After a two-year absence, Ohio State basketball has returned to the NCAA Tournament. The Buckeyes were revealed as one of the 68 teams during the opening portion of the Selection Sunday broadcast.
No. 5 seed Ohio State will open against No. 12 seed South Dakota State on Thursday in Boise, Idaho in the West Region. The winner of that matchup will face the winner of No. 4 seed Gonzaga and No. 13 seed UNC Greensboro.
The Buckeyes will have to overcome a two-week break from competition after losing in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament. The conference chose to hold its postseason tournament a week earlier than usual in order to hold it in Madison Square Garden in New York City. Ohio State’s loss to Penn State on March 2 means the Buckeyes will have gone 13 days without playing.
But even having a spot at all is something nobody expected at the start of the season. To appreciate the Buckeyes’ shocking turnaround after missing the NCAA Tournament and NIT last season and firing Thad Matta in June, it’s worth considering how they got here. With a new coach in Chris Holtmann and a makeshift roster, Ohio State was widely picked to finish anywhere from 11th to dead last 14th in Big Ten preseason projections. A tough first month included losses to Gonzaga, Butler and Clemson, but Big Ten play arrived and the Buckeyes found their way.
Ohio State won 17 of 19 games from December to mid-February, surviving a bunched-up schedule necessitated by the Big Ten playing its conference tournament a week earlier than normal. But the season ended as it began, with Ohio State looking like it didn’t have enough depth. The regular season ended with two losses in the last four games, and the Buckeyes were bounced from the conference tournament in the quarterfinals when Penn State dealt them a third loss in as many matchups.
The dream of a conference championship (in the regular season or tournament) was done, and so was Ohio State’s one-time dream of earning a premium seed in the NCAA Tournament. But there was still no question that the Buckeyes had done enough to merit either a quality seed, putting the program back into national prominence after a steady decline.