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Will Ohio State Get A Shot At #1?

The Buckeyes were perhaps a few plays away from jumping to the top of the polls this week. What are the chances Ohio State can get to #1?

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Over the weekend, everything seemed to be in place for the Buckeyes to jump to #1 in the rankings.  Arizona was down big on the road to Michigan, Ohio State had a manageable game against North Dakota State, and Syracuse had a challenging game against St. John's on Sunday.  Things of course happened differently.  Arizona came back to eek out a win against the Wolverines and Syracuse was able to beat St. John's in a very thrilling game.  Ohio State did win over the weekend, but it certainly would have been more exciting for fans if it had meant a #1 ranking on Monday.

So, what now for Ohio State?  Do the Buckeyes still have a shot at #1?  The obvious answer is yes.  Any team can theoretically reach #1, but with the challenging Big Ten season awaiting, the better question is probably about how realistic is it for Buckeye fans to hope for #1 in the coming weeks.  The answer here is a little more murky, but let's take a look at what the top teams have awaiting.

Right now, there are 3 teams (deserving or not) that are in discussion for the #1 ranking: Arizona, Syracuse, and Ohio State.  The Buckeyes are sitting 3rd in most of the polls so it is going to need some help from Arizona and Syracuse if they want to rise to the top.  The other thing to keep in mind is that OSU has to go on the road and play MSU on January 7th.  The Spartans did lose to North Carolina at home, so losing to MSU is not guaranteed, but considering that after that game OSU gets Iowa at home and Minnesota on the road, odds are probably low that the Buckeyes survive undefeated through all three.  So realistically, Ohio State is probably going to have to reach #1 in one of the next three rankings.  They could of course do it afterward, but with all the changes by then, it is almost impossible to predict.

Between now and then, there are two major challenges awaiting Ohio State: Notre Dame (neutral) and Purdue (road).  Neither of these are a guarantee by any means, but they are both certainly winnable.  For discussion's sake, we are going to assume that Ohio State ends up winning both games.  Remember, between now and the MSU stretch, there are three new sets of rankings and opportunities to be ranked #1 (23rd, 30th, 6th).

First, let's take a gander at Arizona.  The Buckeyes are going to need some major help from the Wildcats if they hope to reach #1.  Arizona plays nobody between now and early January.  Their opponents are: Southern University, Northern Arizona, Washington State, and Washington.  The top opponent of this bunch is Washington State who ranks an impressive #105 on KenPom at the moment.  To make an easy comparison for OSU fans: Ohio University is above Washington State on KenPom.  It is difficult to imagine Arizona slipping up in any of these games, especially considering that none are on the road.

Now, let's take a look at Syracuse.  The Orange definitely have a more difficult schedule in the coming weeks than Arizona with: High Point, Villanova, Eastern Michigan, and Miami.  The obvious name that jumps off is Villanova, who is rated #4 on KenPom right now.  That is a major challenge and though Syracuse gets them at home, that is not even close to a guaranteed game.  Syracuse could also get challenged by Miami, but considering all three of the other opponents are at home, it is difficult to imagine them going down to any of those three.  However, with Villanova awaiting, hope should definitely be there of OSU moving above Syracuse in the coming weeks.

Overall, it is very unlikely to see OSU rising to the top of the polls anytime soon.  The door could be opened, but not only is it unlikely to see Arizona and Syracuse losing, but if someone honestly assesses the schedules, OSU may actually have the most difficult the next few weeks.  Villanova is the toughest opponent of any of the three teams in this discussion, but OSU has both Notre Dame and Purdue and has neither at home.  Neither Arizona or Syracuse have more than one difficult opponent in the next few weeks.

The bottomline here is that the Big Ten will probably not get to have another #1 ranked team in the remaining few weeks.  Of course, it doesn't mean all that much towards a championship, but it is a nice experience for a team and its fans.  OSU certainly is aimed at having a good season, but in all likelihood, they are going to have to hope to do something later in the season if they hope to be ranked #1 this year.