In a season with so many ups and downs, it’s unfortunate that this one ended with a flatline.
At one point in December, the Buckeyes were 9-0, ranked No. 3 in the country, and on the verge of moving to No. 1. Then they lost at Minnesota. One week later, however, ranked No. 5 in the nation, they defeated No. 6 Kentucky 71-65.
Eight days after that, and ranked No. 2 in the polls, they never really threatened to beat West Virginia, instead losing 67-59. And then they lost their next three games after that.
All told, they lost six games in a seven-game span, and went from a possible No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament to wondering if they were even going to make it at all.
They eventually turned the season around, winning nine of their final 12 games. They entered the Big Ten Tournament with title hopes. And why not? In their home finale they defeated Illinois without anybody in the backcourt having a successful day from the field.
Back in January, that would have been impossible. Wins weren’t happening without one or two guards shooting it well.
But against Illinois, they found a way.
And when you combine that new-found ability with how well point guard CJ Walker was playing, the weaponization of freshman forward EJ Liddell, the budding return of Kyle Young, and the possible scoring prowess of Kaleb Wesson, these were all good signs for what was to come.
Or at least they should have been.
The Buckeyes were good enough to make some noise in both the Big Ten and the NCAA Tournament, but they were also flawed enough to bow out on the first day of either or both. And sometimes, that makes for the most memorable of teams.
After all, when nothing is guaranteed, the longer the ride, the more fun it is.
But now this Ohio State ride is over. A year of what-could-have-beens for any team with championship hopes. All of the work beginning back in early fall, building towards a conference championship and whatever else may come after that.
And it wasn’t even a balloon pop. It was gone with a whimper.
But it had to be done.
If the NCAA and the universities are going to pound the tables bellowing about how everything they do, they do it for their student-athletes, then they can’t be putting them in harm’s way when the cities around them are shutting down.
For the fans, sports are an escape. For the players, they are an avenue. There are other escapes for fans, but this avenue will continue for the players, whether they are back next season or not. Basketball, as with all other university sports, is still just a means to an end for the players.
Yes, they love it, and so do the fans. But what we’d all love even more is a return to normalcy as soon as possible. And if we are all taking steps to get there, then we’ll get there even sooner, and we’ll have done it together.
There is nothing like March Madness and we are all going to miss it this year. No Cinderellas. No buzzer beaters. No improbable Kemba Walker-type runs. No indelible moments that will live on in highlights.
But on the positive, you won’t have to hear your coworker tell you about their perfect bracket through the first day of action.
For the Buckeyes — and everyone else — this season is going to bother them like an itch on a phantom limb. There is no satisfaction to be found. It will take a while for players and coaches to move on simply because this is entirely new. For most teams, the season ends with a loss. This year, it ended with practice and game planning for an opponent.
Where is the finality in that?
But they will eventually move on. In most cases they’ll have no choice because they’re not going to be permitted to be on campus for the next couple of months.
This was not the ending anybody had foreseen. Not for the Buckeyes or anyone else. Five days ago, Ohio State was playing a game in East Lansing. Two days ago, games were being played in the Big Ten Tournament.
What will things look like in another week? Hopefully considerably better thanks in part to the seriousness with which the sports world finally responded.
And who knows, maybe by the time this is all over, the one shining moment from this entire situation will be the way we all came together as one to do what we could to keep each other safe.
That’s something we could all live with.