It wasn’t the Big Ten Tournament final that most were expecting. As the 1-seed Buckeyes were running through their side of the bracket, fighting out tough wins against Northwestern and Michigan, the conference’s other favorites fell in impressive upsets. Michigan State dominated Purdue and Penn State knocked off Wisconsin; the latter coming in the tourney’s all-time lowest scoring game. Winning ugly didn’t bother the Nittany Lions; they just went right back to work and handled the Spartans for a shot at the league title.
But Ohio State had other ideas.
Despite not playing their best basketball this week, the Buckeyes managed to secure the tourney crown with a 71-60 victory over the surprise finalists. PSU played well for much of the game, but couldn’t get much going in support of Talor Battle and Jeff Brooks. That tandem had 24 and 19 points, but the rest of the team managed only an additional 17 in the loss.
Ohio State did an excellent job of limiting Penn State’s shot selection, holding the Lions to 39.3% shooting. The Bucks also continued to play their trademark style; few fouls (9), few turnovers (7), and plenty of balance. William Buford bounced back from a cold start to lead the team with 18 points. Jon Diebler and Jared Sullinger had 15 each while Sully grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds.
The game was fairly close throughout the first half before turning on a second half run by OSU. Up by 6 at the break, the Buckeyes slowly extended the lead to as many as 17 by the 13-minute mark. Penn State did fight back, cutting into the advantage and getting as close as 68-60. But as they had in the previous pair of games, the Bucks played fundamentally sound basketball in the closing minutes to ice the win.
The 32-2 Buckeyes successfully defend both their Big Ten regular season and Big Ten Tournament titles from a year ago.
NCAA Tournament Selection
With that defense, Ohio State was named the NCAA Tournament’s overall #1 seed, locking up the East Region. The Newark, NJ regional site is the closest to Columbus.
Penn State also made the tournament by virtue of reach the Big Ten finals. The Lions will be a 10 seed facing Temple in the West region. A total of 7 Big Ten teams got the nod form the Selection Committee; the other 5 include 3-seed Purdue and 9-seed Illinois in the Southwest, 4-seed Wisconsin and 10-seed Michigan State in the Southeast, and 8-seed Michigan in the West.
They may have the top spot, but Ohio State’ road is anything but easy. The round of 64 game will be against the winner of a first-round play-in; Ohio State will meet either UT San Antonio, winners of the Southland Conference Tourney, or Alabama State, winners of the SWAC. The UTSA Roadrunners come in at 19-13 while the ASU Hornets are 17-17.
After facing one of these 2, the Bucks have potential matchups against Villanova (9), West Virginia (5), Kentucky (4), UNC (2), and/or Syracuse (3). And even if those power programs falter, plenty of sleepers will remain– Washington (7), Xavier (6), Marquette (11), George Mason (8), and Princeton (13) all have the ability to do damage.
Taking a look at all 4 regions, it feels like the East is might be the toughest. So much for the overall #1. But titles don’t come easy under any circumstances, and if the Buckeyes want to live up to their #1 seed, they’ll need to prove themselves repeatedly.
The first step is to get the shooting back on track. Sullinger was a microcosm of the team’s struggles in the Big Ten Tourney, going 12 of 36 from the field over the course of 3 games. Luckily he made plenty of trips to a line; attempting a conference record 38 free throws. Still, with so many quality teams ahead of them, the Bucks need to start hitting shots rather than relying on fouls.
Ohio State begins its road to the Final Four on Friday at 4:40 eastern time.