After reeling off seven wins in an eight-games stretch from mid-January to mid-February, OSU hoops has slumped at the worst possible time with five consecutive losses in league play to fall out of most bracket projections ahead of the 2023 NCAA Tournament later this month.
But OSU’s hopes, despite recent struggles, are far from dead yet. Jerry Palm has OSU as one of the last four teams out of the bracket, and ditto for Joey Brackets, so the recent slump streak has for now stunted OSU’s tourney hopes but clearly hasn’t completely killed it.
So what does OSU need to do to work its way back into the favor of the bracket gods?
Here’s my game theory on what I think it needs to do moving forward. I’d highly recommend reading Marshall’s piece accompanying this which in detail lays out all the various seeding scenarios entering the weekend.
I don’t think OSU needs to run the table from here out by winning the Big 12 tournament (though it would help), but it probably does need to win Saturday on the road at Texas Tech. The Cowboys are likely going to be a small underdog against the Red Raiders who have been feisty down the stretch and surged to the finish line as OSU has struggled. A win Saturday would give OSU another Quad 1 win, according to the latest NET rankings, which would put OSU at six total and in line with what NCAA Tournament teams typically need.
Win multiple games in Big 12 tourney
As of now OSU is slotted as the 7 seed in the Big 12 tournament where it would face — of course! — OU in the first round. To get into the tourney OSU would have to not only win that game, but likely win the next one, too, where it’d face the No. 2 seed — either Texas, Baylor or Kansas State. (This is factoring in OSU loses Saturday vs. Texas Tech.) A win Saturday vs. Tech means OSU probably needs to avoid a first-round Big 12 exit then it’d need to get lucky with other bracket results. To feel good about Selection Sunday, winning at Texas Tech and advancing in the first and second rounds of the Big 12 tournament would be necessary.
A fun little wrinkle in the stretch run is that OSU can actually advance up the Big 12 bracket with the way Iowa State has folded down the stretch. Should the Cyclones lose on the road at Baylor on Saturday — more likely than OSU losing at Texas Tech on Saturday, according to KenPom projected odds — then OSU would move up into the six seed at the Big 12 tournament with a win in Lubbock. That would allow OSU to avoid playing on Wednesday in the conference tournament and (for now) would match up OSU against Baylor in the first game — though the top seeds outside No. 1 seed Kansas are still undecided.
Root for other failures
To sneak in to the tournament OSU could feel much more comfortable going into Selection Sunday by handling its business and winning. That seems not only obvious but also necessary; if it loses Saturday then goes one-and-done in the Big 12 tournament it’s hard to envision OSU getting in. But a win Saturday and a loss in the first round of the Big 12 tourney or a loss Saturday and only one win in the Big 12 tourney would make it a true toss-up as to what OSU’s fate would be.
In that scenario, I’d say rooting against other team’s failures is a reasonable route. Teams in the First Four (AKA Last Four In) are Wisconsin, West Virginia, Michigan and North Carolina. So here’s a rooting guide on those teams:
vs. Purdue on Thursday (4-point underdog), at Minnesota on Sunday (7-point favorite); two losses probably kills its chances
vs. Kansas State on Saturday (3-point favorite); a loss for the ‘Eers would be bigly for OSU. I know it’s hard, but OSU fans should be rooting for Kansas State’s success on Saturday. A win for the Mountaineers would give them six Quad 1 wins — which would be one more than OSU if OSU loses to Tech.
at Illinois on Thursday (4-point underdog), at Indiana on Sunday (4-point underdog); Michigan needs to lose these two. It has been on a roll and surging up bracket boards. These would be acceptable losses that would keep it in the bubble conversation, but if these are both wins, I think Michigan easily gets in.
No team has been the preseason No. 1 team and gone on to miss the tourney — which UNC is on the brink of doing. It gets Duke at home Saturday in the regular-season finale with a chance to bolster its credentials one more time before the ACC tournament. I’m not sure that’d be enough, but I’m fairly sure a loss to the Blue Devils would make UNC’s path to an at-large tourney bid more unlikely.