COLUMBUS, Ohio — The regular season was without a doubt an unexpected, unqualified success for Ohio State basketball.
Chris Holtmann’s debut season exceeded all reasonable expectations in the preseason, to become one of the feel-good stories in a difficult time for the sport — and along the way became a legitimate contender at the top of the Big Ten.
Now, the postseason is here. It’s time for the fun to really begin.
Thanks to the double-bye Ohio State earned with that dynamic regular season, it will wait until Friday before its March adventure begins. The Buckeyes would need three wins in three days to claim some hardware in New York City, and they are more than capable of pulling it off after the 15-3 run through the league this season.
What will it all mean for the Big Dance looming after that? Here’s a primer for the week ahead for the Buckeyes.
What’s at stake for Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament?
A spot in the NCAA Tournament is already secured, so there won’t be any of that accompanying pressure of needing to get a win or two to bolster the résumé for the selection committee. Instead, Ohio State can focus on simply chasing a championship and further validating the remarkable turnaround Holtmann and his scrappy roster have produced.
On paper, there is no easy path to claiming the league title, with a heavyweight such as Purdue likely waiting in the semifinals and another battle with Michigan State in the finals dangling as a possibility. Upsets tend to happen this time of year, of course, and with a couple of sneaky contenders such as Nebraska or Penn State who need to improve their cases, no matter what there will be challenges every time out at Madison Square Garden.
What must Buckeyes do to clinch an NCAA Tournament bid?
Ohio State will be back in the field playing for a national championship after missing out on a spot in the bracket for the last two seasons. Considering how low the expectations were for the Buckeyes as Holtmann arrived to take over for Thad Matta, it’s not possible to overstate how impressive his accomplishment truly is. It’s a big deal that the Buckeyes already are positioned for an NCAA Tournament invitation. The bonus is being in New York this week free to chase a championship without playing for survival.
How can the Buckeyes improve their seeding?
The projections at this time of year are always subject to change, and with the possibility of claiming another pair of high-profile victories over Purdue or Michigan State, Ohio State does have room to move up this week. Knocking them both off again and winning the Big Ten would seemingly leave no choice but for the committee to move the Buckeyes up to at least a No. 3 seed and potentially even as high as No. 2. That scenario likely would rely on the Boilermakers and Spartans avoiding upsets, because the quality of opponents would be more important than just winning the Big Ten Tournament.
That is a pretty narrow path for improving Ohio State’s seed, and on the flip side, there’s probably not much damage that could be done by a loss Friday or by bowing out in the semifinals. The Buckeyes have been widely projected as a No. 4 or 5 seed for a while now, and even with a loss this week, they should stay in that range.
Of course, Ohio State has exceeded expectations all year long. Why stop now?
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