March is looming, and Andre Wesson is well aware.
On Thursday night, Ohio State took the first significant blow to its NCAA Tournament resume with a 63-56 loss to Illinois in men’s basketball at Value City Arena. As the lone player representative sent to speak with the media, Wesson was direct when asked how it sat with him.
“All losses hurt, but this one we needed to have,” he said. “We were .500 (in the Big Ten). We’re still trying to make the NCAA Tournament. We’re not a lock, so any game we play, we’ve got to have right now.”
That’s as true now as it has ever been for the Buckeyes. Even despite a five-game January losing streak, Ohio State has remained nearly a lock to reach a second straight NCAA Tournament under coach Chris Holtmann for a number of factors.
In opening the season 12-1, the Buckeyes earned key road wins against Cincinnati and Creighton, both of which have helped buoy an otherwise largely unimpressive nonconference schedule.
Plus, of the six total losses in January, just one was to a team not projected to make the NCAA Tournament — Rutgers — and it came on the road, which softens the blow in the eyes of the selection committee.
It wasn’t until Illinois came into Value City Arena and won for the first time in a decade that the Buckeyes were saddled with their first resume-damaging loss in the eyes of the NCAA’s NET rankings, which the committee will use to evaluate resumes.
In the NET rankings, teams are slotted into quadrants based on their performances at home, on neutral courts and on the road, with results weighted toward success away from home. A loss to a Quadrant 1 team would be the least damaging; anything lower than a Quadrant 2 loss is viewed as a bad loss.
Losing to Illinois, No. 80 in the NET rankings, at home became the first Quadrant 3 loss for the Buckeyes and dropped them eight spots to No. 44.
Entering a game Sunday at No. 11 Michigan State, the Buckeyes are sliding back toward the bubble when it comes to securing an at-large bid. A win would get them back to .500 in league play and provide a resume boost, but Holtmann said the March ramifications of the game against the Spartans don’t factor into his thought process.
“We won’t talk about it,” he said after the Illinois game. “We’ll talk about getting better. A lot of teams would like to be in the bubble picture, including the one we played tonight. I think for us right now, our focus is not on the bubble or anything like that. Our focus is on getting better and improving and growing. That’s our focus as coaches.”
On Friday, ESPN listed Ohio State as one of three Big Ten teams with “work to do” to reach the tournament, but it pointed out that its resume can absorb a loss like the one to the Fighting Illini. The Bracket Matrix, a website that compiles dozens of tournament projections, lists the Buckeyes as the second No. 8 seed.
The ultimate goal is still attainable for the Buckeyes, and Wesson said they are aware of that.
“Obviously you pay attention to it a little bit,” he said. “That’s the end goal. We’re still trying to focus game by game, but everybody looks at that.”