Fresh off a hard-fought, 17-point victory against Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament in Chicago, Ohio State was feeling good about itself heading into postseason play – and with good reason. The Buckeyes were the No. 1 team in the country and a lock to be a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
Fast forward one year and the only thing this year's squad seems to have in common with that team is the color of uniforms they don every day. A team that squarely played itself into contention for the tournament thanks to two victories in the final week of the regular season came up wanting on Selection Sunday for a variety of reasons.
Although they might not agree with them, this year's Buckeyes seemed to at least acknowledge that they knew why they did not get picked for the tournament.
According to senior co-captain Jamar Butler, it began following the team's 53-48 road loss to Iowa. The game dropped OSU to 15-7 on the season and came to a team that was ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten. After the game, Butler ripped his teammates for not showing up ready to play.
"I remember meeting with coach after the Iowa game and he was asking me what was going through my head and all I was thinking was ‘are we going to make the tournament?' " Butler said. "He was telling me not to worry about that and just play. I guess I was right about worrying."
The loss snapped a three-game OSU winning streak and was a harbinger of frustrations yet to come. Fifteen days later, the Buckeyes suffered their first defeat at the hands of rival Michigan since 2004 and saw a seven-game winning streak against the Wolverines go up in smoke.
"I really think you get what you deserve and I think we did," Butler said. "The games at Iowa and at Michigan and you put some others in there that we could have won and we didn't come ready to play came back to haunt us."
Those two road losses proved to be part of a larger problem that ultimate wound up costing OSU. In all, the Buckeyes were just 5-10 on the road this season and had only one win against a top-100 team away from home: an 80-63 victory against Cleveland State on a neutral court in mid-December.
It proved to be one of the main reasons – but not the only reason – the Buckeyes were not invited to dance this March.
"Ohio State we looked at very seriously," said NCAA Tournament Selection Committee Chairman Tom O'Connor. "We were monitoring them the entire season, but their road record really hurt them, quite frankly."
The Buckeyes had plenty of chances to pull out that elusive quality road victory. Against Tennessee, a team that earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Buckeyes trailed by three points and had two chances to tie the game in the final minutes but came up empty. That game marked the third road loss in as many games for OSU, which also dropped close contests to Purdue and Michigan State in the week prior to the Tennessee game.
Those three losses came by a combined 18 points. One month later, the Buckeyes dropped a three-point contest on the road against Indiana and followed that up with a disastrous 71-57 road defeat at the hands of the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Butler pointed to the Tennessee game as one that could have punched a ticket to the NCAA Tournament for the Buckeyes had they come away with the win. Head coach Thad Matta said he feels his team might have come one more win away from being invited to the Big Dance.
Still, the head coach said he felt OSU was where it needed to be as late as Friday afternoon when the Buckeyes headed to halftime tied with MSU in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament.
In the final 10 games of the regular season, OSU was 4-6. As the season went on, the losses began to pile up.
"I tried not to think about it, really, (but) at some points you're like, ‘Man, that one really hurt us,' " senior forward Matt Terwilliger said.
The fact that OSU knocked off both Purdue and MSU in the final week of the regular season seemed to indicate that it had finally righted the ship, but that wound up being too little, too late. Now the Buckeyes have a date with UNC Asheville in the NIT Tournament.
"Obviously we didn't get the job done well enough and we can't change that," Matta said. "We've got to move forward here and represent the Scarlet and Gray the best we can and continue to play for the program and for each other."