Ohio State's NCAA Tournament Berth is Nearly Locked Up

By Jake Anderson on February 18, 2020 at 10:04 am
The Ohio State basketball team singing Carmen Ohio

It's the best sporting event in the world.

This is a non-debatable topic of conversation. And, as a student, I cannot wait to "subtly" watch the early games on my laptop in my afternoon classes during the best four days of the year. 

Like most things, March Madness is better when you have some skin in the game. And for a couple of weeks, I was not too sure I would be able to root for my school in the greatest sporting event on Earth. 

Ohio State had an abysmal seven-game stretch over a four-week span, a story which is becoming awfully familiar. Morale was low during these Dark Times. Final Four plans were made and canceled in the span of just 28 days. 

The Buckeyes hit their low-point after a heartbreaking loss at home against Minnesota, who successfully completed the two-game sweep over the local team. A saving grace named Northwestern gave Ohio State the confidence it needed. The double-digit win started a streak of five wins in six games, putting the Buckeyes firmly back on track to a tournament spot. 

The run, coupled with the team's early-season dominance, has virtually clinched a tournament spot for the Buckeyes. Ohio State's résumé is still one of the best in the nation and includes two wins against teams ranked currently in the top-15. Chris Holtmann's squad was even ranked as high as No. 2 in the AP Poll and No. 1 in the KenPom rankings. 

Analytically speaking, the Buckeyes have five quadrant-one wins, which is tied for 13th-best in the nation. Ohio State's eight losses have all come against quad-one or quad-two opponents, which are less "costly" than quad-three or quad-four losses. The NET ratings, which place the Buckeyes at No. 18, are based on the strength of their quadrant wins and losses.

Additionally, the KenPom rankings still love the Buckeyes, putting them at No. 9 in the nation. Ken Pomeroy's rankings are meant to be forward-facing, meaning that his model thinks Ohio State will be the ninth highest-performing team this season. 

BracketMatrix, which compiles all major analysts' tournament picks, currently has the Buckeyes as a composite No. 6 seed in the tournament. Some predictions have the Bucks as high as a four-seed, while others have them as low as an eight-seed. 

With the Big Ten as tough as ever, it is understandable to have a rough stretch similar to what Ohio State experienced. Now, as long as the wheels do not completely come off for the Buckeyes, all should be well in Columbus come March. 

Looking ahead, the Buckeyes have No. 20 Iowa and No. 7 Maryland this week. Then, Ohio State will face Nebraska, Michigan, Illinois and Michigan State.

It is by no means an easy end to the season for the Buckeyes, but as long as they earn even one win over the next six matchups, there is no reason that Ohio State should not make the tournament. Only if they go winless should they be on the bubble for the second year in a row.

That is, of course, the worst-case scenario. Instead, Ohio State should be favored in half of its final six games, and if the Buckeyes are able to take care of business, they should be playing as a top-half seed in March.

Realistically, Ohio State could win four or five of its next six games. If that happens, the Buckeyes would end their season winning nine or 10 of their final 12 games. That outcome would put Ohio State in contention for a top-five seed, like the Buckeyes were in Chris Holtmann's first season in Columbus. 

Unlike the 2017-2018 season, the Buckeyes will not have the Big Ten Player of the Year this season. Instead, Holtmann and his team have had to scratch and crawl through the most competitive conference in recent history with a team that will likely have just one All-Big Ten player. 

Despite this, by nearly every metric and prediction, the Buckeyes will be a part of the Madness next month. Ohio State has certainly had its share of ups and downs, but their early-season success and rekindled offensive identity will likely put Ohio State in the tournament as no worse than a 7 seed.

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