This Ohio State basketball team reeks. The individual puzzle pieces that comprise the 2022-2023 Ohio State men’s basketball team are mostly nice ones, but they simply do not fit together to make a coherent picture. Additionally, many people are saying the man who is in charge of putting the puzzle together is incapable of putting this puzzle — or any puzzle — together.
There’s no denying the talent on this Ohio State team. Brice Sensabaugh will be a first-round NBA draftee in a few months. Zed Key — while not a superstar — is one of the better low post scorers in the Big Ten, despite an obvious height disadvantage. Justice Sueing isn’t doing much of anything right these days, but for his career he’s a 12.6 PPG scorer on nearly 45% overall shooting — that’s objectively good!
Sean McNeil, Isaac Likekele, and Tanner Holden are all 1,000+ point scorers for their career, and McNeil was shooting north of 40% from three prior to last weekend’s drubbing at Indiana. Bruce Thornton, Roddy Gayle, and Felix Okpara are talented freshmen who are already contributing — although not at an elite level.
Despite this, Ohio State is 11-10 this season, and 3-7 in Big Ten play thus far with 10 games to go. The last time the Buckeyes started 3-7 in league play was six years ago — the year Thad Matta was fired. That Ohio State finished the year 4-4 (7-11 overall), and did not participate in any postseason tournament. This year’s team could share the same fate if things don’t begin to point upward right away.
But here’s the wild, wacky, befuddling thing about this Ohio State team — the computers love it. KenPom, NET, Haslametric, Bart Torvik — heck even just your general bracket predictions — all love Ohio State. Not to an absurd level that would say, put them in the top 10, but to a level that still seems absurd, considering how stinky this team continues to play.
Let’s start with my personal favorite metric, KenPom. Ken Pomeroy ranks teams based on efficiency, which essentially grades out how many points you score per possession and how many points you allow defensively per possession. Subtract part two from part one, and voila — there’s your overall efficiency.
Despite losing seven of their last eight games, Ohio State is No. 28 in the country as of Tuesday afternoon. They’re three spots below Kansas State, who is 18-3 and sitting at the top of the Big 12 — the best conference in America. They are directly in front of 16-5 Auburn and 17-5 Providence, two teams who have combined to lose as many games as Ohio State this season.
Maybe it’s because Ohio State — despite the losing streak — has played pretty much every team tight for the entirety of their games, save for a three or four-minute stretch where things snowball. Against Maryland, it was the first four minutes of the second half. Against Indiana, it was the final three minutes of the first half. Against Purdue, it was the final two minutes of the first half. Ohio State played nearly impeccable basketball for the other 111 minutes in those three games but unfortunately, that’s not how it works — a minute or two of sloppy play can and will take a game right out of your hands.
Maybe it’s because Ohio State is one of the better teams in the country guarding the perimeter, and thus driving down that “points allowed per possession” category? The Buckeyes are still a piss-poor defensive team, but they rank 17th in the nation (among power-five conference teams) in preventing threes, as their opponents have only knocked down 30.2% of their triples this season.
Let’s move on to the NET, which might be the singular most important metric used by the NCAA Tournament committee in deciding who gets at-large bids to the tournament and where teams are seeded. Surely, the folks at the top recognize this team stinks, right? Not exactly!
Ohio State was No. 29 in the NET rankings as of Tuesday afternoon, which is strikingly similar to their KenPom ranking. The Buckeyes are just two spots below a 17-5 Xavier team just down I-70, that’s on track to probably win the Big East. Just below the Buckeyes is New Mexico, who at 18-3 has won seven more games than OSU and was the nation’s last undefeated team. Right below New Mexico are our friends Auburn and Providence again.
We took some guesses on why KenPom values Ohio State more than we do. But if the NCAA is using the NET to dictate tournament seeding, this must have some logic behind it, right? It does.
What are the NET Rankings?— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) November 26, 2018
Here's EVERYTHING you need to know. Be on the lookout for the first release pic.twitter.com/kdZwDEjFPS
To dumb it down to the most elementary level, the NET looks at who you play and where you’re playing them. This is more than the RPI system did, which more or less focused just on winning percentages. Even in a losing effort, who you played and where you played them matters quite a bit. The Buckeyes, for example, have only played three tournament-caliber teams at home this season — Rutgers, Purdue, and Iowa. Now, compare that to the eight tournament-caliber teams Ohio State has faced either on the road or on a neutral court this season — San Diego State, Duke, North Carolina, Northwestern, Maryland, Rutgers, Illinois, and Indiana. Ohio State lost seven of these eight games, but five of those losses were by single digits.
That, at its most broken down, simplistic level, is why Ohio State remains in the top 30 of the NET despite looking like trash over the past three-plus weeks.
For the purpose of not getting too into the weeds, we won’t break down HaslaMetrics and BartTorvik/T-Rankings, but both of these websites that rank teams based on various efficiencies also have Ohio State inside the top 40.
HaslaMetrics has Ohio State No. 37 as of Tuesday, above New Mexico, Iowa, and Kentucky.
BartTorkvik has Ohio State No. 25 in the country as of Tuesday, one spot behind Gonzaga.
All of this ultimately leads us to the NCAA Tournament. Do any of these numbers mean anything? Is it all just grandstanding, or are a few nerds trying to be the smartest ones in the room?
The purpose of putting this piece together is not to make excuses for this team or try to pivot to a different point that somehow points this Ohio State team in a better light. The purpose is to show how much of an anomaly this team is with computer models, and give fans a “warning” that, despite how putrid the Buckeyes look, they are still very much in a position to make the NCAA Tournament. Because the metrics still very much love this team.
As of Monday afternoon, Ohio State was the second team out of the tournament according to Bracket Matrix, which is an average of all the bracket predictions that can be found online. By Tuesday afternoon, the Buckeyes had dropped to the fifth team out of the tournament, despite not playing on Monday night. The teams on the bubble are splitting hairs and decimal points so closely that one win or loss can jump a team from the First Four in Dayton to one of the first four out. That is where Ohio State currently finds itself.
Just one week ago, Ohio State was in the spot that Pittsburgh currently sits — the second-lowest 11-seed. Just by losing to Indiana, the Buckeyes have fallen into the puddle of “other at-large” candidates.
The metrics/computers think this Ohio State team is NCAA Tournament-caliber. The play on the court, unfortunately, does not agree. But when the NCAA Tournament committee is looking at these very same numbers, the corpse that is the Ohio State men’s basketball team starts to breathe again.