A 31-game regular season, plus a foray into the Big Ten tournament, added up to a second straight NCAA Tournament appearance for Ohio State under coach Chris Holtmann.
The No. 11 seed Buckeyes will head to Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Wednesday in advance of Friday’s game with No. 6 seed Iowa State with a 19-14 record. Before we get there, let’s take a look at the top 10 most important games of the season for Ohio State that led to a return trip to the tournament.
10. Penn State, Feb. 7: 74-70
The Nittany Lions opened Big Ten play with 10 straight losses, but they came to Value City Arena presenting a significant matchup problem for a turnover-prone Ohio State team. The win itself didn’t do a lot to boost the resume, but finding a way not to lose to a team that hadn’t shown it could win a conference game to that point was significant for the Buckeyes.
9. vs. UCLA, Dec. 22: 80-66
Ohio State ended a two-game losing streak in the CBSSports Classic with a relatively easy win against the Bruins three days before Christmas. The win moved the Buckeyes to 11-1 overall and, although UCLA proved to be a massive disappointment, a win over a Blue-Blood program is nothing to sniff at.
8. at Indiana, Feb. 10: 55-52
The Hoosiers very likely could have made the tournament had they taken advantage of either of their opportunities. Instead, it was Ohio State that made the necessary plays late to cover for a lack of offensive flow and left Assembly Hall with a quality road win.
7. Minnesota, Dec. 2: 79-59
The Buckeyes caught a scheduling break and took full advantage of it. The Golden Gophers came to Value City Arena on less than 48 hours’ rest and were never really a factor as Ohio State shook off its first loss of the season in a big way with a win that took on greater importance as Minnesota continued winning.
6. Cleveland State, Nov. 23: 89-62
Nothing about this game was really in doubt, as the Buckeyes steamrolled their in-state foe from the northeast. Played before a packed house inside St. John Arena, Ohio State’s return to its spiritual home was a spectacle, from the throwback jerseys to the retro graphics on the scoreboard.
5. At Creighton, Nov. 15: 69-60
The Bluejays possess one of the best home-court advantages in college basketball, and Ohio State trailed by four points with 2:57 remaining before closing the game on a 13-0 run. Although Creighton didn’t make the NCAA Tournament, a true road win against a major-conference team is a major boost to any resume.
4. Iowa, Feb. 26: 90-70
The game that will forever be remembered as the night Justin Ahrens went nuts and everything looked rosy for the Buckeyes. The lightly-used freshman poured in 29 points in an unprecedented offensive performance and Ohio State earned a lopsided win against a top-25 team, showing this team’s ceiling when clicking on all cylinders.
3. At Nebraska, Jan. 26: 70-60
It’s hard to believe now, but the Cornhuskers were a legitimate Big Ten contender early in the season before things headed south in a hurry. The Buckeyes, having lost five straight when conference play resumed in January, went to Pinnacle Bank Arena, took the crowd out of it early and emerged with a slump-busting, confidence-affirming win.
2. Vs. Indiana, March 14: 79-75
It didn’t come easily despite a 20-point second-half lead, but the win against the Hoosiers provided the final boost necessary to make the tournament. On the heels of a three-game losing streak without Kaleb Wesson, the Buckeyes ended Indiana’s postseason hopes with this Big Ten tournament victory as Wesson returned to the lineup.
1. At Cincinnati, Nov. 7: 64-56
The first game of the season happened to be the most important for Ohio State’s resume. The win against the Bearcats, in their first game at newly renovated Fifth Third Arena, kept postseason hopes alive through the dog days of January and ultimately accounted for the best-rated win of the season.