Despite a win on Saturday afternoon against Penn State, the Ohio State men’s basketball team (13-5. 3-4) finds itself in a precarious position. 13-5 is a fine overall record, and 3-4 in the Big Ten isn’t great but is enough to keep the Buckeyes afloat.
But how about 0-3? That, of course, is Ohio State’s record in road games this year — making the Buckeyes one of just two Big Ten teams who have yet to win a game away from home this season (the other being Penn State). The Buckeyes have lost all three of its road games, falling to Penn State, Indiana, and Michigan. But their road woes extend beyond this season — Ohio State lost its last nine road games last season, too — which actually puts their losing streak on the road at an even dozen games. Ohio State has not won on the road since its Jan. 1, 2023 win at Northwestern.
Bruce Thornton: "This one stings. We know how important road wins are."— Connor Lemons (@lemons_connor) January 7, 2024
Now, whether Chris Holtmann and his Buckeyes like it or not, they’ll be forced to buck their road struggles over the next two weeks or watch the season slip away right in front of their eyes. Following tonight’s game at Nebraska — where the Huskers have only lost once this season — Ohio State will then travel to Northwestern this weekend. After that, they’ll come home and square off with No. 10 Illinois, followed by another road trip to Iowa City — a place they haven’t won at since the 2020-21 season.
This upcoming four-game stretch is not for the faint of heart. Just to stay afloat and have a mathematical chance at making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in two years, Ohio State has to win at least one of those three road games. That means the Buckeyes will have to do something they haven’t done in over a full calendar year — knock off a solid team on their own court.
Another prickly part of the upcoming four-game stretch is that the only home game — one that we are assuming Ohio State wins here for our own hypothetical purposes — is against a top-10 team that’s looked better than Ohio State on both ends of the floor this season. If the Buckeyes don’t beat Illinois at home on January 30, they’ll need to win another one of those daunted road games to make up for it.
The math for this four-game stretch is simple. Ohio State is 3-4 right now in Big Ten play — a three-way tie for eighth place. If it wins its home game against Illinois and goes 1-2 in the three road games, that puts them at 5-6 in the B1G. Mathematically, they’d almost certainly be eliminated from winning the conference (if you’re still thinking about that kind of thing), but they would still be right there on the NCAA Tournament bubble with nine games to play. If they lose that game against Illinois, Ohio State probably needs to go 2-1 against Nebraska, Northwestern, and Iowa on the road — which seems pretty unlikely the way this team has performed away from Columbus.
I’m drawing a hard line in the sand at 2-2 in these next four games because to me anything less will put this team on life support. If Ohio State does the most likely thing based on their record so far (beat Illinois at home but lose all three road games), they would come out of this four-game stretch at 4-7 in Big Ten play. Knowing that it’ll take at least 10-11 B1G wins to make the tournament, that means the Buckeyes would have to go 6-3 or 7-2 down the stretch to sneak in.
It’s not impossible, but this team hasn’t shown the ability to win games at that level yet.... which means they would almost certainly miss the NCAA Tournament.
After losing to Michigan last weekend, Chris Holtmann said that Ohio State’s story is “far from finished.” That may be true, but the tale of these Buckeyes could also come to a premature ending by the first week of February if they can’t buckle down in the next 10 days and find a way to do something they haven’t done in over a calendar year — win one road game.
After these next four, Ohio State will come home and the schedule flips, as they’ll get three out of four at the Schottenstein Center. Unfortunately, that won’t matter if the Buckeyes return home with a 3-8 or 4-7 record in Big Ten play. By that point, this team will be scratching and clawing for any kind of post-season bid — be that NCAA, NIT, CBI, or anything else.
So there you have it. There’s been a lot of talk from this team about how important Big Ten road wins are, and how they’ve let three slip out of their hands already this year. There’s been a lot of talk from this team about how last year’s experience is going to pay dividends this season since the core of this squad took beating after beating last year and learned from it. There’s been a lot of talk from this team about just needing shots to fall, and how the process is sound but the results just haven’t been there lately.
Enough talk. With three road games in the next 10 days, it’s time for the sound process and great preparation to turn into wins. If not, we’ll be having a very uncomfortable conversation in two weeks.