Jeff Barnett / Lantern photographer
There’s a problem with the expectations that come with a perfect record: Anything less than perfection is a total failure.
That’s what Thad Matta’s Buckeyes (24-0, 11-0 Big Ten) are faced with. With their great season, these Buckeyes have set National Championship expectations just like the 2006–07 squad did.
After what this team has shown so far, anything less would lead to scarlet-and-gray heartbreak.
There’s no more esteemed company than John Wooden’s undefeated UCLA championship teams of the 1960s and early ’70s, or Bobby Knight’s Indiana team of ’76 that went unbeaten en route to a title, so it’s unrealistic to put the 2011 Ohio State men’s basketball team into the same category.
Now, the talent pool is as wide and deep as it’s ever been.
The clich&e exists for a reason: Any team can be beaten on any given night. If you don’t believe that, look at some of OSU’s stressful wins against lesser Big Ten teams and say you weren’t the least bit worried. You can’t.
This team is far from perfect. It ranks 162nd in the country in rebounds and relies heavily on just seven players. Matta would tell you it still has plenty of room to improve, despite its flawless record.
There would be little harm in the team familiarizing itself with the crushing feeling of defeat sooner, rather than later. A loss during the regular season or Big Ten Tournament wouldn’t change OSU’s chances at a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament.
Getting that sentiment out of the way would alleviate the added pressure of going into the NCAA Tournament undefeated and dealing with all the nonmaterial questions about Wooden, Knight and the historical implications.
Not to say the Buckeyes should lose on purpose, but knowing what a loss feels like could be beneficial — just ask the football team.
OSU would have to get 16 more wins in the regular season and postseason to get to a perfect 40-0, the pinnacle of the sport. It undoubtedly would be one of the most incredible achievements in sports history, given the era and climate of college hoops.
Is this team capable? Perhaps. Is it likely to happen? No.
Only seven teams have won national titles while going undefeated, none more recent than Knight’s ’76 Hoosiers.
Eleven teams have finished the regular season undefeated in the tournament era and come up short of the title.
The most recent team to do so was Jameer Nelson and Delonte West’s 2004 Saint Joseph’s Hawks — a team that’s hardly memorable. These Buckeyes don’t want to be in that category.
That’s why a national title would mean far more than an undefeated regular season. If they were to flame out in the tournament, the only thing that would be remembered about the 2011 Buckeyes would be their failure to live up to expectations.