Column: Ohio State men’s basketball is breaking computers like no team ever has
This Ohio State basketball team stinks. The individual pieces of the puzzle that make up the 2022-23 Ohio State men’s basketball team are mostly nice, but they just don’t fit together to form a cohesive picture. Moreover, many people say that the man who is responsible for putting the puzzle together is incapable of putting this puzzle together – or any puzzle.
There’s no denying the talent of this Ohio State team. Brice Sensabaugh will be recruited in the first round of the NBA in a few months. Zed Key — though not a superstar — is one of the Big Ten’s top low post scorers, despite having a clear height disadvantage. Judge Sueing isn’t doing much right these days, but for his career he’s a 12.6 PPG scorer on almost 45% total shots – that’s objectively good!
Sean McNeil, Isaac Likekele and Tanner Holden are all career 1,000+ point scorers, and McNeil was shooting north of 40 percent on three heading into last weekend’s beating at Indiana. Bruce Thornton, Roddy Gayle and Felix Okpara are talented freshmen who are already contributing, but not at an elite level.
Despite that, Ohio State is 11-10 this season and 3-7 in the Big Ten so far with 10 games remaining. The last time the Buckeyes started 3-7 in the league was six years ago – the year Thad Matta was fired. This Ohio State finished the year 4-4 (7-11 overall) and did not participate in any post-season tournaments. This year’s team could share the same fate if things don’t start looking up right away.
But here’s the wild, wacky, confusing thing about this Ohio State team — computers love it. KenPom, NET, Haslametric, Bart Torvik – heck even just your general support predictions – all love Ohio State. Not on an absurd level that would say, put them in the top 10, but on a level that still seems absurd, considering how well this stinking team continues to play.
Let’s start with my favorite metric, KenPom. Ken Pomeroy ranks teams by efficiency, which basically measures how many points you score per possession and how many points you allow defensively per possession. Subtract the second part from the first part, and you’re done – that’s your overall efficiency.
Despite losing seven of its last eight games, Ohio State is No. 28 in the nation as of Tuesday afternoon. They are three places below Kansas State, which is 18-3 and sits atop the Big 12 – the best conference in America. They are directly ahead 16-5 Auburn and 17-5 Providence, two teams that have combined to lose as many games as Ohio State this season.
Courtesy of KenPom.com
That may be because Ohio State — despite the losing streak — has played just about every tight team for all of their games except for a three-or-one streak. four minutes where things snowball. Against Maryland, it was the first four minutes of the second half. Against Indiana, it was the last three minutes of the first half. Against Purdue, it was the last two minutes of the first half. Ohio State played nearly flawless basketball the other 111 minutes in those three games, but unfortunately that’s not how it works – a minute or two of sloppy play can and will cost you a game.
Maybe it’s because Ohio State is one of the best teams in the country at keeping the perimeter, and therefore lowering this “points allowed per possession” category? The Buckeyes are still a mediocre defensive team, but they rank 17th in the nation (among power five conference teams) in preventing threes, as their opponents have knocked down only 30.2% of their triples this season. .
Let’s move on to NET, which might be the most important metric used by the NCAA Tournament Committee to decide who gets general tournament offers and where teams are seeded. Surely the folks at the top recognize that this team stinks, don’t they? Not exactly!
Courtesy of NCAA.com
Ohio State was No. 29 in the NET rankings Tuesday afternoon, which is surprisingly similar to their KenPom ranking. The Buckeyes are just two spots below a 17-5 Xavier team just down I-70, which is on course to likely win the Big East. Right below the Buckeyes is New Mexico, which at 18-3 won seven more games than OSU and was the last undefeated team in the country. Just below New Mexico are again our friends Auburn and Providence.
We guessed why KenPom values Ohio State more than we do. But if the NCAA uses the NET to dictate tournament seeding, there must be some logic behind it, right? It does.
To reduce it to the most basic level, the NET looks at who you play and where you play them. This is more than the RPI system, which more or less focused solely on winning percentages. Even in a losing effort, who you played and where you played them matters a lot. The Buckeyes, for example, have faced just three tournament-caliber teams at home this season — Rutgers, Purdue and Iowa. Now compare that to the eight tournament-caliber teams Ohio State has faced on the road or on neutral ground this season – San Diego State, Duke, North Carolina, Northwest, Maryland, Rutgers, Illinois and Indiana. Ohio State has lost seven of those eight games, but five of those losses were in the single digits.
That’s why, at its most broken down and simplistic level, Ohio State remains in the NET’s top 30 despite looking like trash for the past three weeks.
In order not to get into the weeds too much, we won’t break down HaslaMetrics and BartTorvik/T-Rankings, but these two websites that rank teams based on various efficiencies also have Ohio State in the top 40 .
HaslaMetrics has Ohio State at No. 37 as of Tuesday, above New Mexico, Iowa and Kentucky.
Courtesy of haslametrics.com
BartTorkvik has Ohio State No. 25 in the nation since Tuesday, one spot behind Gonzaga.
Courtesy of barttorvik.com
All of this ultimately leads us to the NCAA Tournament. Do any of these numbers mean anything? Is this just grandstanding, or are some nerds trying to be the smartest in the room?
The point of putting this piece together isn’t to make excuses for this team or try to pivot to a different point that somehow puts this Ohio State team in a better light. The point is to show what an anomaly this team is with computer models and give fans a “warning” that, despite the Buckeyes’ putrid appearance, they are still able to make it into the NCAA Tournament. Because metrics still really like this team.
On Monday afternoon, Ohio State was the second team in the tournament according to Bracket Matrix, which is an average of all bracket predictions available online. By Tuesday afternoon, the Buckeyes had dropped to the tournament’s fifth team, despite not playing Monday night. Teams on the bubble divide hair and decimal points so tightly that a win or loss can move a team from the top four at Dayton to one of the top four. This is where Ohio State currently stands.
Data reproduced with the kind permission of bracketmatrix.com
Just a week ago, Ohio State was where Pittsburgh is now – the second-lowest of the 11 seeds. Just by losing to Indiana, the Buckeyes fell into the pool of “other at-large” candidates.
The metrics/computers think this Ohio State team is NCAA tournament caliber. The game on the pitch, unfortunately, does not agree. But when the NCAA Tournament Committee examines those same numbers, the corpse of Ohio State’s men’s basketball team begins to breathe again.