The Ohio State Buckeyes may have fallen short in reaching this season's goals, but the team still finds itself in the 2016 NIT with an opportunity to make some serious noise in what looks like a very winnable bracket.
This path will start on Tuesday night with an intriguing in-state matchup against the Akron Zips in Columbus. The winner will move on the second round of the NIT and likely head on the road to face Florida. Still, it's an opportunity to put a positive spin on what was an underwhelming season for the Buckeyes.
Here are three keys point to this game, which is scheduled to tip off approximately at 7:00PM ET on ESPN.
1. Who Wins The Shooting Battle?
One of the interesting aspects of Akron this season has been its solid play outside the arc. The Zips are not only one of the more consistent shooting teams in the country, but also do a stellar job at holding opponents in check from long range. In fact, the team ranks No. 16 nationally in offensive three point percentage and No. 10 nationally in defensive three point percentage.
Much of this battle will come down to Akron's Reggie McAdams and Ohio State's Kam Williams. Whoever has the better game out of these two could very well determine who comes out on top on Tuesday night. Outside of a game against Michigan State, it's been a rough few weeks for Williams, so the Buckeyes will look for a better performance on Tuesday night.
2. Which Marc Loving Shows Up?
One of the most frustrating players for Ohio State this season has been Marc Loving. This isn't because he's been bad, but more so because of his inconsistency. On any given night, he can play like an All-Big Ten player or a bench player.
To put this in perspective, just consider that Loving's had 17 games with an offensive rating of 100 or higher and 16 games with an offensive rating below 100 this season. For half the season, he's been either above average or underwhelming. Notably, 61.5 percent of Ohio State's losses this season came when Loving has an offensive rating below 100.
Ohio State is going to be the favorite on Tuesday night, but if the team is ultimately going to get the win and accomplish more in the NIT, it's going to need Loving to be on his game.
3. Is There A Home Court Advantage?
One of the nice things about making the NIT is that teams have the opportunity to secure up to three additional home games. Obviously, teams would rather play on a neutral court in the NCAA Tournament, but this is one nice perk about making the NIT.
On Tuesday, Ohio State will play at home in what could very well be the team's last home game of the season. If the Buckeyes win, the team will likely travel to play Florida, so this is the last chance for the home fans to give the team a boost. The crowds were relatively underwhelming in the final weeks of the season, so it will be interesting to see how many fans turn out.
Additionally, with Akron playing in this game, who many Zip fans travel to Columbus? The crowd won't determine who wins the game, but based on this matchup, there's a chance this ends up closer to a neutral environment for the Buckeyes.