Ohio State is back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015, but the Buckeyes' path to advance in the Big Dance might prove to be difficult.
Chris Holtmann's team faced off against three teams currently in the West region, and compiled a 1-3 record against Gonzaga, Michigan and North Carolina combined. Should Texas Southern win its play-in game in Dayton, Ohio, that record would improve to 2-3.
The lone win against teams in the West region came Dec. 4 against Michigan, when Ohio State overcame a 20-point deficit at home to earn its second conference win of the season. On Feb. 18, however, the Buckeyes trailed for the majority of a 74-62 loss to the Wolverines, their fifth loss by double digits on the season.
In fact, if you remove the three losses to Penn State, three of Ohio State's remaining five losses on the season came to teams in the West region, all by double digits.
|11/16||Texas Southern||W, 82–64||#16|
|12/23||North Carolina||L, 86–72||#2|
The other two losses on Ohio State's schedule came to Butler and Clemson, both of which are also tournament teams.
So what do the teams that Ohio State has fallen to have in common? The Zags, Wolverines and Tar Heels have all had stellar guard play, which Holtmann said is key to making a run.
"In tournament play, guard play is critical. You look around all of these tournaments, and all these late-game heroics, what usually happens? A guard makes a play," Holtmann said.
Against Ohio State on Thanksgiving night, Gonzaga's Josh Perkins exploded for 20 points, connecting on six 3-point shots. North Carolina's Joel Berry dropped 19 points on the Buckeyes. In the second matchup between the rivals, Michigan guards Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Zavier Simpson combined for 30 points against Ohio State, while Buckeye guards accounted for just seven points.
It remains to be seen whether or not Ohio State's guards can help the Buckeyes advance deep into the tournament, but if not, slowing down the opposing backcourt might be enough to give them a chance.
The Buckeyes are set to begin tournament play Thursday at approximately 4 p.m. against South Dakota State, with the game set to be televised on TNT.