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Ohio State’s unbeaten season is history, but plenty of pressure remains

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Ohio State’s loss Saturday to Wisconsin raised two questions:

  1. Who will be the new No. 1 team?
  2. Is losing a game before the NCAA tournament a good thing?

We’ll learn the answer to question 1 in a few hours. Question 2, however, won’t be answered – if at all – until March.

The Buckeyes entered the game 24-0. Talk had already begun of an unbeaten season and whether a loss would “help” the Buckeyes regain their focus. Made for an interesting read by Pete Thamel of the New York Times.

“We don’t like to lose,” Ohio State freshman Jared Sullinger told Thamel. “In the long run, it helps you out. You know what it feels like to lose, and you know that you don’t want to feel that feeling again.”

Sullinger’s coach, Thad Matta, says going unbeaten wasn’t a priority, or even a goal.

“I didn’t care about being undefeated,” Matta told Thamel. “I’m more consumed with us just playing our best basketball. Doing this as long as I have, it’s such a long season. This was a heck of a game today. It is what it is. There hasn’t been anyone to do it since [Indiana] 1976.”

You’ll hear people talk Monday about how Ohio State should be relieved. Now the Buckeyes won’t be distracted or feel any additional pressure of trying to be the first team since ’76 Indiana to finish a season unbeaten. Makes the rest of the season a breeze, right?

Right.

Does this sound easy? Ohio State’s remaining Big Ten matchups include a trip to Purdue and home games vs. Michigan State, Illinois and Wisconsin. Then the Buckeyes have the Big Ten tournament, and then will try to win six straight NCAA tournament games.

No pressure there. And it’s not like only having one loss makes it any easier.

Illinois was 29-0 when Ohio State pulled off the upset in the team’s regular season finale. Illini assistant Jay Price told Thamel that the loss “took pressure off our guys, and we rolled through the Big 10 tournament.” But if the goal is to win a national title, losing one game didn’t help Illinois because it lost to UNC in the final.

In fact, since ’76 Indiana, no team has won the NCAA tournament with only one loss. Nineteen teams, the most recent of which was ’08 Memphis, have tried.  If all the pressure of an unbeaten season was gone, one of those teams would’ve won, right? Ohio State (and Kansas and SDSU) should probably hurry up and lose another game or else the pressure of being the first team since ’74 N.C. State to win it all with just one loss will build and build until it becomes unbearable.

Going unbeaten isn’t impossible. Neither is cutting down the nets with only one loss. Just because neither have happened recently doesn’t make them a thing of the past, it just makes them coincidences. If someone was good enough to go unbeaten, they would, pressure be damned. Until then, save the “good loss” arguments.

Want more? I’m also on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

No. 14 West Virginia takes care of No. 15 Baylor

West Virginia forward Devin Williams (41) dunks the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor, Saturday, Feb, 6, 2016, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)
AP Photo/Raymond Thompson
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Not exactly noted for their ability to knock down shots from the perimeter, No. 14 West Virginia grabbed sole possession of first place in the Big 12 thanks in part to their perimeter shooting. The Mountaineers shot 7-for-14 from three and 49.1 percent from the field in a 80-69 win over No. 15 Baylor that wasn’t as close as the final margin would lead one to believe.

Bob Huggins’ team led by as much as 19 in the second half, and the way in which they did it is what makes the win so impressive. “Press Virginia” yielded just ten Baylor turnovers, but that low number didn’t matter much thanks to West Virginia’s execution offensively.

They found quality looks against Baylor’s 1-1-3 zone in the first half and made them at a good clip, forcing Scott Drew to switch to man-to-man. That change didn’t do much to slow down West Virginia either, as Daxter Miles Jr. scored 20 points and sixth man Jaysean Paige added 17 off the bench. And with Devin Williams chipping in with 16 points and seven boards in the post, outplaying Baylor’s Rico Gathers Sr. (five points, seven rebounds), West Virginia grabbed control of the game in the first half and did not relinquish it.

The usual formula for West Virginia offensively is to attack the offensive glass, as their offensive rebounding percentage (43 percent) is tops in the country. “Their best offense is a missed shot” is a familiar refrain heard when people discuss the Mountaineers, who entered the game shooting just over 30 percent from three.

They didn’t need to lean on those second chances as heavily as they normally do Saturday night, not only because of the improved accuracy but also the improved work in finding shots. The ball moved against the Baylor defense and so did the players, resulting in an offensive attack that proved tougher for the visiting Bears to stop that one would expect given the statistics entering the game.

West Virginia was already established as a contender in the Big 12, but thanks to their win Saturday night the Mountaineers are the current pace setters. With a showdown at No. 7 Kansas set for Tuesday night, this was a big win for Bob Huggins’ team to get. And with it coming in spite of a low turnover (forced) count, this should only help West Virginia in the confidence department moving forward.

No. 22 Indiana falls at Penn State

Penn State's Shep Garner (33) moves towards the basket during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Indiana in State College, Pa., Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Ralph Wilson)
(AP Photo/Ralph Wilson)
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Brendan Taylor scored 24 points to lead Penn State to a 68-63 upset of No. 22 Indiana on Saturday night.

The Nittany Lions were 2-8 in Big Ten play entering the weekend. Indiana? They were 9-1 and tied for first in the conference. It’s the second loss in four games for the Hoosiers following a 7-0 start to Big Ten play, a fact made all the more concerning by the fact that their league schedule is finally about to get difficult.

The Hoosiers play No. 5 Iowa at home and No. 10 Michigan State in East Lansing next week. The following week they get No. 18 Purdue at home. In the final week of the regular season, Indiana squares off with No. 5 Iowa on the road and close the regular season with a visit from No. 4 Maryland.

That’s a lot of good teams that the Hoosiers to close out the year.

The question has been asked since Indiana’s hot start to league play: Are they for real? Did the Hoosiers really somehow turn things around defensively, or was that winning streak simply a by-product of their schedule?

The truth is that it was probably a combination of both. Calling them a fraud would be unjust — if you watched those games, there wasn’t much fluky about them; Indiana earned the Ws — but it does seem fair to say this is something of a regression to the mean.

They were going to slip up eventually.

And it will totally be forgotten if the Hoosiers can find a way to close the regular season with a winning record in their final seven games.