This basketball season has been a rather unpredictable one, to say the least. For Ohio State fans, the ride was all uphill during the non-conference season only to face a steep plummet when faced with better competition inside the Big Ten.
Now, having recovered a bit from the depths of a 1-5 stretch in January, the Buckeyes are looking up and find themselves three games behind Michigan in the conference standings with three to play. Not only that, but losing to the boys in blue in their only meeting means that if a miracle did happen and the two teams ended up tied, UM wins the tie-breaker. A hopeless cause?
Ah, but that's where the beauty of basketball shines, as each team receives new life in the upcoming Big Ten tournament. Right now Ohio State has as many wins (22) as any team in the conference. If they win out (which is entirely possible) they will most likely end up as one of the top four seeds, and then the three wins it would take to win the tournament would make them 28-6 and a candidate for a #2 or #3 seed in the NCAA tourney.
So what gives me so much confidence in the idea of winning the conference tournament? In a word: history. In Thad Matta's nine previous seasons as OSU head coach the Buckeyes have won this tournament four times and finished runner-up three more times. Based on the Matta years alone, Ohio State has more tournament championships than any other team in the history of the tournament (dating back to 1998).
The following is a rundown of how OSU has fared in the tournament season-by-season during the Matta years.
In his first season, Thad was trying to recover from the O'Brien scandal and no one expected much out of the team. Nevertheless, the Buckeyes put together an 8-8 conference season and defeated Penn State 72-69 in the opening game of the Big Ten tournament. However, they bowed out quietly against Wisconsin 60-49, thus ending the season with a 20-11 mark (no post-season due to probation).
The next season, Matta took what was basically the same crew as the previous season and led them to a regular season conference title. They went into the tournament as the #1 seed, but ultimately lost to a hot Iowa team in the title game by a score of 67-60. That Ohio State team finished 26-6, defeating Davidson in the 1st round of the NCAA tournament before bowing out against Georgetown 70-52.
In his most successful season to date, Matta welcomed in freshmen Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., Daequan Cook, and David Lighty in what was one of the top recruiting classes in the nation. The freshmen led OSU to a regular season record of 27-3 and 15-1 in the conference. The Buckeyes cruised through the tournament, defeating Wisconsin 66-49 in the final.
Three of the aforementioned freshmen left for the NBA after the 2007 season, thus depleting the roster. The Buckeyes were defeated in the first round of the Big Ten tournament by Michigan State, a team they had just beaten the week before, and that ended any chance they had for an NCAA tournament berth. OSU went to the NIT and played with an attitude, sailing through five games to win the title.
The Buckeyes were a respectable 10-8 in-conference during the regular season, but they had lost to Michigan State twice. The 7th ranked Spartans were 15-3 in the Big Ten and shooting for a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament if they could win the B1G tourney. Ohio State stopped them cold, winning 82-70.
Ohio State had edged Wisconsin in the first round before facing Michigan State, and the win over the Spartans was their fourth straight. But they could not sustain the momentum, losing to Purdue in the tournament final 65-61.
OSU won their last four games of the regular season to finish 14-4 in-conference and grab the #1 seed for the tournament, but it was a struggle from there. In the first game, the Buckeyes led Michigan 51-38 in the second half but let it all slip away and actually trailed 68-66 with 2.2 seconds left. And then this happened.
After that heart-stopper, the team needed two overtimes to fend off a feisty Illinois team before crushing Minnesota in the tournament final. They carried their momentum into the NCAA tournament, where they defeated UC Santa Barbara and Georgia Tech to give Matta the first of what is now four straight sweet-sixteens before the magical run ended in a bitter loss against Tennessee.
Led by another outstanding freshman class (Sullinger, Thomas, Craft), OSU stormed out to a 24-0 record and ended up 29-2 heading into the Big Ten tournament. They needed overtime to fend off the pesky Northwestern Wildcats in the first round before beating Michigan (again) and upstart Penn State to take the title again.
The Buckeyes struggled with outside shooting (sound familiar?) throughout the season but still managed to grab a #3 seed going into the conference tournament. They accomplished this by defeating Michigan State at the Breslin Center on the last day of the regular season. In the tourney, OSU annihilated upstart Purdue 88-71 and humiliated B1G co-champion Michigan (again!) 77-55 before falling in the final to the same Spartans they had just beaten on the road a week earlier.
Last season OSU lost star center Jared Sullinger and so they were not expected to be as dominant as they had been the two previous seasons. A rough February stretch (where they lost three out of four) slowed Ohio State's title run, but they rebounded to win five straight and finish a strong second place behind Indiana. In the tournament, the Buckeyes crushed Nebraska and edged Michigan State and Wisconsin to win their third Big Ten title in four years.
Enjoy this additional video of Evan Turner stealing Michigan's soul with commentary from both the OSU and UM radio teams.