Once again, the best bet to end the Big Ten’s title drought seems to be the last team to bring home that hardware. Entering the final day of the regular season Sunday, preseason favorite Michigan State brought a four-game winning streak — three coming on the road — into a home game against 19th-ranked Ohio State, with a chance to clinch a share of the Big Ten regular-season title.
That’s the expectation for the Spartans: Contend at the top of the league standings year after year and sprinkle in consistent NCAA Tournament forays deep into March since winning their second national title in 2000.
On Thursday, Jerry Lucas and his 1960 Ohio State teammates were on hand at Value City Arena to be honored for the 60th anniversary of the lone national championship in program history. Hanging in the rafters is a banner commemorating that season, as well as Lucas’ retired No. 11 jersey.
It’s the expectation of the champions that their alma mater should be in consistent contention for that elusive second championship.
"The hope for any Ohio State team is to win the national championship," Lucas said. "Obviously that hasn’t happened in a while, but I think that has to be the hope."
Lucas has been around the program on occasion and took in a win against Michigan four days prior as well. On Thursday, while seated at a news conference featuring teammates Mel Nowell, Joe Roberts and Dick Furry, Lucas was in a scarlet Ohio State hoodie rather than traditional dress apparel.
He has seen this Ohio State team pick itself off the floor after a stretch of six losses in seven games threatened to derail a promising start to the season. Entering the Breslin Center on Sunday, the Buckeyes were guaranteed to be no lower than a No. 7 seed in the conference tournament this week after having won nine of their previous 11 games.
"This is a talented team," Lucas said. "They have some good players, and they’ve done some great things. They’ve been a little iffy at times, but they have talent, especially defensively. When they clamp guys down defensively, they play well and they do well."
It’s been an improvement on three of the four numbers coach Chris Holtmann emphasized to his players during the offseason. Although the Buckeyes overcame a limited offense and reached the NCAA Tournament last season, they finished eighth in the Big Ten, lost 12 games in conference play and 15 overall, and finished 193rd nationally in turnover percentage.
They will best the first three numbers regardless of what happens from here on out, but how far they ultimately go will hinge on whether they can improve their No. 207 turnover percentage national ranking.
Sharing the ball, too, will help.
"There are a lot of great shooters on this team, and when they continue to work on figuring out how those shooters get shots that they want, they will be very effective — very effective," Nowell said. "When they can make the passes and those things that make guys feel great about being on that team with you, it makes a world of difference in how great they can be."