Why Ohio State's Bracket-Busting Loss to Oral Roberts Cuts Deep For the Program

Friday's NCAA tournament loss against Oral Roberts is tough for the program, beyond the disappointment of losing to a No. 15-seed in the opening round of the Big Dance.
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In the few hours that have passed since Ohio State's season came to an abrupt and unexpected close, I've been trying to think about the appropriate way to contextualize this season.

It was certainly quite the roller coaster ride, with some exhilarating high's along the way ... but when the lowest point of the year is the final note, it leaves an awful taste in your mouth.

I'm not so sure this was a bad loss for this specific Ohio State team (although it was obviously frustrating). But it feels like a pretty tough blow to a program that has a very proud tradition. Nobody is confusing Ohio State for being a basketball-first school. Football is the king of the castle in Columbus and always will be. But there is a very proud history on the hardwood for the Buckeyes and Friday's loss is a black eye.

Whether or not you believe Oral Roberts was "truly" a No. 15-seed is irrelevant. In the history of the NCAA tournament, only once has a No. 16 seed upset a No. 1 seed in the first round (UMBC beating Virginia in the 2018 tournament). Entering this year, No. 15 seeds had a not-so-stellar record of 8-132 against No. 2 seeds. 

With Oral Roberts' win over the Buckeyes, that means Friday's loss is one of the 10 "biggest upsets" in the history of the greatest tournament in college athletics.

While that fact is true, I admit I didn't think it was impossible all week. I certainly thought it unlikely, but drawing a team that has the nation's leading scorer, while also leading the nation in 3-point shooting and free throw shooting percentage felt like one tough draw. How many times have you seen March Madness games decided by a team's inability or uncanny ability in those two specific areas of the box score? You can point to it most games.

Friday's loss was a perfect storm in that regard.

While Ohio State held Oral Roberts to 10 3-pointers (which is below its season average, believe it or not), the Golden Eagles hit clutch free throws when they needed them. The Scarlet and Gray shot an abysmal 5-of-23 from beyond the arc and hit only 9-of-18 foul shots—far below their season average.

Duane Washington Jr. finished the game 3-for-his-last-17 after starting 4-for-4 from the field. E.J. Liddell played well, but that was about it.

No bones about it: The Buckeyes picked a bad day to have a bad day.

But while Ohio State got beat fair and square in overtime, what is more frustrating is that this team failed to reach the second weekend of the tournament again.

For a good chunk of the last two months, the Buckeyes were firmly in contention for locking down one of the four coveted No. 1 seeds in the tournament. While they fell just short of earning one of those, the expectation of making the Sweet 16 felt almost like an afterthought. Lots of people across the country picked the Buckeyes to beat Baylor and make the Final Four in a couple weeks. Instead, they'll take a bus back to Columbus after an early exit.

Ohio State has failed to make the Sweet 16 now in each of its last five tournament appearances over the last seven years. For a school that prides itself on being one of the biggest brands in college athletics and for a fan base that supports its teams as passionately as Buckeye fans do, its continued absence beyond the first weekend in the tournament is growing frustrating.

I certainly recognize that there is probably as much parity in college basketball this year as there's probably ever been—just look at some of the traditional bluebloods that didn't even make the Big Dance this year. There have been a few other upsets here on the first day of the tournament, including Conference USA champion North Texas knocking out Purdue in overtime. 

But that still doesn't lessen the sting of having high expectations for a deep tournament run come to a screeching halt after just one agonizing overtime loss. Hopefully it won't linger too long in Columbus, as the Buckeyes will likely bring back a significant chunk of their team next year.

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