Buckeyes Ready To Dance

A month ago, Ohio State looked all but assured of receiving a bid to the NCAA Tournament but a skid of four losses in five games put a damper on those thoughts. ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi offers his thoughts on whether or not the Buckeyes will make the Big Dance and his thoughts on the Big Ten as well.

It looks like there will be dancing in Ohio State's future.

After emerging victorious in a game against Iowa the Buckeyes had to have to stay on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, OSU is now in position to make the tournament.

At least, that's how ESPN bracketology expert Joe Lunardi sees it.

"I thought for them, their season was last night," Lunardi said March 4. "I thought that if they won that game they'd get in, and if they didn't, they wouldn't."

Now at 19-9 and 9-8 in the Big Ten, the Buckeyes will close out the regular season at home Sunday against a Northwestern team that defeated them by three points on their home court two weeks ago.

It marked the first road victory for OSU since a 93-81 win at Indiana on Jan. 31 – a stretch of three games. Last year, the Buckeyes finished the regular season 19-12 overall and 10-8 in the Big Ten but were held out of the Big Dance due in large part to a lack of success on the road.

This year, the Buckeyes sit at 4-6 away from home and 3-6 in conference play, with one win on a neutral court. However, two of their key non-conference wins away from home – at Miami (Fla.) and against Notre Dame in Indianapolis – came with junior forward David Lighty in the lineup.

Lighty has been sidelined since an 81-68 victory against Jacksonville on Dec. 17 with a fractured foot, and his return this season remains questionable. Since Lighty went out, the Buckeyes are 12-9 after going 7-0 with him in the lineup.

Those facts do hurt the Buckeyes, Lunardi said.

"It does, and it only affects it negatively unless they are able to get a high-quality (upset) without him," he said. "I don't know what their best win is without him."

After the win against Iowa, the Buckeyes remained the No. 6 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. After the conference's three ranked teams in Michigan State, Purdue and Illinois, five other teams including the Buckeyes are all projected as either making the tournament or on the bubble for doing so.

As for Wisconsin, Penn State, OSU, Minnesota and Michigan, Lunardi said he could make a case for including or excluding each of those teams. His latest projections have the Big Ten getting six teams into the tournament: the Spartans, Boilermakers, Fighting Illini, Badgers, Buckeyes and Nittany Lions.

However, the Nittany Lions are one of the last four teams to make the cut, and Lunardi said he sees them playing their way out of the tournament before Selection Sunday. PSU still has a home game against Illinois and a road contest with Iowa before the conference tournament.

On the other side of the coin, he listed Minnesota and Michigan as teams that still have the possibility of playing their ways into the tournament. In all, the Big Ten can expect to have no more than seven teams make the tournament, Lunardi said.

In the last nine seasons, Lunardi has incorrectly pegged a total of 10 teams as making the tournament in his final projections. Last season, he correctly predicted the entire field.

However, the Buckeyes are still not a 100 percent lock to make the tournament in Lunardi's eyes with one more game and their conference tournament still looming.

"I'd say 60-40 in favor (of them making it) for the Buckeyes," he said.

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