Ohio State was barely off the court after its loss on Sunday at Indiana before the emails and tweets began arriving from fans either wondering whether or convinced that the Buckeyes were headed for the NIT instead of the NCAA tournament.
“Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha,” Jerry Palm of CBS Sports said when he was apprised of that this week. “That’s my answer.”
In other words, Palm said, “Let’s not be ridiculous.”
Even a worst-case scenario — the unranked Buckeyes losing their regular-season finale at home to Michigan State on Sunday, and losing again to a lower-seeded team in their first Big Ten tournament game next week — won’t be enough to keep them from a sixth straight date in the NCAA tournament on March 20 or 21.
“Ohio State cannot miss the field,” Joe Lunardi of ESPN said in an email.
The Buckeyes, who were 15-0 and ranked No. 3 nationally a week into January, are 22-8 now, and 9-8 and in sixth place in the Big Ten standings. They lost twice on the road last week, to Penn State and Indiana, teams with below-.500 conference records. They could be seeded as low as sixth in the conference tournament, behind Iowa and Nebraska.
None of that will keep them out of the field of 68, in which they could be seeded just as high, or higher, than they are in the Big Ten tournament. Lunardi and Palm have them as a No. 6 seed.
“It’s a seeding issue, not selection,” Lunardi said.
“Because there are not nearly 36 at-large teams more qualified than they,” said Mike DeCourcy, Sporting News college basketball writer and Big Ten Network studio analyst. “It’s really that simple. It’s not even a conversation.”
Even if they are seeded lower in the Big Ten tournament than Iowa and Nebraska, and split a pair of games with each, the Buckeyes’ overall profile in the Rating Percentage Index is higher when considering the metrics used by the NCAA tournament selection committee.
It starts with a nonconference schedule in November and December that didn’t thrill media or the paying customers — 13 victories over mostly midmajor no-names by an average of 14.5 points — but in hindsight, worked to the Buckeyes’ benefit. The schedule ranked fourth-best among the RPI’s 349 teams yesterday, behind only those of Arizona, Iowa State and Wisconsin.
North Dakota State is in the top 50 of the RPI. Ohio, Delaware, Marquette and Maryland between 51 and 100. Wyoming and Notre Dame between 101 and 150. The committee gives weight to those victories.
“They didn’t go out and kill themselves” with that schedule, Palm said, “but you’re not going to lose to those teams (they played) at home.”
That has helped give the Buckeyes 11 victories against teams ranked in the RPI top 100, including four against the top 50, another metric the committee values. Iowa and Nebraska have seven each.
Ohio State also has fewer losses overall (eight) than Iowa (nine) and Nebraska (11).
“And then there are the road victories against Wisconsin and Iowa,” DeCourcy said. “They’re 6-5 away from home. That’s a good thing. You have those kinds of things, you’re going to get in the field.”