Who would have thought this is a story that would appear on Eleven Warriors in 2018?
Chris Holtmann's first year at Ohio State has taken the college basketball world by storm, and is in control of its own destiny in the Big Ten after Michigan State defeated Purdue 68-65 in East Lansing, Mich., on Saturday afternoon.
The Buckeyes have positioned themselves to win the conference crown for what would be the first time since 2011-12, and the first outright title since 2010-11. The stories about the surprising run Ohio State has made have been written. Holtmann wants all talk of a potential conference title put to bed. However, there is now NCAA Tournament talk to discuss.
— Ohio State Hoops (@OhioStateHoops) February 11, 2018
Ohio State opened as a No. 4 seed (No. 14 overall) in the NCAA Tournament Bracket Preview Show on CBS on Sunday afternoon, a projection put together by members of the tournament committee. Michigan State and Purdue also both appeared as Big Ten representatives in the rankings, while Xavier and Cincinnati joined the Buckeyes as the second and third teams from the state of Ohio in the projections.
With four games left in the regular season, we take a more in-depth look at what the initial projections could mean come Selection Sunday.
Big Ten Toss-Up
Despite defeating both Michigan State and Purdue this season, Ohio State checked in well behind the Boilermakers and Spartans in the standings. Despite losing back-to-back games to the Buckeyes and Spartans, Purdue still stands as a No. 1 seed in the tournament, albeit the fourth overall seed in the bracket.
"Despite Virginia’s loss Saturday, we felt that based on their 13 wins in the first two quadrants, they deserved to remain on top," committee chairman Bruce Rasmussen said. "Villanova bounced back (from a loss to St. John's) with a good win Saturday, so we kept them second. Purdue had two tough losses to quality teams, while Xavier picked up two good road wins to solidify the fourth No. 1 seed and ultimately leap Purdue on the seed list.”
The Spartans, who will likely be ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 after the top three teams in the country lost this past week, checked in as a No. 3 seed.
When looking at the three Big Ten teams in the initial bracket, it is clear that the committee values Purdue's 19-game winning streak more than it puts stock into the losses to Ohio State and Michigan State. The Boilermakers also boast perhaps the most all-around and veteran team in the Big Ten, with big man Isaac Haas dominating the paint and Carsen Edwards emerging as one of the top point guards in the country.
On the other hand, Michigan State has a pair of potential NBA lottery picks on its roster in Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson. Since dropping games to the Buckeyes and Wolverines in January, the Spartans are riding an eight-game winning streak, the best in the Big Ten.
It appears that the committee also values premier non-conference wins, something Ohio State does not have. The Buckeyes went 0-4 against top-50 teams in the current RPI during the non-conference slate, dropping games against Gonzaga, Clemson, Butler and North Carolina.
While the loss to the Tar Heels probably hurts the least as it was played on a neutral floor and North Carolina is still the defending national champ, a blowout loss to Gonzaga and collapses against Clemson and Butler carry more weight.
Purdue, on the other hand, put together an impressive non-conference slate collecting victories over then-ranked No. 2 Arizona and No. 17 Louisville. Losses to Tennessee and Western Kentucky don't look as bad as they once did, as the Volunteers are currently ranked No. 15 in the country and second in the SEC. The Boilermakers thumped Butler, 82-67, less than a month after the Bulldogs dispatched Ohio State in overtime.
Michigan State also put together an impressive non-conference resume. Despite an 88-81 loss to Duke in the second game of the regular season, the Spartans dominated North Carolina 63-45 on Nov. 26, before thrashing then-ranked No. 5 Notre Dame, 81-63, four days later.
A Big Ten title would likely put Ohio State in the top-10 nationally come Selection Sunday, but for now, its non-conference record hurts them as the committee takes a wait-and-see approach with the Buckeyes in the final month of the season.
If there is one thing for certain about this college basketball season, it is that no one is certain who the best team in the country is.
For the first time since 1948, not one Div. I basketball team entered the turn of the calendar year undefeated, and as we enter the home stretch of the college basketball season, every team ranked in the AP Top 25 has at least two losses following upsets that took down Villanova and Virginia.
So since there isn't a clear No. 1 team in the country, what does that mean for the committee come Selection Sunday? If nothing else, it means we could be in for some crazy finishes come March.
“There’s a perception out there that there aren’t any great teams and that may or may not be true,” Rasmussen said. “What I can say, without any doubt, is there are several very good teams, which could lead to a wide-open tournament. When the bracket came out last year, 15 of the teams were among the 16 we revealed in February. It wouldn’t be surprising to see different results this time. There are several teams on the verge of cracking the top 16, and they have plenty of chances to enhance their resume over the next few weeks.”
After climbing to No. 4 in the country, Duke dropped its next two games to St. John's and archrival North Carolina, while the SEC's top team, Auburn, dropped a heartbreaker to Texas A&M on Wednesday. With the top three teams in the country also suffering at least one loss during the week, one would think that the upcoming AP Poll could tell us a lot about what the next bracket projections could look like. However, that is probably not the case.
After beating Purdue, Michigan State is likely to be the nation's top team come Monday afternoon, yet the committee has Tom Izzo's squad as a No. 3 seed behind the likes of Cincinnati, Xavier and Kansas, among others.
As it stands now, it appears the committee is basing its projections more off of body of work instead of reacting immediately to the happenings of the previous week. In order for Ohio State to climb in the rankings, and perhaps earn a top-12 overall seed, the Buckeyes likely need to win the conference outright, while also at the very least advance to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament in Madison Square Garden.
Location, Location, Location
Ohio State's No. 4 seed places them in the East region, which would put the Buckeyes in Boston at the TD Garden, should Holtmann's squad make the Sweet 16 by the current bracket projections. That same projection, however, would put the Buckeyes in Boise, Idaho, for the first two rounds of the tournament.
Below, you can see where the top-16 seeds would be placed in each region based on Sunday's projections.
South (Atlanta): (1) Virginia, (2) Cincinnati, (3) Michigan St., (4) Tennessee
East (Boston): (1) Villanova, (2) Duke, (3) Texas Tech, (4) Ohio State
Midwest (Omaha): (1) Xavier, (2) Auburn, (3) Clemson, (4) Oklahoma
West (Los Angeles): (1) Purdue, (2) Kansas, (3) North Carolina, (4) Arizona
If Ohio State were to be given the top No. 4 seed and be placed in the South region, it would still end up in Boise. However, a No. 3 seed in the South (currently occupied by Michigan State) could get the Buckeyes into a closer first-round location: Pittsburgh. Other possible first-round destinations for Ohio State would be San Diego, Dallas or Wichita, Kansas.