Ohio State’s loss Saturday to Wisconsin raised two questions:
- Who will be the new No. 1 team?
- 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?
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.