Just over a week ago, the No. 16 Ohio State men’s basketball team controlled its own destiny.
Win the remaining of its four games, and Ohio State would have won the outright Big Ten regular-season championship and entered the conference tournament as the No. 1 seed. Now, the Buckeyes (23-7, 14-3 Big Ten) will face Indiana (16-13, 9-8 Big Ten) at 8 p.m. Friday with its fate in doubt.
No. 2 Michigan State could beat Wisconsin Saturday on the road and win the outright Big Ten title. A loss for the Spartans gives the Buckeyes a share of the title. However, a third loss in four games in front of a hostile crowd in Assembly Hall would end all possibility for a Big Ten title.
G — Devonte Green — Sophomore, 6-foot-3, 186 lbs., 7.9 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 2.7 apg
G — Robert Johnson — Senior, 6-foot-3, 195 lbs., 14.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.6 apg
F — Zach McRoberts — Junior, 6-foot-6, 205 lbs., 2.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.3 apg
F — Justin Smith — Freshman, 6-foot-6, 220 lbs., 6.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 0.2 apg
C — Juwan Morgan — Junior, 6-foot-7, 230 lbs., 16.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.4 apg
G — C.J. Jackson — Junior, 6-foot-1, 175 lbs., 12.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.9 apg
F — Jae’Sean Tate — Senior, 6-foot-4, 185 lbs., 12.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.9 apg
F — Andre Wesson — Sophomore, 6-foot-6, 220 lbs., 2.9 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 1.2 apg
F — Keita Bates-Diop — Redshirt junior, 6-foot-7, 235 lbs., 19.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.6 apg
C — Kaleb Wesson — Freshman, 6-foot-9, 270 lbs., 11.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.1 apg
From favorites to long-shots
Ohio State had a clear path to an outright regular-season title and top seed in the conference tournament. The Buckeyes still had a pair of potentially challenging matchups ahead, facing both Penn State — the only Big Ten loss it had previously suffered — and then-No. 22 Michigan on the road down the stretch. But after beating then-No. 3 Purdue, the road did not seem as daunting.
“We still kind of control our own destiny at this point,” sophomore center Micah Potter said on Feb. 10.
The Buckeyes lost both games, and thus the control of their own destiny. They slid to second in the Big Ten behind Michigan State and now both need to beat Indiana Friday and need Michigan State to lose to Wisconsin.
Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said he never wanted anyone on his team to look ahead to what could potentially lie ahead given the tough season-ending stretch, but junior guard C.J. Jackson maintained that the thought of the title is always in the back of the players’ minds.
“You come here to win championships, and that’s what we wanted to do,” Jackson said. “Obviously we dropped those two last week and it hurt us in the standings part. But mentally in the locker room, we still have the same goal in mind. Take the floor tomorrow, get ready to play against a hungry Indiana team. So that’s all we can control at this point.”
Though the Buckeyes’ regular-season title hopes now look all but lost, the team is still looking at both what it has accomplished and what remains on the table. Ohio State has rebounded from what was an abysmal 2016-17 campaign and is now in a position to enter the Big Ten tournament as a top-two seed and reach the NCAA Tournament likely anywhere between a No. 6 or No. 3 seed.
“I think it’s been wildly successful, but we’re hungry to do more and see what this group can be,” Holtmann said. “We have improvements to make and I have to do a better job and our players have to do a better job in a lot of areas and that’s what our focus is.”
Ohio State could still enter the tournament as a No. 3 seed if it loses to Indiana and both Purdue and Michigan State win on Saturday.
Standing in Ohio State’s way to a top-two seed in the Big Ten tournament is Indiana, a team that will end the regular season near the middle of the Big Ten standings, currently in seventh. Ohio State beat the Hoosiers 71-56 in the last meeting on Jan. 30 in Columbus.
It will mark the end of head coach Archie Miller’s first season in Bloomington as well as Holtmann’s first year with the Buckeyes. Miller has had a somewhat surprising up-and-down year with the Hoosiers, which is more like the season many believed Holtmann would experience.
The Hoosiers’ offense has been inconsistent for most of the season, ranking No. 116 in field-goal percentage. It is also one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the nation, making just 32.2 percent of its shots from beyond the arc, which is 307th in the country.
Indiana’s offense had been buoyed for the first half of the season by guard Robert Johnson, center Juwan Morgan and forward De’Ron Davis. However, Davis tore his achilles in early January and was forced to miss the remainder of the season. Davis had averaged 9.6 points per game, the third most on the team.
Johnson was kept quiet in the first game against Ohio State, scoring only two points. However, Morgan scored 15 points and guard Devonte Green racked up a season-high 20 points.
Jackson said the key to keeping Indiana’s guards quiet will come down to being active in the gaps and ensuring neither player gets open looks.
“Kind of disrupt their timing, we know their dynamic guards based on last year they had big games here,” Jackson said. “So we just kind of didn’t want that to repeat and we’ve got to take the same approach tomorrow.”