What a year it has been for The Ohio State Buckeyes. Last March, they were coming off their worst season in 15 years, missing the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row and starting point guard Ja’Quan Lyle had just left the team. In June, longtime head coach Thad Matta stepped down after 13 seasons and 337 wins. The coaching search seemed messy and desperate until AD Gene Smith announced the hiring of Chris Holtmann, head coach of the Butler Bulldogs. Then, in a year that most people viewed to be a rebuilding year, Ohio State put all those talks to a quick halt.
With the coaching of Holtmann and leadership of Jae’Sean Tate and Kieta Bates-Diop, the Buckeyes finished 24-7 and 15-3 in conference. They also secured wins over two top-3 teams (Michigan State and Purdue) and two of their conference losses were to Penn State. Chris Holtmann was named Coach of the year, Bates-Diop secured player of the year and Tate was also voted in All-Big Ten Second Team. Promising Freshman Kaleb Wesson was named to the All-Freshman team.
As a team that many thought would finish outside the top ten in the Big Ten in November, the Buckeyes climbed as high as eighth in the national poll and finished second in the conference and were leading or tied for the lead for most of the year. Even though they have been one of the best stories in College Basketball, people still have doubts about their bench and if they can make a run in the tournament. Let’s look at their journey through the Big Ten Championship and the road they have ahead.
For Ohio State fans, the one team they did not want to see is on a crash course with Ohio State for their opening Friday game. As the 2 seed, Ohio State will take on the winner of the 7 vs 10 game on Thursday at 6:30 which just happens to be Penn State against Northwestern. Penn State is 2-0 against the Buckeyes and have been Ohio State’s toughest opponent this season and especially star point guard Tony Carr, who averaged 29 points per game in their two match ups and shot 19-for-29 from the floor.
If Penn State moves on, it will be a great back and forth game that is sure to come down to the wire. The Buckeyes three guards will have to switch on and off and all bring their best defensive efforts to stop Tony Carr. The Nittany Lions big man Mike Watkins has been injured and we will see what his status is as we get further in the week. If they are without him, that is a huge advantage for the Buckeyes.
If Northwestern defeats Penn State, The Buckeyes chances become much better. They only faced each other once but the Buckeyes won at Northwestern and even though it was a good game, the Buckeyes led most of the way. On a neutral floor, the advantage is swiftly on Ohio State’s side.
If they advance
If Ohio State can advance past their opening round game Friday, they will play at 4:30 on Saturday. They will play the winner of the 3 vs 6/11 or 14 game, which will either be Purdue, Indiana, Rutgers or Minnesota. Barring any huge upsets, Purdue will come out of this game and take on Ohio State. They only faced off once this year and Ohio State pulled off the upset in West Lafayette with a Bates-Diop put back with 1.6 seconds left, in what was one of the two huge wins on the year for them.
If Ohio State can get past the quarterfinal match up, they will be on a crash course with the Michigan State Spartans. However, the Spartans do not have an easy course to the championship themselves, as they will more than likely have to defeat either Nebraska or Michigan. Both of those teams have had a great last month and will certainly give the Spartans all they can handle.
Barring any upsets, Ohio State will likely face Penn State, Purdue and Michigan State if they make it to Sunday. This is about as difficult as it comes and will take everyone on the Buckeyes team to play well and at their peak ability. If they do make it through this and win the Big Ten Championship, they could make the case for as high as a 3 seed in the tournament. If not, they will likely either be a 4 or 5 seed.
Ohio State has had a magical year so far and they have the star power and role players to make a run in the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament. However, they need Kieta Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate to lead this team and play as well as they have all year.