INDIANAPOLIS — So what happens next?
For the first time in six seasons, the Ohio State men’s basketball will spend the Sunday of the Big Ten Tournament watching — instead of participating.
A 72-69 loss against top-seeded Michigan (25-7, 17-3) leaves OSU with a long bus ride ahead as they wait to see their fate in the NCAA Tournament.
“I’ve never been there. I’ve never been in Columbus on Selection Sunday,” junior forward Sam Thompson said. “I’ve never left this tournament before the championship game, so it’ll be a little weird.”
Senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said even though it will be different not playing in the championship game — Michigan is set to take on Michigan State Sunday at 3:30 p.m. — he sees a bright future for his team.
“Obviously this feeling I’m feeling right now, this is a change for me,” Smith Jr. said. “I haven’t won every game in my lifetime, and I’ve responded. I know my team is going to bounce back, we’re going to fight, but the pain and the hurt that we’re feeling right now is going to be ammunition for us going into the NCAA Tournament. I’m excited for that.”
Smith Jr.’s backcourt teammate, senior guard Aaron Craft, added that the loss can be seen as a building block for the team moving forward.
“It would be a travesty if we just took disappointment out of this weekend,” Craft said. “Obviously we’re upset, we’re disappointed, but it’s the way this has gone. We’re a better basketball team than when we got here. It’s about building off that. Get out of the Big Ten, get to play against a different opponent that you haven’t seen yet.”
Although OSU is all but guaranteed an at large bid, the players will be heading into uncharted territory.
For the first time since any of the current Buckeye players began their careers OSU will likely be lower than a two-seed, and could be an underdog as early as the third round.
Smith Jr. said he thinks OSU put themselves into a good position heading into March Madness.
“It’s not the best position we wanted to be in, but I’m pretty confident in the position we are,” Smith Jr. said. “With this loss everybody is hurting right here, so I expect that the pain that we’re feeling right now to carry on to the next game and we take it out on whoever we play and wherever we are. I expect them to reap what we’re feeling right now. So bad enough for them, whoever they are I feel sorry for them.”
Thompson added that seeding doesn’t make a difference, as long as the team comes to play.
“Seeds don’t matter. Wichita State beat us last year as a nine seed. Seeding doesn’t matter,” Thompson said. “What matters is the team that shows up to play when the tournament comes, and the Ohio State Buckeyes will show up no matter what seed we are.”
Even though the ending to the Big Ten Tournament was not was what OSU (25-9, 12-9) wanted, the hope of the NCAA Tournament softened the blow that came with a loss.
Starting next week though, there will be no such relief.
“It’s on to the NCAA Tournament and we get another crack at it, and every game now, if you lose, you go home for good and we don’t want that to happen,” Smith Jr. said.
The brackets are scheduled be announced Sunday at 6 p.m., with the NCAA Tournament’s second round — where OSU will likely begin — set to take place Thursday and Friday.
Junior guard Shannon Scott said it doesn’t matter who OSU plays, they plan to give it their all.
“We’ve got to play against whoever steps in front of us,” Scott said. “Bring our ‘A’ game no matter what.”