The 2016-17 Ohio State men’s basketball season is officially over.
And the sad thing is, it’s probably for the best.
After tallying a 17-15 record (7-11 in the Big Ten), the Buckeyes were left out of not just the NCAA Tournament but the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) as well. With that, a season Thad Matta admitted last week had been one of the most perplexing of his 17-year head coaching career is over.
On ESPN’s NIT selection show, tournament chair Reggie Minton confirmed that the Buckeyes “came just a little bit short” of making the field.
Despite wins over NCAA Tournament teams Wisconsin, Michigan and Michigan State, Ohio State’s resume was admittedly lackluster.
After winning their first six games, the Buckeyes were not able to string together more than two wins in a row. They lost their first four Big Ten games. Ohio State’s final contest was a 66-57 defeat at the hands of last-place Rutgers in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament.
“Tonight we weren’t ready to fight at the level we needed to fight, for whatever reason,” Matta said following the Buckeyes’ loss to the Scarlet Knights. “March Madness, all that stuff. I told the guys, ‘This is where players play. This is where players make money.’ ”
Ohio State won’t have an opportunity to do that, as the Buckeyes have missed out on the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season. Missing the NIT, however, marks a new low for the Matta era.
In theory, the NIT could have provided Ohio State with an opportunity to create some much-needed consistency, especially with a roster that possesses just one senior. String together some wins — as the Buckeyes did when they won the NIT in 2008 under Matta — and perhaps they could have carried that momentum into next season.
The only problem is that Ohio State is past the point where what it could have done this spring would have affected the crossroads the Buckeyes appear to be approaching. Ohio State likely needs to make next year’s NCAA Tournament to avoid major changes — and even that might not be enough. As I wrote earlier this week, the 2017-18 season will be a make-or-break campaign in the Matta era in Columbus.
With 4-star center Kaleb Wesson set to arrive this summer, Ohio State’s team could look very different next season, even if the faces are largely the same. Current Buckeyes center Trevor Thompson has been linked to the NBA, which would have only lessened any lasting impact of a potential NIT run.
The Buckeyes’ season is over. But the madness for Ohio State basketball might just be beginning.