clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

You’re Nuts: What Ohio State men’s basketball game is the biggest ‘what if’ for you?

Your (almost) daily dose of good-natured, Ohio State banter.

Wichita State v Ohio State Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

From now until preseason camp starts in August, Land-Grant Holy Land will be writing articles around a different theme every week. This week is all about asking “What If?”. You can catch up on all of the Theme Week content here and all of our ”What If?” articles here.

As a sports fan, there are always moments when you find yourself asking years after “what if?”. What if a play had gone a different way? What if a penalty was or wasn’t called? What if a recruit decided to commit to Ohio State or decided to transfer to the school? What if a certain coaching hire was made? It’s crazy how one play or call could change how a season plays out, and even how it affects a program for years after.

During “What if?” week, there will be plenty of attention paid to the Ohio State football program, and rightfully so since there are plenty of events from years ago that fans still dwell on. Today we are going to focus on the men’s basketball program. Even though the Buckeye basketball team hasn’t reached expectations for a number of years, for nearly a decade they were in the conversation as one of the best college basketball programs in the country.

What we want to know is what Ohio State men’s basketball game is the biggest “what if” for you? What game is the one that still sticks in your craw to this day, and you think could have made a huge difference in the program had the result gone differently? With so many deep runs in the tournament under Thad Matta that never ended up with the Buckeyes cutting down the nets, it shouldn’t be too tough to come up with a game that ended with Ohio State missing a golden opportunity.

Today’s question: What Ohio State men’s basketball game is the biggest ‘what if’ for you?

We’d love to hear your choices. Either respond to us on Twitter at @Landgrant33 or leave your choice in the comments.

Brett’s answer: The Elite Eight loss to Wichita State in 2013

Ohio State entered the 2012-13 season coming off a run to the Final Four where they blew a lead against Kansas in the national semifinal. Who knows if Jared Sullinger, William Buford, and the Buckeyes would have been able to defeat Anthony Davis and Kentucky in the title game, but judging how the Wildcats handled the Jayhawks, it would have been tough for Ohio State to win. Even though Sullinger declared for the NBA Draft and Buford graduated, the Buckeyes still entered the 2012-13 season ranked fourth in the country.

During the regular season, Ohio State posted a record of 23-7, with all seven losses coming to ranked teams. The Buckeyes had a rough stretch in February where the lost three of four games, but they put things together late in the year, winning their final five regular season games. Thad Matta’s team kept the strong play going in the Big Ten Tournament, beating Wisconsin 50-43 in the championship game. Following their close to the season, the Buckeyes were placed as the two-seed in the West in the NCAA Tournament.

After an easy win against Iona in their first game of the tournament in Dayton, Aaron Craft hit a three-pointer with half a second left to give Ohio State a 78-75 win over Iowa State. Heading into the Sweet Sixteen, the West region was a mess, with the other three teams still alive being seeded sixth or higher. Out in Los Angeles, the Buckeyes again won on a late three-pointer, beating Arizona 73-70 after LaQuinton Ross hit a triple with two seconds left, setting up an Elite Eight battle with Wichita State.

With the Shockers being a nine-seed, it felt like a given that Ohio State would be heading to the Final Four for a second straight season. Unfortunately, the underdogs put the Buckeyes in a hole they couldn’t dig out of, earning their second Final Four appearance in school history with a 70-66 victory. Had Ohio State been able to beat Wichita State, they would have been joined in the Final Four by Louisville, Syracuse, and Michigan. Louisville was the only one-seed that made the Final Four, as Syracuse and Michigan were both four-seeds.

Ohio State would have certainly been tested in the national semifinal by Louisville, but it’s not like the Cardinals were an unbeatable team. Wichita State hung with Louisville in their Final Four battle, so it’s not unthinkable that Deshaun Thomas and the Buckeyes could have found a way to beat Rick Pitino’s team. If Ohio State had beaten Louisville, they would have taken on Michigan and Trey Burke in the title game. The Buckeyes beat Michigan by three in Columbus, and the Wolverines returned the favor in Ann Arbor, beating Ohio State 76-74 in overtime.

Not only would it have been amazing to see an Ohio State-Michigan basketball title game, it would have been great to see Thad Matta possibly get a title after two other Final Four appearances with the Buckeyes. Following the loss to Wichita State, things started to trend in the wrong direction for Ohio State. The Elite Eight appearance in 2013 was the last time the Buckeyes have advanced past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

Had Ohio State been able to win it all, maybe recruiting goes a little different for the Buckeyes, and they bring in a few more high-profile recruits to go along with D’Angelo Russell in 2015. Also, there might not be as many transfers in the last few years under Matta, which left Chris Holtmann with some roster issues to work through after taking over for Matta. Who knows, maybe Matta sticks around longer since there isn’t as much pressure on him after winning a title. The loss to the Shockers started a downhill slide for Ohio State that they are still trying to work through.

Matt’s answer: The 2019-20 postseason

I know this is kind of cheating a bit, since the question was about individual games, but to me, the way that 2019-20 season ended could end up having dramatic implications on the program; heck, it probably already has.

In case you have blocked out that entire spring (and I wouldn’t blame you), here’s a refresher as to what was happening with Chris Holtmann’s crew. The Buckeyes were 21-10 having gone 11-9 in Big Ten play. They had earned the fifth seed in the B1G Tournament. However, the team was 9-3 dating back to a Jan. 26 victory over Northwestern. In their final five games of the campaign, they had beaten No. 7 Maryland 79-72, No. 19 Michigan 77-63, and No. 23 Illinois 71-63. The Buckeyes fell on the road to No. 16 Michigan State on the Spartan’s Senior Day 80-69 to close out the season.

At the time COVID put an end to the season, the Buckeyes were No. 8 in the country according to venerated basketball analytics guru Ken Pomeroy and projected to be a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Spartans were the only B1G ranked ahead of the Buckeyes according to KenPom, and the Washington Post even ran a bunch of simulations and determined that Ohio State would have won the NCAA Tournament that season. We even sold t-shirts celebrating the completely real and undisputed national title.

Now, I don’t actually claim that as a national championship, obviously, and I wouldn’t even go so far as to say the Buckeyes were Final Four bound, but you know what I would have been willing to put money on that year? The collection of Kaleb Wesson, Duane Washington Jr., CJ Walker, Andre Wesson, Luther Muhammad, Kyle Young, and a freshman E.J. Liddell getting out of the first weekend.

To this day, Holtmann has yet to take an Ohio State team to the Sweet 16, and fans rightly never let him (or anyone who says anything nice about him) forget it. I have to wonder how things would have been different had COVID never become a thing and the Buckeyes had made it to the Sweet 16, the Elite 8, or even the title game. Not only would that have taken away one of the major arguments against Holtmann’s tenure as the Buckeyes’ coach, but it also could have seriously impacted players transferring and who OSU landed on the recruiting trail.

But even if nothing other than the end of that season changed, and everything that has happened since remained the same, if Ohio State had done what many smart basketball people expected and made it to the Elite 8 in the 2019-20 season, it might have bought a little more good will for Holtmann following last season’s horrific season. While I still expect a marked turnaround for the team this year, if that doesn’t happen, Holtmann is almost assuredly out the door. But would that have been the case if he had taken his team on a deep run just a few years ago?

We’ll obviously never know, and there were clearly far more damaging things that happened because of the pandemic, but the impact that the cancelation of the postseason had on the Ohio State program really could have ripple effects for years still to come.