The Ohio State Buckeyes entered this season with middling expectations and with limited goals. However, the team hit the ground running and has now established itself as one of the nation’s best units. But after a rough few weeks, Ohio State enters the Big Ten Tournament trying to get back on track after a tough close to February.
So, what can Ohio State do in Indy? Let’s take a look.
As the five seed, Ohio State will open up its play in the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday afternoon against the winner of the Minnesota-Northwestern game. This isn’t the spot Buckeye fans were hoping to land after the team’s impressive performance in January and February, but it’s reality for the team this week.
_________ will be cutting down the nets Sunday? pic.twitter.com/umsMb9qEoV— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) March 8, 2021
Still, Ohio State’s opening round matchup and path to the title game look manageable. We don’t yet know who the Buckeyes will play on Thursday, but it’s hard to feel too intimidated by a Northwestern team that finished the regular season well under .500 or a Minnesota squad that’s been in a tailspin since January. While the Buckeyes lost to both teams earlier this season, it’s hard to feel those December matchups carry much weight now.
Given Minnesota’s recent struggles, the game against Northwestern seems like the more challenging scenario. If the Gophers advance, Ohio State’s top priority will be slowing down Marcus Carr. For Northwestern, it’s going to be stopping Boo Buie and scoring against a feisty Wildcat defense. Kyle Young also needs to bounce back after a few rough weeks. Either way, Ohio State seems likely to come out on top.
-If They Advance
Should Ohio State beat Minnesota or Northwestern on Thursday, the Buckeyes would then face Purdue on Friday afternoon. Based on the advanced metrics, the game looks pretty even. The teams are just a few spots apart on KenPom and have played pretty similarly over the last two months. Purdue swept the regular season series, but the games had quite some time ago and were competitive. As such, it seems likely they’ll be close again.
From an on-court perspective, the key for Ohio State will be slowing down Purdue big man Trevion Williams. He’s been red hot over the last month and will certainly be Purdue’s primary offensive option. Jaden Ivey has also been a bright spot for the Boilermakers, so Duane Washington will have his hands full.
If Ohio State makes it past Purdue, it would then likely meet arch-rival Michigan on Saturday. The two teams only met once during the regular season, but it was a thrilling game that came down to the closing minutes. Both teams are also rated quite closely on KenPom, so it figures to be a tight game once again. Like the matchup with Purdue, expect this potential game to come down to the frontcourt. Slowing down Hunter Dickinson will be the key. Should Michigan get upset on Friday, Ohio State will get either Maryland or Michigan State. Both games would look more manageable, at least on paper.
After that, Ohio State would likely have to get either Illinois or Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament championship game on Sunday. Those potential matchups look really tough, especially considering the Buckeyes recently lost to both teams.
After an incredible seven-game winning streak in January and February, most Buckeye fans were dreaming about some serious hardware for this year’s Ohio State team. Unfortunately, a four-game losing streak to close the regular season has put many of those hopes on ice. Fans are now just hoping the team can bounce back against a loaded field in the Big Ten Tournament and make some noise in the Big Dance.
The good news is the team has a viable route to deliver. The team’s opening round game should be manageable and potential games against Purdue and Michigan don’t look overwhelming. Getting improved play from guys like Young and Washington will be key. Winning the Big Ten Tournament is a tall task, but March is the time for magic and the Buckeyes have a serious chance to do it.