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Column: The universe doesn’t want Ohio State to win a Big Ten championship this season

Why have the basketball Gods chosen to smite the Buckeyes?

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Purdue Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

When I’m in the arena sitting on press row with the rest of the Ohio State beat, I do my best to stay impartial and leave my scarlet and gray glasses home. Even as an Ohio State graduate, I think I’ve done a pretty fine job this season putting my fandom and loyalties to the side and analyzing the Buckeyes — and the Big Ten — objectively. B1G officiating sucks, but I’ll never blame them for a loss. Everyone deals with injuries, so leave that excuse at the door too, please.

This Ohio State team has flaws that will likely prevent them from winning a national championship or making a Final Four this season. Some things are fixable — a lot of things are fixable, actually. But some things you just can’t avoid: acts of God, like a global pandemic, a sprawling winter storm, or a plane breaking down three states away. And the Buckeyes have been absolutely shafted this season by things they can’t change.

No. 16 Ohio State (13-5, 6-3) started the season a little wobbly, but put the nation on notice with their 71-66 win over then-No. 1 Duke in Columbus back on Nov. 30. Then they went on the road and beat a feisty Penn State team before coming home and clobbering National Player of the Year candidate Johnny Davis and the Wisconsin Badgers at home, advancing to 2-0 in Big Ten play.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

We all know what happened next.

On Dec. 16, Ohio State announced that the Buckeyes weren’t going to be able to make the trip to Las Vegas to face Kentucky in the CBS Sports Classic — a game Ohio State was favored to win on a neutral floor — because there were multiple players who had contracted COVID-19. In the coming days, several other players and coaches fell ill, with most only suffering mild symptoms.

Their final two non-conference games, home games versus Tennessee-Martin and New Orleans scheduled for Dec. 21 & 28, were also cancelled, with no plans to reschedule. Ohio State was favored to win both of those games by double-digits. A year after mostly avoiding any type of COVID-19-related delays, OSU was forced to sit on their hands for over two weeks while the rest of the conference continued to heat up for B1G play. When they finally were able to travel to Lincoln, Nebraska on New Year’s Day for a Jan. 2 game against the ‘Huskers, it had been three whole weeks since they’d played a game.

Seriously, what’re you gonna do? Over 75 million Americans have contracted COVID-19. Ohio State’s whole team received their vaccinations and thankfully none of them were deathly sick. But it’s become so common, they could have caught it anywhere — at the grocery store, pumping gas, at a drive-thru, or in class. Anyone shouting at the players for being “irresponsible” and getting sick ignore the fact that college-aged men have lives too. They got their vaccinations. They’re being responsible, but not living in a bubble. It’s just a bit of bad luck.

The last-place, still winless in conference play Nebraska Cornhuskers took Ohio State to overtime at Pinnacle Bank Arena that night, but the Buckeyes were able to outlast them 87-79 in OT. They looked tired, beat up, and rusty. But a win is a win, and they could finally get back to work and try to find their rhythm...right?

Wrong.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t in the cards. On Jan. 20, Nebraska announced that due to their team falling ill with COVID-19 plus some injuries, they did not have at least seven players to travel to Columbus to play the Buckeyes in the rematch between the two teams. Aside from the fact that a home game against Nebraska is the best possible matchup in conference play, it also meant Ohio State would be dealing with another eight-day layoff between their game with IUPUI that was on Jan. 18 and their next game on Jan. 27 against Minnesota in Minneapolis. Another weeklong layoff that was no fault of their own.

After the eight-day layoff, Ohio State went to Minneapolis and took care of business, 75-64. They set season-highs in offensive and defensive rebounds, and showed they could win a game even if they weren’t necessarily firing on all cylinders offensively. A road game at Purdue came after that, where the Buckeyes fell behind by 20 points in the second half before rallying back and losing on a buzzer-beater from Jaden Ivey again. A loss is a loss, but there were things to feel good about if you’re an Ohio State fan.

The Buckeyes’ next five games all looked winnable on paper, giving them a wide-open window to force themselves back into the Big Ten title picture:

  • Iowa (home)
  • Maryland (home)
  • Rutgers (road)
  • Michigan (road)
  • Minnesota (home)

A 4-1 record in these five games would make Ohio State 17-6 overall, and 10-4 in conference play heading into the Feb. 19 rematch with Indiana in Columbus. While not a given, that seems like a reasonable expectation for those five games.

And then came Winter Storm Landon.

Wednesday evening, Chad Leistikow of the Des Moines Register reported that the Iowa Hawkeyes would not be making the trip to Columbus due to airplane malfunctions and the impending storm in Columbus. If they could not get in the air Wednesday night, weather would likely prevent them from being able to fly on the day of game, and the game would be cancelled.

Ohio State pushed back on Leistikow’s report of a cancellation, telling Land-Grant Holy Land that the game was still on as of Wednesday night, but a postponement may be necessary if Iowa was not able to fly out Thursday morning. On Thursday morning, both basketball programs confirmed the game would not be played, and would need to be rescheduled.

So, to recap, Ohio State has had five games cancelled or postponed due to:

  • Airplane malfunctions
  • A winter storm
  • A global pandemic

On top of that, all five games were either home or neutral site and Ohio State was favored to win all five games. Not to mention that home games vs Iowa and Nebraska are victories the Buckeyes need on their schedule if they want to win the conference this season. With only 34 days until the Big Ten Tournament, rescheduling both looks unlikely.

While other teams at the top of the conference such as Illinois, Wisconsin, and Purdue are playing through their whole schedule and picking up wins against bottom-feeders like Nebraska, the Buckeyes will be at an inherent disadvantage if they have to catch their winning percentage without the benefit of having 10 home conference games.

It seems like every time this team picks up a little wind or gains some momentum, a force that is totally out of their control knocks them back down a peg or two. The Big Ten Tournament begins on March 9. Ohio State has nine games left on the schedule, plus two games that (desperately) need to be rescheduled.

If they’re able to reschedule both games before the Big Ten Tournament, they’ll be playing 11 games in 34 days — essentially one game every three days. If they don’t get the Nebraska and Iowa games rescheduled, it could mean the difference between a Big Ten Championship/runner up, or (more likely) a single-bye or a double-bye in the BTT.

Any way you look at it, some shit luck has befallen this team in 2022. Keep that in mind over the coming weeks as they attempt to complete their marathon Big Ten schedule. And keep that in mind if they somehow, some way claw their way back onto the top shelf of the Big Ten when all is said and done.