Mapping Ohio State’s Path to the NCAA Tournament

Posted by Patrick Engel (@PatrickEngel_) on February 23rd, 2016

After an uninspiring first half of the season, Ohio State has over the last few weeks slowly but surely crept back into the Big Ten race. The Buckeyes are unlikely to contend for the title but they are all alone in fourth place at 10-5. Teams among the top four of power conference standings in late February are usually considered safe bets for the NCAA Tournament, but Thad Matta‘s group is challenging that notion. After a miserable start to the season that included early losses to UT-Arlington and Louisiana Tech, the Buckeyes are now in position to lock up a bid with another good win or two. There’s just one problem, though: Winning another regular season game won’t be easy. Ohio State plays Michigan State twice in its final three games with a home date against Iowa sandwiched in-between.

Marc Loving and Ohio State face an important three-game stretch that will determine their postseason fortune (Barbara J. Perenic/The Columbus Dispatch)

Marc Loving and Ohio State face an important three-game stretch that will determine their postseason fortune (Barbara J. Perenic/The Columbus Dispatch)

Double-figure conference wins is usually enough for an at-large bid from the Big Ten, and every 11-win team in the history of the league has made the field of 68. But as we’ve learned in the era of expanded conferences, not all records are created equal. Eight of Ohio State’s conference wins came against Rutgers, Minnesota, Penn State, Illinois and Northwestern. The other two were notched against Nebraska and fellow bubble team Michigan. Furthermore, Ohio State has just one RPI top 100 win from the non-conference season (Kentucky). This means that the two wins over the Wolverines and Wildcats are the Buckeyes’ lone RPI top 100 wins of the season, and that they have more losses to teams outside the RPI top 100 (three) than wins over teams within it. Losses to Texas-Arlington, Louisiana Tech and Memphis all stink about as much or more as they did at the time. The tally to this point is that 18-10 record and an RPI rating of #75.

One more win pushes Ohio State to the 11-victory mark, but that won’t do much to improve the Buckeyes’ overall resume. Two more wins would result in a 4-8 record against the RPI top 50, but even 12 conference wins combined with an early Big Ten Tournament loss would make for a tense Selection Sunday. Three wins, however unlikely, means that Ohio State can think about seeding options instead of worrying about a bid. Go winless and the Buckeyes would need a deep conference tournament run and some luck around the country among the other bubble teams.

Now that the four scenarios have been laid out, can Ohio State actually win any of its remaining games? Its poor record against legitimate teams notwithstanding, the Buckeyes have won four in a row and appear to be peaking. They are clearly a better team than they were in December, as young players such as Jae’Sean Tate are improving — the sophomore has averaged 15 points and nine rebounds over his last four games, although his status for the rest of the season is uncertain due to a shoulder injury. Fellow sophomore Trevor Thompson has transformed from an early-season liability into a serviceable big man who rebounds well and ranks among the nation’s top 100 in block percentage (8.1%). He can be offensively inconsistent (notching three scoreless Big Ten games), but he has also scored at least 10 points six times during conference play.

Ohio State has the 23rd most efficient defense in the country (per KenPom) and has allowed only one of its last eight opponents to top 70 points. None of those eight opponents could score like Iowa or Michigan State does, though, so the Buckeyes’ best chance centers on turning each game into a low-scoring, grind-it-out affair. It wouldn’t be the first time this season they’ve won a game that didn’t look pretty, as the roster simply doesn’t include have the necessary scorers to keep up in a high-scoring affair. It will demand Ohio State’s defense continues excelling, but if it does, the Buckeyes have a chance to nab a couple of those wins they need down the stretch.

Patrick Engel (33 Posts)

Share this story

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *