One of the lowest points of the season somehow managed to get worse for Ohio State on Wednesday night. Having just taken an 18-point loss at Northwestern, keeping the Buckeyes on the NCAA Tournament bubble, a mechanical issue with their plane forced them to spend the night in Evanston, Illinois.

The loss had dropped Ohio State to 18-12 and marked its fifth loss in seven games. With few other options, the coaching staff retreated to a restaurant for a late-night meal that came with a side of perspective: Despite having scored 51 and 50 points in their last two games, the Buckeyes still had opportunity ahead to reach the tournament.

 

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“We’re excited about that position,” Holtmann said Friday. “Now, obviously we are not necessarily at full deck right now, but I think there’s an optimism that’s required and perspective, because I think the alternative is not healthy and not going to benefit those guys at all, if myself and our staff has anything other than that attitude.”

It’s been necessary as the Buckeyes have continued to slip in the NCAA Tournament projections. Entering the weekend, Ohio State found itself positioned as one of the final teams pegged to avoid the first round of the tournament and needing to do some work in order to feel confident about its chances of reaching the postseason.

No. 21 Wisconsin brings such an opportunity to Value City Arena on Sunday. The Badgers present one final regular-season opportunity for a Quadrant 1 win in the NCAA’s new NET rankings, which would bump the Buckeyes to 5-8 against the most successful teams.

Perhaps most important, it would signal that even without the suspended Kaleb Wesson, Ohio State remains capable of defeating one of the top teams in a Big Ten that has consistently ranked as the nation’s best conference this season.

Whether they’re capable of taking advantage of the situation might be another story, but senior guard C.J. Jackson said the Buckeyes are up for the challenge.

“This team definitely has (confidence),” he said. “We’re not finished. We have a long way to go and that goal is still in reach. It’s a great opportunity for Sunday, to go out the right way, winning our last game against a really good team.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy