Ohio State’s disastrous, disappointing, but not-at-all-shocking-loss to Indiana on Tuesday night, paired with Michigan’s win over No. 11 Wisconsin on Wednesday night put the Buckeyes in a spot it has quite literally never been in before — 14th place in the Big Ten.
Since the Wolverines (8-15, 3-9) beat the Buckeyes last month (13-10, 3-9), they own the tiebreaker. That means that if the season ended today, Michigan would go into the Big Ten Tournament as the 13-seed, despite having won five fewer games this year overall to this point. Ohio State would be the 14th seed, which would be the first time it has ever finished in last place of the 14-team era.
Since the Big Ten Tournament’s inaugural year in 1998, Ohio State has only finished in last place once — 1998. That was the very first year for head coach Jim O’Brien, as the Buckeyes finished the year 8-22 overall and 1-15 in Big Ten play.
A lot has changed since 1998. The Big Ten expanded from 11 teams to 12 in 2011 with the addition of Nebraska, and then to 14 teams in 2014 with the additions of Maryland and Rutgers. Next year, the Big Ten will expand to 18 teams by adding four more modest midwestern institutions — UCLA, USC, Washington, and Oregon. The conference schedule changed, too, as it expanded from 16 games to 18 in 2008, and then from 18 to 20 in 2019.
That 1997-98 Ohio State men’s basketball team finished the year 1-15 in the Big Ten and endured a 17-game losing streak at one point. The team was led by Big Ten Rookie of the Year Michael Redd, who averaged 21.9 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 3 assists per game.
However, the circumstances surrounding the 1997-1998 team and the 2023-2024 team couldn’t be any more different. O’Brien took over an Ohio State program that had gone 54-85 over the previous five seasons, missed the NCAA Tournament each of those five years, and never finished better than seventh in the Big Ten. He was putting the pieces together from the ground up and had exactly one foundational piece to work with in Redd.
The 2023-24 Ohio State men’s basketball team had remarkably higher expectations. Chris Holtmann’s seventh team is buoyed by Bruce Thornton and Roddy Gayle, two former top-60 recruits and guards who are averaging double-digit points per game as sophomores. It added Jamison Battle, a fifth-year senior who never averaged fewer than 11.8 points per game in five seasons, and is a 37% career three-point shooter. It also brought back one of the conference’s best interior defenders and shot blockers in Felix Okpara, and brought in the No. 8 recruiting class in the country.
At the very least, this was a team that should’ve found themselves on the NCAA Tournament bubble by February, fighting for an opportunity to dance one year after losing 15 conference games. Instead, it has lost eight of its last nine and has once again played its way out of the NCAA Tournament picture.
For their efforts, these Buckeyes have currently put themselves in a position to do something no other Ohio State team has ever done — finish in 14th place in the Big Ten. Since the conference expanded to 14 teams in 2014, the lowest Ohio State has ever finished was 13th — which was last season. Before that, the lowest it had placed in the 14-team era was 11th, back in 2017, which was Thad Matta’s final season.
With eight games left on the schedule, Ohio State has time to win a few and try to climb above fellow Big Ten corpses Michigan and Rutgers. With sixth-place and 13th-place only separated by three games, there’s going to be some moving and shaking over the final four weeks of the season.
But this Ohio State team is armed with the worst defense of any OSU team since Chris Holtmann arrived in 2017. They’re not capable of getting consecutive stops and continue to find creative and innovative ways to beat themselves. Because of that, the Buckeyes have just as good a chance as anyone else at finishing last and earning that coveted 14-seed in the 2024 Big Ten Tournament for the first time in program history.