COLUMBUS, Ohio — Chris Holtmann should send a thank you note to the NCAA selection committee. Ohio State just got all the motivation it could possibly need heading into its return to the NCAA Tournament.
Sure, flying across the country to Boise, Idaho, isn’t ideal. And there is always danger lurking for a team that gets handed a No. 5 seed.
But even before the brackets were official, the Buckeyes were already being labeled as a prime upset pick in the first round of their return to the Big Dance. And for a team that fueled its remarkable turnaround on the strength of offseason doubts about their chances of even posting a winning record in the Big Ten, this is gift-wrapped March motivation.
Nobody believes in the Buckeyes? That’s fine. Holtmann and Ohio State have been hearing that since before the season started, and now it can play that underdog card again. There’s no question that by Thursday when the Buckeyes face South Dakota State that they will be ready once again to silence the skeptics.
Some of this upset discussion is overblown and sounds a little crazy considering what Ohio State accomplished this year. The Buckeyes, after all, are one of the more accomplished programs in the country given some of the impressive wins already on their résumé. With Keita Bates-Diop coming into the postseason as one of the nation’s premier players, Holtmann once again having proved his chops as one of the top coaches in the game, and no shortage of experience winning games this season, the Buckeyes should win in the first round.
And they have a shot to advance to the Sweet 16 with an intriguing matchup looming against Gonzaga. The first meeting wasn’t all that close, but Ohio State is a different team now — and will get the possible edge of seeking revenge. But let’s not get too far ahead of this right now, because first and foremost Ohio State should take a moment to simply revel in the fact that it could even remotely be bothered by being given a No. 5 seed after missing out entirely on the last two tournaments.
Once that raucous celebration at Value City Arena ended on Sunday, though, Holtmann can officially get to work trying to author another underdog story. And the Buckeyes should thank the selection committee and everybody making them a trendy upset pick for the help.