Desperation will be as big a factor as skill and tactics when Ohio State and Wisconsin play in a Big Ten tournament first-round game in Chicago on Wednesday.
The 13th-seeded Buckeyes (13-18, 5-15 Big Ten) need the unlikely scenario of winning five games in five days to win the tournament and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament to keep their season alive.
Ohio State has some momentum with wins in two of the past three games following a nine-game losing streak and a 1-14 stretch in conference play.
“We feel like we’ve been playing better and better,” Ohio State forward Isaac Likekele said. “Hopefully, all of that can accumulate into a lot of wins coming into this tournament. We’re just going to keep trying to play the right way and focus on the process.”
Since 2015, there have been two No. 13 seeds (Penn State in 2015 and Nebraska in 2019) that reached the quarterfinals but neither advanced to the semifinals.
In the lone meeting this season, the Badgers defeated the host Buckeyes 65-60 on Feb. 2.
Wisconsin (17-13, 9-11), the 12th seed, may have a little more wiggle room as far as making the NCAAs but is definitely a bubble team. It likely needs at least three wins to stay in consideration by the selection committee.
The Badgers haven’t won consecutive games since the first week of January to improve to 11-2.
“We still have a chance to go to March Madness,” Wisconsin guard Chucky Hepburn said. “We have to leave everything on the line and play the next game like it’s the last game.”
The lowest seed to play in the Big Ten title game was No. 8 Michigan, which won the 2017 conference championship.
“You’re going into a tournament and you’re trying to win the tournament, no matter where you’re at,” Badgers coach Greg Gard said. “You have to get the first one before you go onto the second one, so I think we’re keeping that approach just like we’ve done throughout the year.”
The Ohio State-Wisconsin winner plays No. 5 seed Iowa on Thursday.
— Field Level Media