College basketball teams have to run a six-game gauntlet to win the NCAA Tournament each spring.
They know that the field of 64 includes 63 teams who are going to lose a game and one champion. All they have to do is win six straight and they get to cut down the nets.
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day recently pointed out similarities to the Big Dance in his team’s current situation.
The Buckeyes entered Saturday’s game at Rutgers knowing that if they won their next six games, they would be crowned national champions.
One down, five to go.
“We look at it as a March Madness thing,” said safety Jordan Fuller. “Basically you have to win every game that you play.”
Much like a top seed in March, the first game wasn’t much of a challenge.
The Bucks jumped out to a 14-0 lead lead less than four minutes into the game, and were up 49-7 late in the third quarter.
But just like in March, things could start getting a little dicier in the next few games.
OSU closes its home schedule against Penn State, then has to travel to Ann Arbor to face arch-rival Michigan. Win both of those and the Buckeyes will have reached the equivalent of the Elite 8.
The parallels after that are pretty clear. Win the Big Ten Championship Game, likely against either Wisconsin or Minnesota, to claim the regional championship and punch their ticket to the Final Four.
You can probably figure things out from there.
Day’s message to the team has clearly gotten through to running back J.K. Dobbins.
“If we lose, we’re pretty much out of it,” said Dobbins.
That “win or go home” mentality seems like it could put a lot of pressure on the team, but Fuller said they’re used to that.
“That just what comes with being at Ohio State,” he said.
In reality, the Buckeyes probably have at least a little margin for error. A win over Penn State would clinch the Big Ten East title and lock Ohio State into the Big Ten Championship Game.
Even with a close loss at Michigan, if the Bucks win the title in Indianapolis, it’s pretty unlikely that a 12-1 Big Ten champion would be left out. Especially with the way they have looked all season.
But this year’s Buckeyes have a chance to do something that no OSU team has ever done before: have a comfortable, relaxing Selection Sunday.
In 2014, the Bucks narrowly got into the field of four over Baylor and TCU.
In 2016, there were serious questions about whether an Ohio State team that hadn’t made it to Indianpolis would get in. They did.
And in 2015, 2017, and 2018, the Buckeyes were just barely on the wrong side of the divide between in and out.
With three more wins, OSU players, coaches, and fans can breathe easy, knowing they’ll not only be in for sure, but also one of the top seeds.
All they have to do is follow the road map from March Madness: survive and advance.