Ohio State may be a 7.5-point favorite over South Dakota State on Thursday, but make no mistake, the Buckeyes are the underdogs here.
With OSU being a dreaded 5-seed and the Jackrabbits coming in as the deadly 12-seed, the Buckeyes can only hope to keep this one close.
After all, everyone knows that when you’re filling out your brackets, you have to make sure to pick at least one 12-seed to beat a 5-seed.
Over the last 10 years, the 12-seeds have gone 25-14-1 against the spread. More impressively is the fact that they are 19-21 straight up. Only twice in the past 18 seasons have there been no 12-seed victories over 5-seeds.
Since 1996, Big Ten teams have been a 5-seed 18 times. They are 11-7 in those games. They have been the 12-seed twice and have split. Over the last 10 years, however, the B1G 5-seeds have gone 5-4.
While many people will see the matchup in their brackets and only look at the seedings, if you look a little bit deeper, you’ll see a South Dakota State team that has been preparing for this moment for years.
“Three guys sitting up here have been to three NCAA tournaments,” SDSU guard Reed Tellinghuisen said on Wednesday. “We’ve got a group of experienced guys. And some younger guys that are mixed in. And I think our group overall has great experience. And I think that definitely helps us out as a group.”
“Being here a couple of times before, you get a feel for things,” guard Tevin King agreed. “You see it from a different perspective and you’re just comfortable.”
One person who isn’t yet comfortable is the guy who is paid to stay uncomfortable. Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann’s team has played just once over the last three weeks, and he is completely aware of why people are picking the Jackrabbits over the Buckeyes.
“I get it. I understand why people are picking them a lot,” he said. “They have a pro. They have great experience. They’ve got a really talented team. It’s not just [forward Mike] Daum. They have really talented guys around them, a terrific freshman guard.
“People look at not only the 12-5 matchup, and historically what that’s been, but the fact that those guys have great experience being in this thing. When you have a pro on your roster it makes a big difference.”
While some only factor in the seedings, Holtmann sees a very talented opponent on film and he knows the Buckeyes are going to need to be at their best if they hope to send a mighty 12-seed home early.
“I think we know we’re going to need to be sharp,” he said. “We’re going to need to play well. We’re going to need to score the ball against their defense and be able to make it difficult for them. They’re a very gifted offensive team. And they play through their guys exceptionally well. They’ve got athleticism. They play really well together. You can tell they’re an experienced group, because they play really, really well together.
“I think when you get into this thing you realize that any team you play in this thing is good. But certainly when you get in kind of those middle-seeded games you’re playing a really talented team. And we certainly are.”
And South Dakota State knows it too.
“They’re going to see a well-oiled ball club,” Daum said of the Jackrabbits. “We play for each other. You’ll see us smiling and laughing with each other on the court, and how coachable and how close we are with each other on and off the court. You’re going to see a group of guys enjoying playing with each other.”
Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop knows the Buckeyes are going to have to play extremely well to get the win. And if the favorite isn’t paying attention, their season will come to an end.
“Upsets happen all the time,” he warned.
And if Ohio State plays as well as they are capable of playing, perhaps another upset can happen on Thursday