It’s been a rough week for the Ohio State Buckeyes basketball squad. First they got dismantled by Penn State. They followed up that miserable performance with a sloppy game against arch-rival Michigan that they dropped by double digits. The questions are, how much will this affect the Buckeyes seeding in the NCAA tournament, and what can we expect from the Buckeyes once they reach the tournament?
To predict the seed in the NCAA tournament, we first must predict the future. I think Ohio State will win their remaining two regular season games and make a solid run in the B1G tournament. The million dollar question is what, if any, quality wins will Ohio State get in the B1G tournament? If the answer is none, I suspect that Ohio State will be sitting right around 20 or higher. We all know the NCAA tournament favors bigger named teams, especially ones with a win against a top 5 team. That Purdue loss to Wisconsin hurts the Buckeyes street cred a bit, but ironically the loss to Michigan mitigates that a bit, as the Wolverines could be firmly entrenched into the top 15 by selection day. As I shake my magic 8-ball, I am leaning toward a 4 or 5 seed for the Buckeyes provided they don’t get a signature win in the B1G tournament.
If Ohio State can manage to knock off Michigan State, or a resurgent Purdue, or a Michigan squad that continues to win, and Ohio State finishes the season with a 26-7 record, or even wins the Big Ten, then it becomes really tricky. A lot of the smaller schools are sitting there with 3 or 4 losses. Most of the major conference teams are sitting there in the 6-8 loss range. Trying to predict what this myriad of teams is going to do is ridiculous. I think a win in the Big Ten tournament will give Ohio State a solid 2, possibly 3 seed. With the signature win a 4, and if they win 4 more games a 5. Win 3 or less, and they are potentially a 6 or worse. All of that speculation really isn’t the point. I think Ohio State is a solid top 20 team, but certainly not a top 10 team, so they “should” be right around a 4 or 5 seed.
Those are just numbers, however. What we really want to know is just how much noise can Ohio State make in the NCAA tournament. Seeding between 3-6 matters the most in which match-ups a team draws. For example if Penn State goes on a run and makes the tournament and the Buckeyes are staring at them in the first game, well that could be horrific. Again, all that guess work is really pointless.
This Ohio State team could be dangerous in the tournament for a variety of reasons. For the most part, they have played pretty solid defense. The Buckeyes have a star in Keita Bates-Diop that they can lean on in tough times, and they have a coach that has experience in the dance. Holtmann led teams are 4-3 in the dance and have never bowed out in the first round. Another interesting dynamic of this team is that there are a couple of potential future stars. Wesson of course, but also Musa Jallow. The prospect from Bloomington has struggled adjusting to the college game, but has shown some flashes that made him a big get for Holtmann. Obviously the Buckeyes shouldn’t be climbing on the back of a 2.8 per scorer and hoping he will lead him to the promised land, but he could potentially hit a few big shots or help facilitate a run, like he did against Purdue.
However, the biggest plus on this team is Jae’Sean Tate. The 6’4 forward from Pickerington is one of those players you can lean on when things aren’t going your way. He always seems to come up with a big rebound or bucket when things look bleak. With a relatively young and/or streaky group of players, that kind of steadiness can be crucial. The combination of Tate and Bates-Diop plus the experience of Holtmann should nearly guarantee a first round win. I think the ability to rest and recalibrate after the B1G tournament should allow Ohio State to get back some of the scoring and continuity on offense that helped them as they climbed to the top of the Big Ten rankings before their slump. A win in the second round is more likely than not. I don’t really see this team making it farther than the sweet 16, though this team has shown a grittiness that can come in handy against better teams.