Thursday meant everything to Ohio State and Indiana. The two teams were playing in a virtual bubble elimination in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament at the United Center in Chicago. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi placed the Buckeyes as his “Last Team In” and the Hoosiers as his “First Team Out” entering the afternoon.
Head coach Chris Holtmann and company took advantage of Kaleb Wesson’s return from suspension, riding the center’s 17-point, 13-rebound double-double for a 79-75 victory.
Ohio State improved to 19-13 after holding off a late Hoosier rally, including Wesson aborbing a late charge with jut 18 seconds remaining. The Buckeyes move on to the quarterfinals Friday against No. 1 seed Michigan State.
They may not be out of the woods yet, as at-large bids can disappear with surprise automatic ones. Let’s take a look at the latest at the their bracketology outlook, along with its resume and a few key wins and losses that stand out.
Ohio State NCAA Tournament Resume
The Buckeyes have been hanging their hats on an opening game victory over current No. 20 Cincinnati. It’s certainly a good win, but the Bearcats aren’t exactly elite (No. 27 in the NET rankings). Wins over a bubble team in Creighton and a mess of a UCLA team don’t move the needle much. Otherwise, the non-conference was pretty weak.
The problems came immediately once Big Ten play resumed in January, as the Buckeyes dropped 5 straight. That included a loss at 14-17 Rutgers.
20-point routs over Iowa and Minnesota are fine, as well as a road triumph against the Hoosiers. Unfortunately, the Rutgers upset is paired with another by 11-20 Illinois.
The Buckeyes missed out on a quality win last Sunday as they dropped one in overtime to No. 19 Wisconsin. Before that, they embarrassed themselves with an 18-point drubbing at the hands of last-place Northwestern.
A good final impression against a fellow bubble team certainly relieves pressure.
Ohio State Bracketology Breakdown
Heading into the week, ESPN’s John Gasaway stated that the Buckeyes “played themselves into jeopardy.”
That’s where Ohio State will face Indiana, and a loss for Chris Holtmann’s men would leave them 18-14 after an 8-12 run through the conference season. In theory, that could be good enough to sneak this team into the field, given that the “18” includes the win at Cincinnati on the first day of the season. Then again, a first-game conference tournament loss for a team being shown as a No. 12 seed is never a recommended strategy.
As mentioned earlier, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had Ohio State in the First Four in Dayton entering Thursday.
Jerry Palm of CBS Sports was slightly more optimistic, bestowing a No. 11 seed in the Midwest Regional. That means a matchup with Villanova, and possible Round of 32 tilts with Texas Tech or Northern Kentucky. He did mention in his own Bubble Watch that the Buckeyes could still get in with a loss.
Ohio State has struggled to end the season, largely due to the suspension of star Kaleb Wesson. The Buckeyes got blown out at Purdue and Northwestern before putting up a fight against Wisconsin in an overtime loss at home. Ohio State could still get in with a loss, but it would be a nervous Selection Sunday.
Bracket Matrix aggregates 100 prognostications from across the internet. Ohio State appears on 77 of them and averages out to either an 11 or 12-seed.
Another factor? Kaleb Wesson’s return could demonstrate to the committee that Ohio State is on the upward trajectory with its full complement of players.
Today’s squeaker could be just enough to give Holtmann his fifth-straight NCAA Tournament appearance (dating back to his days with Butler).