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2018 NCAA Tournament: Someone Wake Up Ohio State, It’s Time To Play Again

What type of roadmap will the Buckeyes need to follow in order to reach the Sweet Sixteen?

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

I’m going to be honest with you right out the gate; until its name was read Sunday evening I sort of forgot Ohio State was a thing.

No, I don’t mean I forgot that the crown jewel of Columbus, Ohio existed. After all, the Buckeyes have played a major role in both my highest highs and lowest lows as a sports fan.

But having played only one game since Feb. 23 (which, speaking of highs, was a Big Ten Tournament defeat two Fridays ago at the hands of Penn State) Chris Holtmann’s team wasn’t taking up any immediate real estate in my subconscious.

So while the Big Ten’s extended break was producing much fanfare, and a little hemming and hawing, about the Wolverines, Spartans, and Boilermakers, the Buckeyes brief cameo in New York coupled with its tame off-the-court existence allowed it to tip-toe its way into the madness.

Not dissecting Ohio State under a microscope for the past week does beg a few questions though, chief among which being why haven’t we been? I mean, the Buckeye’s only lost to two of the Big Ten’s 14 programs, yet seem to be an afterthought when discussing the conferences contenders for a trip to the Sweet Sixteen.

So what’s this all means for its chances when Ohio State takes the court for the first time in 13 days on Thursday? I’m glad you asked.

Opening Round

The Buckeyes earned itself a 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament and with it a matchup against the 12 seeded Summit league champion South Dakota State Jackrabbits.

On paper, this is an intriguing pairing that’s led to many more questions.

Is the whole ’12-upsetting-a-5-seed’ thing real or just a bunch of malarkey? (It’s real, as over the past five years 10 12-seeds have upset its higher seeded foes).

How is a jackrabbit different than a regular rabbit? (They’re basically just bigger rabbits with floppier ears).

Is South Dakota the one with all the faces carved into a mountain? (Yes).

Do we really need two Dakota’s? (Also yes).

Can the Jackrabbits pull the upset over Ohio State? Let’s dive into that one a little bit deeper.

South Dakota put together a fairly impressive resume thanks to a strength of schedule ranked in the top 150 and defeats over two power conference opponents in Iowa and Ole Miss. But the Jackrabbits struggled in its other marquee matchups, dropping games to Kansas, Colorado, and Wichita State.

Junior forward Mike Daum (which I hope is pronounced Dayyyummmm) averaged a double-double for the year and scored 30 or more points a ridiculous 12 times. With that in mind it should come as little surprise that as a team South Dakota checks in at no. 41 in offensive efficiency, having put up 90 or more points 12 times during the 2017-’18 campaign.

Still, despite the Jackrabbits offensive capabilities KenPom favors the Buckeyes by a healthy 7.5-points on a neutral court. Vegas agrees with the line opening up at 8.5-points in favor of Ohio State, however, money appears to have come in heavily on South Dakota pushing the spread down to 8-points in less than 24-hours.

Keita Bates-Diop and company will definitely be on upset alert come Thursday afternoon. But despite a closer game than Central Ohio is hoping for, its top 20 nationally ranked defense should be enough to slow down Daum and the rest of the Cottontails, as it propels the Buckeyes on to round two.

If They Advance

Should Ohio State survive its game against the latest mid-major darling, it’ll more than likely find itself pitted against Gonzaga, the team that invented the mid-major darling.

And while the Zags were once America’s underdog, its since morphed into a college basketball juggernaut whose spot in the Big Dance is as much of a foregone conclusion as Duke, Kentucky, and North Carolina.

This years Bulldogs team has appeared to pick up exactly where last years national runner-ups left off, ranking in the top 20 for both offensive and defensive efficiency. Boasting five players who average more than 11 points a game, Mark Few’s squad rolls incredibly deep.

It also owns bragging rights, as Gonzaga defeated this very same Ohio State team by 27-points way back in November. Should these two meet for the rematch, KenPom expects the game to be a little bit closer, favoring the Zags by 2.5-points.

If it escapes Gonzaga, and the rest of the bracket holds serve, things would get verrrryyyyy interesting for the Buckeyes as a showdown with 1-seeded Xavier would be in the cards.

Ohio State has routinely avoided (read: been too scared) to schedule games against either of the Queen City’s basketball powerhouses. That’s left the selection committee to force the Buckeyes hand over the years, most recently in 2007 when it defeated the Musketeers 78-71 in a damn good game.

I’ll be hoping beyond hope that these two schools meet up in the Sweet Sixteen because if they do we might all be in for an instant classic.

Overall

Ohio State’s path to the Sweet Sixteen will be anything but simple. South Dakota has more than a punchers chance to knock off the Buckeyes while Gonzaga would have a slight advantaged in any potential tilt.

That said, this Ohio State team has been written off all season and managed to fly basically under the radar despite losing only eight games. And as much as it wouldn’t shock me to see Chris Holtmann’s team get bounced early, it also wouldn’t phase me if OSU went on a run to the tournaments second weekend.

After all, this is a team that has both the Big Ten Player and Coach of the Year at its disposal, along with a very impressive second team All-Big Ten player in Jae’Sean Tate and All-Big Ten freshmen Kaleb Wesson.

And last time I checked, Tony Carr wasn’t suiting up for any potential NCAA Tournament foe, meaning Ohio State can exhale knowing it won’t see its kryptonite for the rest of the year.

The Buckeyes have tip-toed its way into the NCAAs. Don’t blink, because if you do, you might just miss them creeping on into the Sweet Sixteen.