Entering Tuesday, three other teams were tied with Ohio State for 10th place in the Big Ten standings. The Buckeyes (16-13, 6-10) were even with Indiana (16-13, 6-10), Nebraska (12-16, 6-10) and Penn State (14-15, 6-10) in the league rankings.
OSU split the two regular-season games with Nebraska, with the away team winning each contest. The Buckeyes will face PSU for the first time this year on Tuesday night, and will do the same for their regular-season finale against Indiana on Saturday.
With there being a logjam at the No. 10 spot in the conference, OSU could either stay put or fall in the standings by the time the Big Ten regular season wraps up on Sunday.
Illinois (17-12, 7-9) is currently sitting in ninth place in the conference. Given that the Buckeyes fell to the Fighting Illini in the lone meeting between the two squads this season, a 75-70 loss at Illinois on New Year’s Day, OSU does not have the tiebreaker over the Illini. Thus, the Buckeyes would need to win their last two games of the regular season and have Illinois lose its last pair of regular-season contests in order to surpass the Fighting Illini in the standings. Illinois closes out its season with a home game vs. Michigan State (18-11, 10-6) followed by a road tilt with Rutgers (13-16, 2-14).
Should the Buckeyes claim the 10th spot at season’s end, they will receive a first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament that starts March 8 and play the seventh seed, which would either be Michigan or Northwestern, as both teams are currently 9-7 in the league.
OSU beat Michigan, 70-66, at Ann Arbor in the lone meeting between the two on Feb. 4. The Buckeyes, however, fell to the Wildcats, 74-72, at home on Jan. 22, the only time the foes squared off this season.
If OSU drops below the 10th spot, sophomore guard JaQuan Lyle and his teammates will play on the first day of the conference tourney, something the team would like to avoid.
“It would just help our bodies,” Lyle said Monday of getting a first-round bye. “You’ve got guys playing 28-34 minutes a game. That extra day means a lot because I know me and (junior forward Jae’Sean Tate), we’ve got some old-man bodies. We’re banged up so we’re going to need that extra day. Hopefully, we can get these two (against PSU and Indiana) and hopefully everything works in our favor.”
While Lyle noted the importance of getting an extra day of rest, head coach Thad Matta focused on the team not having to play as many games in the league tournament if it were to garner an opening-round bye.
“It’s one less game that you could potentially play, I think that would be the biggest benefit of it,” Matta said Monday. “You wouldn’t believe it if I told you but I’m not even sure how it all works out (the seeding), that’s how little I’ve ever paid attention to it.
“It’s funny, someone asked me where we are in the standings. I told him I have no idea. I know there are so many teams and I don’t know who plays who and all that stuff. I want to play well (Tuesday) night (at PSU) and see how we do there because the big picture with these guys doesn’t seem to work really well.”
Matta is not alone when it comes members of the program not paying attention to the records of other teams in the league.
“Honestly, I don’t even look at that,” Lyle said. “We have to win. I feel like we have to win every game so I don’t even know where we stand in the standings at all.”
Freshman forward Andre Wesson, who has never played in a Big Ten tournament, said the focus is still on the task at hand.
“We’re pretty much just taking it one game at a time,” he said Monday. “Get this one at Penn State and then focus on Indiana.”
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