The Buckeyes were the last Big Ten team to make it into the field of 68, but a large part of that was due to losing their last three games. They lost those games because Kaleb Wesson was suspended, and since his return the Badgers have beaten Indiana and lost a respectable game to Michigan State. Indiana is worse than any opponent the Buckeyes will face the first weekend, whereas Michigan State is better.
In other words, it’s hard to know just where to peg the Buckeyes. As such, let’s take a look at what’s to come for Ohio State.
Ohio State travels to Tulsa, where they will face a red-hot Iowa State team in the opening round. The Cyclones won the Big 12 tournament by beating Baylor, Kansas State, and Kansas, and you have to think there are going to be a lot of fans in red and gold in the stands.
Let’s start with the good news—the Buckeyes are undersized across the front line with the Wesson brothers and Kyle Young measuring in at 6’9”, 6’6”, and 6’8”. Iowa is not a team built to take advantage of that. Their main guys down low are Mariol Shayok at 6’6” and Michael Jacobson at 6’9”. (They also have a 6’10” freshman center who doesn’t play much.) Jacobson is only listed at 240 pounds, to Kaleb Wesson’s 270. Unsurprisingly, Iowa State is not a strong rebounding team. A game in the paint favors the Buckeyes.
But Shayok isn’t going to just be playing in the paint. He’s a forward who can shoot, hoisting 175 3-pointers this year and making almost 39% of them. Jacobson isn’t quite as prolific or accurate, but he’s shown himself to be willing and able to shoot the long ball, too. While he is on the floor, Iowa State is going to have five guys capable of making an open three. And yes, Kaleb Wesson is an OK-if-not-great 3-point shooter himself, but Kyle Young certainly isn’t, only hitting 1-6 for the year.
Stylistically, this should be a good game to watch. Iowa State is one of those teams that doesn’t foul, doesn’t get fouled, doesn’t force turnovers, and doesn’t turn the ball over themselves. This game is going to be won in the half court, not in transition or at the free throw line. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing for Ohio State, as they’ve been enigmatic all season. I’m not really sure what the Buckeyes want to do, other than play through Kaleb Wesson. But for those of us watching at home, it should at least be aesthetically pleasing basketball.
If They Advance
The winner of Iowa State-Ohio State gets the winner of Houston-Georgia State, and though Georgia State and Ron Hunter are no strangers to upsetting teams from Texas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the real worry here is having to face Houston. Houston is dangerous and will have a ton of fans in Tulsa.
I’ll be honest, I don’t like Ohio State’s chances against the Cougars. Beating Iowa State will be a matter of outplaying the Cyclones in the half court. But that momentum won’t carry over to the second round; you aren't outplaying Houston in the half court.
The average D-I team shoots an effective field goal percentage of 50.7%. Houston holds its opponents to 42.4%, the lowest in the nation. They are No. 2 in 3-point defense and No. 5 in 2-point defense. They play slow, don’t turn the ball over, and are great at rebounding their own misses. Oh and they are in the top 20 in the country in terms of blocking opposing teams’ shots, too. Kelvin Sampson’s squad is scary.
That said, just like Iowa State, there’s no player in the Cougs’ frontcourt who possesses a massive height advantage. Nobody in their main rotation stands taller than 6’8”. Personnel-wise, Ohio State can line up with Houston.
After Houston, if chalk holds, the Buckeyes would see Kentucky, then North Carolina. I don’t need to tell you that I like those matchups even less. This is not Ohio State’s year to make an out-of-nowhere run to the Final Four.
I said at the beginning of the year that this season would set the program’s floor for Ohio State. Chris Holtmann is never going to have a roster without big-time talent ever again while he’s coaching in Columbus. At the start of the season it looked like the Buckeyes wouldn’t miss a beat, but they obviously have. Still, when your program’s floor is an NCAA Tournament berth, you have to feel pretty good (just ask Indiana and Illinois fans).
This was not The Year. It was never going to be The Year. The Buckeyes went dancing. And they’ll probably go home early.