Entering the Big Ten Tournament it would appear that Ohio State has little to be optimistic about.
The Buckeyes (19-12, 11-7) enter Indianapolis as the No. 7 seed, the lowest seed a Thad Matta team has garnered in the tournament, and fresh off of two double-digit losses in their final three games of the regular season. Worse yet, the team that handed them those losses by a combined 34 points, Michigan State, would be the Buckeyes Friday opponent if they get past No. 10 Penn State Thursday.
There is one silver lining for Buckeye fans, however. Matta has been masterful in the Big Ten Tournament. the Ohio State head coach has won the championship four times, matching Michigan State's Tom Izzo for the most in conference history, winning titles in 2007, 2010, 1011 and 2013, though Ohio State was the tournament's No. 1 seed in all but one fo those seasons and won the title as the No. 2 seed in 2013.
Still, Matta boasts a 22-7 record in the tournament and has had some success as a lower seed, posting a 4-3 record as the five seed.
“I think that hopefully our guys have a pretty good understanding that you’re entering in to a tournament where if you don’t win you go home,” Matta said on the Big Ten Coach’s Teleconference Monday. “At that juncture the level should be raised of how we want to play and how we want to compete.”
The Buckeyes will be fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives in Indianapolis as they enter the tournament firmly in the NIT. To reach the big dance Ohio State will need to not only beat Penn State tomorrow at 6:30, but get past the Spartans Friday and likely reach Sunday's championship round.
“I think our main focus right now is Penn State and then whatever happens after that we just role with it," Kam Williams said. "We’re going to be prepared no matter what, we have a great coaching staff and they always keep us prepared with scouting reports and offensive schemes and defensive schemes. We’re just ready to take it game by game.”
Williams is one of the few players with experience in the Big Ten Tournament as only he, Keita Bates-Diop and Marc Loving have played in the conference tournament and only Loving has logged truly significant minutes.
"I think that’s been one of the things with this basketball team is that level of consistency," Matta said. "Just looking back over the years of going to the conference tournaments and kind of what we’ve done leading up to it, it’s a little bit different with this team. There’s not as many givens in terms of exactly how we’re going to play and what we’re going to do. With that said, I think — somebody told me yesterday that besides Marc we’ve got, between Kam and Keita, a collective 24 minutes of playing time in the conference tournament on this team. It’s going to be new for these guys and hopefully what we’ve done we’ve got a little bit of an establishment in terms of how we’re going to play.”
I'll have more on Ohio State's first matchup in Indianapolis later, but first a look at how I think the tournament will shake out.
- No. 12 Illinois over No. 13 Minnesota
- No. 11 Nebraska over No. 14 Rutgers
Going with chalk in round one as both Minnesota and Rutgers have been dreadful this season.
- No. 9 Northwestern over No. 8 Michigan
- No. 5 Iowa over No. 12 Illinois
- No. 7 Ohio State over No. 10 Penn State
- No. 6 Wisconsin over No. 11 Nebraska
For the most part, no excitement here. That's what happens when the bottom of the league is so bad, the higher seeds advance. Only real wrinkle is I'm taking the Wildcats to get past Michigan. I don't like what I've seen from the Wolverines recently and though they'll be fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives I think they go home early.
- No. 1 Indiana over No. 9 Northwestern
- No. 4 Purdue over No. 5 Iowa
- No. 2 Michigan State over No. 7 Ohio State
- No. 6 Wisconsin over No. 3 Maryland
Again, only one upset in this round. The Terrapins have been sliding lately and I think that Wisconsin will have enough to send Maryland home soul searching in advance of the NCAA Tournament.
The top-seeded Hoosiers will get by Northwestern while I like Purdue to handle Iowa rather easily. Ohio State just won’t have enough against the Spartans, falling to Michigan State for the third time in five games.
- No. 4 Purdue over No. 1 Indiana
- No. 2 Michigan State over No. 6 Wisconsin
I like a slight upset with the Boilermakers reaching the final over top seed Indiana. Purdue is a matchup nightmare and if they're shooting well can beat about anyone. Put them in the finals with Michigan State, which shows continued dominance.
- No. 2 Michigan State over No. 4 Purdue
Shocking, right? I'm going with the favorite to cut down the nets in Indianapolis. The Spartans are playing like the best team in the country and I expect nothing to change in Indy.