The Ohio State Buckeyes entered the 2015-16 campaign without the expectations of living up to the success from a season ago - and rightfully so. The departure of 80 percent of the starting lineup against Arizona in the third round of the NCAA tournament, including the eventual No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft served as a major indicator at how the next season would shape up. The Big Ten Network pegged the Buckeyes seventh in the preseason projections due to the mass exodus.
With junior forward Marc Loving serving as the elder statesman of a program that welcomed five true freshmen, the start of the 2015 season went as expected from an adjustment standpoint. Head coach Thad Matta and his crew led the freshman-laden team to a 2-0 start against Mount St. Mary's and Grambling State, but once the non-conference slate toughened up a bit, the bumps along the road began to present themselves.
A five point home loss to UT-Arlington triggered a four game losing streak - three of those games inside the confines of Value City Arena, as the loss to Memphis came on a neutral court. Happy days followed as the program turned a corner with the Buckeyes winning nine out of their last 11 games, including a 74-67 victory over No. 4 Kentucky. The NCAA tournament is just less than two months away, but with daunting stretches of games on the horizon, the Ohio State Buckeyes have their work cut out for them in order to land a coveted spot on the bracket.
At 12-6, and with 13 games remaining on the schedule, the likelihood of an at-large berth is feasible, but could be slim with the majority of the top tier Big Ten teams at the end of their schedule. The positive news for the Buckeyes lies in the fact that the remaining schedule is split evenly with seven home and away games. The news that could cause Buckeye fans to cringe is the realization of having to play Maryland and Michigan State twice.
If four loses come from those games and they won the remaining games on the schedule, the Buckeyes would have 10 losses on the season. The chances of either scenario happening in the unpredictable Big Ten are slim, but the Buckeyes can't afford too many more losses with less than 15 games remaining.
The middle of January will be an early test to see if the young Ohio State squad can merit sustainability in the conference, as they go on the road for back-to-back contests against No. 3 Maryland and No. 24 Purdue. With an alternating home-away schedule starting on Monday, January 25 against the Penn State Nittany Lions, the Buckeyes won't have consecutive home games until February 23 and February 27 as they take on Michigan State and Iowa.
A plethora of factors have to go in favor of the Buckeyes to get the call in March. The win against Kentucky in December will look good on their tournament résumé, but the four losses in a row could seemingly cancel that out. Last night's convincing win against Rutgers puts the Buckeyes at 4-1 in the conference, but the brutal road games against Maryland and Purdue later this month could crush the hopes of the Buckeye faithful. Coach Matta has the propensity of maximizing results in February, but with the daunting trio of games to finish the regular season - Michigan State, Iowa and at Michigan State, the Buckeyes may need to win the Big Ten tournament in order to punch a ticket to the big dance.