With championship week now in full swing, near-locks for at large bids keep falling by the wayside. You’ve heard the names: Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, South Alabama. And, of course, with every win by the likes of San Diego the bubble chances for a host of high major teams shrink even further; just ask Gary Williams, whose Maryland Terrapins likely saw their bubble burst in the West Coast Conference finals last night.
Another team in a similar predicament is Ohio State. With a couple of horrendous losses on their resume and a so-so performance in the top-heavy Big Ten, the young Buckeyes have their tournament hopes pinned to late-season home wins over Purdue and Michigan State. Last night’s craziness that saw Gonzaga and South Alabama fall to at-large status put the Bucks down to the bottom of most bracketologists’ “Last Four In” categories, meaning that if OSU can’t pull back-to-back wins over the Spartans (not outside the realm of possibility), they’ll need a lot of help to avoid hosting a first-round NIT game.
That help for the Buckeyes may have to come twofold from their neighbors to the northeast in Cleveland.
The first bit of help from Cleveland could come tonight–in the form of a loss. That is to say, Ohio State would really, really appreciate it if Cleveland State went ahead and lost to Butler. A win by Gary Waters’ Vikings would be a real double-whammy on OSU, as Butler falling to at-large status would soak up another bid that could’ve gone the Bucks’ way while in turn making the thrashing the Bulldogs laid on the Scarlet and Gray earlier this season a weaker loss in the eyes of the committee (though, on the other hand, it would improve the OSU win over CSU, so maybe that last part’s a wash).
The next bit of help Ohio State could use from Cuyahoga County kicks off Thursday at The Q (as mentioned previously) with the start of MAC Tournament play. What would really help OSU here is wins; lots of wins–by Kent State. With a strong second half–including a huge Bracket Buster win over aforementioned St. Mary’s–the Golden Flashes have become the first MAC team since Wally Szczerbiak’s Miami team (some 10 years ago) to have a tourney bid sewn up pre-conference tourney. Anything short of a MAC title for Kent would prove catastrophic for Ohio State, as their neighbors to the northeast would snipe away yet another precious at-large bid.
Again, OSU can make this all a moot point on Friday if they can go back-to-back on Michigan State. A second win over Sparty and the Buckeyes are in comfortably; a loss in the season series’ rubber match, though, and the Bucks’ are going to be eyeing the North Coast all weekend long.