Though they sit just outside of the top-25 teams in the AP and ESPN polls, Ohio State has all but secured an NCAA tournament bid. In regards to the Big Ten tournament this week, the Buckeyes are among five Big Ten teams merely looking to improve their seeding in the Big Dance. The other teams include Wisconsin, Maryland, Michigan State and Iowa.
With a bye in the first round, No. 6 seeded Ohio State will play the winner of No.11 Minnesota and No. 14 Rutgers on Thursday at nine o'clock. Minnesota and Rutgers only played each other once this season. In Minneapolis, the Gophers came up on top with an 89-80 victory. Naturally, they are favored to win the tournament matchup.
During the regular season, the Buckeyes traveled to face off with each team once. In Minneapolis, Ohio State pulled out a two point overtime win over the Gophers, while in Piscataway, the Buckeyes topped the Scarlet Knights by a comfortable 19 points. Still, Ohio State is a much different team than it was earlier this season when these games occurred and D'Angelo Russell has become an entirely different player.
Should Ohio State beat Minnesota or Rutgers, the Buckeyes will play Michigan State in the quarterfinals. Ohio State traveled to East Lansing on February 14. The Spartans outscored the Buckeyes by three points to take the victory.
A semi-final matchup would most likely be against Maryland, which would set up a contest between two of the top freshmen guards in the nation: D'Angelo Russell and Maryland's Melo Trimble. The Buckeyes handedly beat the Terps 80-56 on January 29.
Entering Chicago, the Buckeyes have won three of their last four games, but their last game was a 72-48 home loss to Wisconsin.
Freshman sensation D'Angelo Russell looks to lead Ohio State through the Big Ten tournament. As a projected NBA draft lottery pick, this will most likely be Russell's only Big Ten tournament appearance. Russell has been a consistent double-digit scorer in every game except for his second game of the season against Marquette. But what really makes the high-scoring freshman special is his passing ability. Russell has a total of 161 assists on the season. He had a season high 11 assists against Rutgers and five against Minnesota.
Overall, Ohio State would have the most trouble should Minnesota come out on top in its matchup with Rutgers in the opening round. However, regardless, the Buckeyes should be a pretty considerable favorite when they face either team on Thursday. If the Buckeyes can pull off a win, Ohio State will have to step up its game in order to get past a challenging Michigan State team that always seems to get up for the Buckeyes. Then, even if the Buckeyes win, they will have the challenge of facing Indiana, Maryland, or Northwestern for their third game in three days. That three game stretch would not be easy for any team and is probably the point to look for Ohio State to run out of stream.
Still, the good thing for the Buckeyes is that regardless of their success in the tournament, they will be in the NCAA tournament with a beneficial seed.