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Buckeyes through early slate without black eye

By ADAM JARDY • Updated Jan 3, 2018 at 6:43 PM

COLUMBUS — With a 9-4 record in non-conference games, the Ohio State men's basketball team actually fared one game worse than it did in 2016-17. In a season that ended without postseason play last year, the Buckeyes took a 10-3 record into the start of Big Ten play before things started to turn south.

But unlike last year's team, and in stark contrast to the one from two years ago, it's more about what this team doesn't have than what it does. For the first time in three years, Ohio State's resume isn't carrying the albatross of a bad loss -- or multiple bad losses -- into conference play.

As a result, the Buckeyes find themselves mostly without signature wins but also not already outside NCAA Tournament talk. Still more than half a season's worth of games will ultimately decide Ohio State's postseason fate, but the Buckeyes at least know they haven't already crippled their season goals.

"We're obviously glad we put a nice little win on the end of the non-conference, but we know we have a big task at hand and that's to handle the Big Ten," fifth-year senior Kam Williams said after the Buckeyes closed that portion of their schedule with a 72-59 win Saturday against Miami University. "We've got Iowa on Thursday, and we know that's a tough team."

The early start to Big Ten play afforded the Buckeyes two top-70 wins according to the KenPom.com rankings, which obviously help their resume. Ohio State's four losses are all to top-40 teams: Butler (38), Clemson (21), North Carolina (12) and Gonzaga (9). Otherwise, the best Buckeyes win in the non-conference schedule is against No. 124 Northeastern. Overall, Ohio State's non-conference schedule is actually ranked the best in the Big Ten, according to the RPI ratings posted to ESPN.

So while that doesn't move the national needle much, it's better than last year's home overtime loss to Florida Atlantic (No. 271 at the time) or the back-to-back losses to Texas-Arlington (No. 102) and Louisiana Tech (154) two seasons ago.

"Right now, I don't put a whole lot of stock or read a whole lot into that," coach Chris Holtmann said. "Obviously, you'd rather have more signature wins than bad losses, but I don't put a whole lot into that. I think as you're creating a schedule, you want to try to provide as many opportunities as you can for a significant win."

It has Ohio State in the early bubble conversation. ESPN's Joe Lunardi had the Buckeyes among his first four out in his most-recent bracket projection.

So while Williams agreed that this year feels different than the last two, he wasn't overreacting, either.

"Yeah for sure, definitely when (tournament) time rolls around, but we're just focused on the Big Ten," he said. "We can't be looking at what we did previously."

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