There are several Big Ten teams hoping to earn at-large NCAA Tournament bids this weekend in the Big Ten Tournament and the Ohio State Buckeyes are certainly one of those teams. The Buckeyes looked like a clear NCAA team in early January, but have faded down the stretch and will now hope to grab a few wins in Chicago to earn a bid to the Big Dance.
So, can Ohio State get the job done? Let’s take a look.
As the eight seed, Ohio State will open up play on Thursday against Indiana in what figures to be a really thrilling matchup. Both Indiana and Ohio State will head into Chicago as clear bubble teams and this one feels like a must win for both sides.
Heading into the game, Indiana clearly has all the momentum. The Hoosiers have won four in a row, including two wins against top 15 teams on KenPom. Meanwhile, Ohio State limped to the regular season finish line, losing six of its final eight games. The key factor leading to these struggles for the Buckeyes has been the absence of Kaleb Wesson. However, Wesson is expected to rejoin the team for Thursday’s matchup.
KenPom narrowly favors Indiana on Thursday, but this definitely has the feel of a pick ‘em game. The spread is just one point and both sides have been so inconsistent all season that it’s hard to feel confident either way. The returns of Rob Phinisee and Wesson also make many of the season statistics irrelevant for Thursday’s matchup.
And as noted, this game also holds massive implications for the NCAA Tournament bubble race. Indiana and Ohio State are both currently projected to be on the edge of the field, so a matchup between the two could very well be an elimination game. ESPN currently has Ohio State as the last team in and Indiana as the first team out.
The key matchup will be upfront. The Buckeyes will be hoping that Wesson rejoins the team in his old form and is able to contribute right away. There’s little debating that Ohio State will need a big performance from him to come out with a win on Thursday.
-If They Advance
Should Ohio State win in what figures to be a tight matchup against Indiana on Thursday, it will then face off against Michigan State on Friday afternoon. The Spartans enter the Big Ten Tournament as the one seed, having locked up a share of the Big Ten regular season title last weekend against Michigan.
On paper, there’s no denying that Michigan State is a better team. The Spartans are 25-6 overall, 16-4 in Big Ten play, and have won seven of the team’s last eight games. Michigan State is also fourth nationally on KenPom and the program hasn’t lost its Big Ten Tournament opener since 2010. That’s eight straight opening round wins for Michigan State in the conference tournament. An incredible accomplishment.
However, Michigan State has shown some vulnerability. The Spartans got swept by Indiana during the regular season and dropped a road game to Illinois in February. Ohio State was also relatively competitive with Michigan State in both regular season meetings, despite dropping both contests. The second game was competitive until the closing minutes, when Ohio State simply collapsed.
Should Ohio State beat Michigan State, it would then likely face Wisconsin on Saturday in the Big Ten Tournament semi-finals. The other potential opponents are Maryland, Nebraska, and Rutgers. Ohio State got swept by Maryland during the regular season, beat Nebraska in the only meeting between the two, and split with Rutgers. Fans will likely be hoping for Nebraska or Rutgers.
But assuming it is Wisconsin, it’s going to be a tough matchup. Like Michigan State, we know the Badgers are a better team than the Buckeyes. Wisconsin is 12th nationally on KenPom and is playing really good basketball, having won five of its last six games.
However, Wisconsin has also shown some upset potential this season. The Badgers dropped games to Indiana, Minnesota, and Western Kentucky already this season (all three are right around or below Ohio State on KenPom) and nearly dropped game to Northwestern as well. The Buckeyes narrowly lost to Wisconsin last Sunday at home in overtime. It was the only regular season meeting between the two.
After that, Ohio State would likely be looking at either Michigan or Purdue in a potential championship game. Those three teams are all ranked above Maryland and Wisconsin on KenPom, so things would be getting even tougher at that point.
This week is going to be a difficult one for Ohio State and its program. Even if Wesson returns to the lineup for the Buckeyes and hits the ground running, Ohio State won’t have any easy matchups. Indiana will be tough on Thursday and Michigan State awaits on Friday. As such, making a deep run isn’t going to be easy for the Buckeyes.
However, Ohio State has solid odds to grab a win over Indiana on Thursday and actually played teams like Michigan State and Wisconsin relatively tough during the regular season. More simply put, Ohio State could make a run if the team can get some of the role players going. It won’t be easy, but it is possible.
All told, Ohio State figures to have an interesting week in Chicago. The Buckeyes are balancing on the edge of the bubble and have some major opportunities ahead. We will see if the team can get the job done.