They seemed to back off a bit, and that is when the Spartans pulled away.
This weekend, it will be paramount that the Buckeyes stay out of early foul trouble so that they don’t put themselves in this position again.
2) Resurrect Kyle Young from the dead
Ohio State is a completely different team with Young on the floor. His existence alone makes Kaleb Wesson exceptionally more dangerous by allowing him to step back to the perimeter while Young anchors the paint. Not many teams possess the sheer girth it takes to defend Young and Wesson, and if they do, that girthy forward probably does not have the quickness to step out and defend Wesson on the perimeter.
Young creates plenty of second-chance opportunities for Ohio State as well, pulling down two offensive rebounds per game. If he had played in enough games to qualify, his 58.5% field goal percentage would rank second in the Big Ten, behind only Myles Johnson of Rutgers (60.2%).
The Buckeyes desperately need Young on the floor, but they need him back healthy. Watching him come back for the Big Ten Tournament, only to get re-injured and miss the NCAA Tournament, would all but crush Ohio State’s chances of advancing deep in the big dance. The Buckeyes need Young, but they should not call his number until he’s ready.
3) Have someone else get upset along the way
Beating Purdue, Michigan State, Maryland, and Wisconsin (if chalk prevails) over the course of four days would be a remarkable feat, especially considering the Buckeyes are 2-4 against those teams collectively this season. Anything can happen in March though, and a few upsets are bound to happen. If a lower seed upsets a higher seed here or there, it could help springboard the Buckeyes to the next round.
For example, the winner of Nebraska (14) and Indiana (11) will play Penn State (6) on Thursday. What if the winner of that game beats Penn State and Maryland (3)? The Terps aren’t exactly firing on all cylinders right now, so who says it can’t happen? Ohio State would without a doubt rather see IU or Nebraska in the semi-finals than Maryland or Penn State.
Any of the top-9 seeds hitting a bump in the road could benefit the Buckeyes down the line potentially, and that kind of lucky break might be necessary for Ohio State to win four games in four days.