This has been a rebuilding season for Ohio State, as the Buckeyes ended the regular season at 17-14 overall and 7-11 in the Big Ten. The end of season, however, provides the Buckeyes with a reset and a genuine chance to make a run in a very closely packed Big Ten Tournament.
A per the Big Ten's conference rules, every team is invited to the Big Ten Tournament. The Buckeyes will be heading to Washington D.C. to start play on Wednesday evening. After a roller coaster ride over the course of the season, how far can Ohio State go in the Tournament?
Let's take a look.
With the team's 7-11 record in Big Ten play, Ohio State finds itself as the No. 11 seed in this year's Big Ten Tournament. This means the Buckeyes will have to play on Wednesday in an opening round 7:00 pm game against the No. 14 seeded Rutgers Scarlet Knights. The Buckeyes will, deservedly, be favored in this game, and have a great opportunity to open the tournament with a win.
As a result of the unbalanced Big Ten schedule, Ohio State played Rutgers only once this season. On February 8th, the Buckeyes came out with a 70-64 home victory in a game Ohio State comfortably led by 12 points in the second half. Junior guard Kam Williams had his best game of the season, scoring 23 points including three of five from beyond the arc. Surprisingly, Williams hasn’t scored in double digits since, and has seen sophomore JaQuan Lyle take most of minutes from the bench.
The Buckeyes will need the leading scorers to continue their standard performances against Rutgers. Junior Jae’Sean Tate averages 14.2 points per game and 6.4 rebounds per game, and senior Marc Loving 12.5 points per game and 4.8 rebounds per game.
If the Buckeyes bring a strong defensive effort to Washington D.C., they should advance into the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.
If They Advance
If Ohio State advances, the team would then move on to face a Northwestern team that, while successful, has been vulnerable, at times. The Wildcats have lost three of the last four games with their only win coming at home on a buzzer beater against Michigan.
However, Northwestern did win the only matchup of the season with Ohio State, 74-72 at Columbus, in January. That marked the first time the Wildcats had won at Ohio State since 1977. However, with Northwestern reeling over the last month or so, and Ohio State coming off a potential win on Wednesday, it would not be a big reach to envision the Buckeyes pulling the upset.
If Ohio State finds a way to upset Northwestern, the Buckeyes would then move on to face No. 3 seeded Maryland. After that, the team would have a potential semi-final game (likely) against No. 2 seeded Wisconsin and a title matchup against Purdue, Illinois, or Michigan.
It would be difficult to see the Buckeyes winning five games in five nights, but with the parody in the Big Ten this season, it is not out of the realm of possibility.
Realistically speaking, the best hope for Ohio State is to win two games and then take their chances with Maryland. Defeating Rutgers is expected and a second round upset of Northwestern is more than reasonable. If the Buckeyes face the Terrapins on Friday night, they should consider their Big Ten Tournament a huge success.