COLUMBUS (WCMH) — In the span of two months, Ohio State went from a Final Four contender to a bubble team and now a lock for the NCAA Tournament.
Ohio State rose to No. 2 in the country after wins over Villanova, Penn State and Kentucky, all of which are currently ranked in the top 15 of the AP Poll. But the Buckeyes fell on hard times losing six of seven games including five Big Ten losses. Ohio State fell out of the top 25 after a 14-point loss to Penn State and talks of winning a national championship quickly turned to whispers of missing the NCAA Tournament altogether.
But much like OSU’s unexpected rise early in the season, the Buckeyes surprised the college basketball world once again by winning five of their last six games moving them to No. 25 in the nation.
Ohio State’s success has been even more impressive because its won four of those six games without point guard D.J. Carton. The freshman point guard left the team on January 30th for mental health reasons and has yet to return to the team.
Carton is from Bettendorf, Iowa and some thought he would return this week or come to Thursday’s road game against the No. 20 Hawkeyes. But Chris Holtmann quickly dispelled those mummers at Wednesday’s press conference saying Carton will not be at the game and will not be back anytime soon.
“I’m hopeful that we can get him on a path towards improved health. That’s the only priority,” Holtmann said. “We’re late in the season so you can draw your own conclusions.”
Carton played a significant role before his departure as he averaged the fourth-most minutes per game (23.9), the third-most points (10.4) and the second most assists per game (3.0). But his untimely absence has yet to affect Ohio State with the Buckeyes getting back to their bread and butter — defense. When The Buckeyes were a top-10 team in the country back in December, they were also top 10 in defensive scoring allowing less than 60 points a game. That defensive effort has returned with the Buckeyes giving up less than 60 points in four of their last six games.
As it stands right now, this will be Ohio State’s last week against teams ranked in the top 25. That means Thursday’s game against No. 20 Iowa and Sunday’s home game versus No. 7 Maryland could have major implications on Ohio State’s seeding for the NCAA Tournament. Tip-off for Thursday’s game is set for 7:00.