Ohio State's Best First-Round NCAA Tournament Upsets

Bruce Hooley

Ohio State earned a no-doubt-about-it spot on the NCAA Tournament bracket before COVID-19 concerns cancelled March Madness, leaving us with three vacant weekends to fill and no brackets to brag about or get busted.

For this year, there will only be memories of past tournaments to sustain us as we wait for life to return to normal, so let's crack the door on the OSU archives and revisit the Buckeyes' three best first-round wins in Tournament history.

Ohio State's post-season resume is long and distinguished, primarily as a favorite. So there aren't a lot of options to weigh.

In fact, since the criteria for an upset has to be owning a worse seed than the opponent, there's only three choices in OSU history.

That's right, the Buckeyes have been the inferior seed to their opponent in the first round only three times since the Selection Committee began seeding the field in 1980.

Here are those three occasions, all of which wound up resulting in OSU victories, ranked third to first in terms of significance to the program, the fan base and the school's basketball reputation.

3. No. 10 OSU 75, No. 7 Virginia Commonwealth 72, OT (2010)

OSU had lost to Dayton as a heavy favorite in the previous year's opening round, so head coach Thad Matta wanted to remove that taste from scarlet-and-gray palates as soon as possible.

This was his first chance in the post-season, although Virginia Commonwealth entered as the favorite under Shaka Smart. The Rams' defense was supposed to give Ohio State freshman D'Angelo Russell trouble, but instead he scored 28 points to rally the Buckeyes in both regular and overtime.

Russell made 4-of-7 three-pointers in scoring the third-most points by a freshman in any NCAA Tournament game among Big Ten players, while also contributing six rebounds, two steals and two blocks.

VCU had a chance to win at the end of regulation, but missed a short shot in the lane.

Smart left to become the head coach at Texas a few weeks later.

2. No. 11 OSU 62, No. 6 Iowa State 59 (2019)

Chris Holtmann kept his record unblemished in first-round games on a weekend where underdogs flourished.

The Buckeyes were the only No. 11 seed to win, but three No. 12s triumphed, as did No. 13 UC-Irvine.

The Cyclones no doubt hoped to repay OSU for Aaron Craft's buzzer-beating jumper in the 2013 Sweet Sixteen, but Kaleb Wesson's 21 points and 11 rebounds and 19 points from Keyshawn Woods led the Buckeyes.

OSU wouldn't have survived, however, without the contribution from surprise starter Musa Jallow, who made all five of his shots from field and scored 11 points to go with six rebounds, three steals and a blocked shot.

1. No. 9 OSU 91, No. 8 Kentucky 77 (1987)

Gary Williams didn't inherit much elite talent when he took over at Ohio State following the 1986 season, so he put his faith in an old basketball axiom:

"The team with the best player is the one that wins the game."

Williams rode senior Dennis Hopson for all he was worth, installing the 6-5 wing as the defender and primary trapper on inbounds passes against OSU's full-court press, and funneling the offense through him at the other end.

The results were spectacular, with Hopson scoring an opponent-record 39 points at Michigan, scoring 36 points in an upset of No. 1 Iowa at home when the Buckeyes were unranked and eventually leading the nation in scoring.

Kentucky didn't have its typical dominant season, but was expected to easily dispatch the Buckeyes until Hopson scored 21 of his 32 points in the second half.

The win kept Ohio State unbeaten in five career games against Kentucky in NCAA Tournament play.

Posting that sort of record against a basketball blueblood from a neighboring state is why it ranks first among OSU's all-time tournament upsets.

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