By all accounts, the Ohio State men’s basketball team has exceeded expectations.
Many people thought it would finish 11th or 12th in the Big Ten. As of right now, the Associated Press has the Buckeyes as the No. 8 team. No, not in the conference, but in the country.
With only four games remaining on its regular-season schedule, Ohio State has the chance to do several things no one would have given them a chance to do at the beginning of the season: win the Big Ten regular-season title, be a contender for the Big Ten tournament championship and reach the NCAA Tournament as a high seed.
Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said the team has discussed what lies ahead, but that all discussions have been short-lived.
“We did talk a little bit about the Big Ten [regular-season crown] after the Purdue game,” Holtmann said after the team’s win against Iowa Saturday. “Just elephant in the room. We were just kinda talking, ‘Hey, listen, we’re going to kind of put this to bed. We’ve got a really difficult, challenging stretch ahead of us, but there’s nothing wrong with having goals.’”
No. 2 Michigan State beating No. 6 Purdue Saturday made the road easier for Ohio State. It separated the Buckeyes from the Boilermakers in the standings, giving the Scarlet and Gray a one-game advantage over any other team in the conference. But Ohio State still has work left, even with the current separation.
The stretch ahead features road matches against Penn State — the only blemish on Ohio State’s conference record — on Thursday and versus No. 22 Michigan on Sunday. Ohio State then returns to Columbus for a home game against Rutgers on Tuesday and a road game against Indiana on Feb. 23 to end the season.
The Buckeyes will be favorites to win every remaining game in their schedule. But based on where they are in the standings, they only have to win three games to clinch at least a share of the Big Ten regular-season title.
It would be the first regular-season title for Ohio State since it shared the championship with Michigan State and Michigan in 2012 and its first outright championship since 2011.
As far as an NCAA Tournament berth, the Buckeyes could lose every remaining regular-season game and still reach the tournament. They would finish the season 22-9 with a 13-5 conference record, plus whatever happens in the Big Ten tournament.
Ohio State is currently expected to be a No. 4 seed in the east regional in the NCAA Tournament. If it wins out and claims the conference championship, Ohio State could be even higher. The same is true should it win the Big Ten tournament.
The top four seeds in the conference tournament are given byes until the third round of the tournament, meaning Ohio State would just have to win three games to win the tournament. Even if Ohio State loses the remainder of its four games, it would remain one of the top four seeds going into the Big Ten tournament.
The road ahead for Ohio State is certainly not easy. The road matchups, even against an Indiana team that has struggled this season, will not prove easy for the Buckeyes.
They know what’s ahead. The Michigan State win against Purdue gives them room, but it does not give them the title.