Somewhat left for dead in the Big Ten race, the Buckeyes are back.
Three straight wins have followed a miserable stretch that saw Ohio State drop five of six games, and because of it, the Buckeyes sit in fourth place in the Big Ten standings. And while the chances of a regular-season conference championship aren’t necessarily in their favor, a win Tuesday night against rival Michigan could change that in a hurry.
The 6-5 Buckeyes are still pretty far off the pace of the 9-2 marks set by the Wolverines and the Spartans of Michigan State. But there’s no doubting the quick turnaround made by Thad Matta’s group, one that includes road wins at Wisconsin and Iowa. Those same Hawkeyes just thrashed the Wolverines over the weekend, giving the Buckeyes, who host the Wolverines on Tuesday, plenty of hope to beat their big rival.
“They had one of those games,” Matta said Monday regarding Michigan’s loss. “Iowa was rolling and making incredible threes. It was just one of those games that sort of happens periodically throughout the course of a season. Things went Iowa’s way, and Iowa played great basketball, no question.”
It’s certainly possible for the Buckeyes to still grab a regular-season title, but there’s so much that has happen around them that they’re simply focusing on winning their own ballgames.
Which makes Tuesday’s showdown with the Wolverines extra important.
“We can’t really worry about other teams as much. We’ve got to fight our own race,” Ohio State forward Amir Williams said. “This is a big one for us (Tuesday). I think we just went over .500 in the Big Ten conference, so that puts us at (fourth place) in the Big Ten. But it’s a big game (Tuesday). We’ve got to be ready to play, we can’t come out lackadaisical like it’s just some other game.”
If there is hope, it can come from last season, when the Buckeyes started 8-5 before winning their final five games — including two against top-five opponents — to finish a close second to Indiana for the conference championship. Getting that close after being pretty far back in the race provides plenty of reason for the Buckeyes to do the same thing this year.
“I can remember last year we were sitting around the same position, and we were like, ‘Hey man, this, this, this, this and this need to happen.’ We got to the last game of the year and we were like, ‘Only two things need to happen now.’ And what we did last year, we really just focused on ourselves,” Ohio State guard Aaron Craft said. “We can’t hope other teams, we can’t wish on other teams. We just have to try to take care of our business and let things happen as they do and see where it all ends up at the end of the year.”