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2017 NCAA Championship Weekend Preview: The Ohio State Buckeyes

Let’s breakdown the Buckeyes 2017 season.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Here come the Buckeyes!!

Welcome back to another post in our 2017 NCAA Championship Weekend Preview. Chris wrote a few great pieces this week on Maryland’s 2017 season, head coach John Tillman, and a great player profile on Maryland’s Connor Kelly. Additionally, I wrote a long post on Ohio State’s Nick Myers the other day.

We will be providing lots of goodies this week in the lead up to Championship Weekend. Additionally, Chris, Marisa, and Joe will be on the ground in Foxborough through the title game on Memorial Day, so look out for lots of posts, videos, interviews and other content from the College Crosse fam.

For now, let’s breakdown OSU’s record-breaking 2017 season to this year’s Final Four. To get us started here’s a great video of OSU’s 2017 Buckeye Lacrosse Alumni Weekend.

Preseason Predictions.

While Ohio State is getting its share of attention now, the Buckeyes weren’t really on many people’s radar going into the season. After a great 2015 season which ended in the Elite 8, OSU struggled in 2016 and didn’t come into 2017 with much fanfare. Indeed, OSU was 7-8 overall, 2-3 in the Big Ten regular season in 2016, and they didn’t make the Big Ten Tournament last season either.

OSU was considered a borderline top 20 team going into this season. Lacrosse Magazine had Ohio State 18th in their preseason top 20, the USILA Coaches Poll had them 17th in their preseason top 20, and Inside Lacrosse didn’t even have OSU in their 2017 Face-Off Top 20 in December. Moreover, no one on the College Crosse team had OSU as top 20 team in our preseason rankings either.

9-0.

Despite being overlooked in the preseason, a funny thing happened to OSU once the season began; they started winning and wouldn’t stop. The Buckeye’s won their first nine games of 2017, for their best start since 1966. Moreover, Ohio State wasn’t just winning games, they were also suffocating teams on defense. Only 1 team scored double digits against the Buckeyes in OSU’s first nine games (Bellarmine scored 11), as the defense averaged a little over 6 goals allowed during that stretch. Outside of Bellarmine, the Buckeyes held six of their first nine opponents to 7 goals or less, and held the two others to only 8 goals a piece.

Additionally, while OSU’s defense opened the season in impressive fashion, Ohio State’s offense was equally effective. Indeed, OSU scored at least 12 goals in seven of their first 9 games, and players like Tre Leclaire and Eric Fannell emerged as major producers on offense.

I started to take notice of OSU as a top 20 team around week 2. I had them 18th on my week 2 Media Ballot, 15th in week 3, 11th in week 4, and then put them 8th in my week 5 ballot.

The week 5 media poll came out after Ohio State beat Cleveland State to get to 7-0 on the season. While the Buckeyes were undefeated and pretty much choking out every one of their opponents to start out 2017, many pundits still wondered if OSU was actually good or just beating up on weaker opponents. The strength of schedule argument was a fair point, as the best opponent OSU faced by the time they beat Cleveland State on March 11th was probably Marquette on March 3rd. Moreover, a close call versus UMass on Feb. 18th (OSU won 8-7) also made some people question the Buckeyes, as the Minutemen weren’t considered a top opponent by many in the media.

Despite being 7-0, Ohio State needed wins over quality opponents before the lacrosse world was really going to pay attention to them. Not many people (aside from me) had them in their top 15, let alone in their top 10 at this point, and many doubted that they were as good as their record suggested. However, with two games versus Towson and Denver scheduled within four days of each other after their win over Cleveland State, OSU finally had a chance to quiet some of their doubters, and that’s exactly what they did.

The Buckeyes beat Towson 6-3 on an ugly, cold, and windy day in Towson, and then turned around and stomped on Denver 16-7 a few days later in Columbus. The Towson win was the first real sign that the Buckeyes were for real in 2017. Towson & OSU played on an absolutely brutal day for a lacrosse game. The box score for the game literally says “Weather: COLD, COLDER, COLDEST. 24 Degrees, 12 MPH wind.“ This game had all the makings of a trap game for OSU, given that they had to play Denver 4 days later, and Towson had just beaten Johns Hopkins (4-1 at the time) the week prior. The fact that OSU didn’t lose the game or their focus versus Towson on such an ugly day for lacrosse was a major milestone in OSU’s 2017 season.

While the Towson game was impressive, OSU’s victory over then #1 Denver was what really got everyone’s attention. While the final score was 16-7, the game wasn’t that close. Ohio State led 12-2 through 3 quarters, thanks to a 10-0 run for the Buckeyes, and were fully in control the whole game. Indeed, OSU held Denver scoreless for nearly 40 minutes from the first quarter through the 3rd quarter, and never let up the pressure after the first whistle.

OSU absolutely smothered the Pioneers and were up 16-4 with 5 minutes left in the game before Denver snuck in three goals in the final minutes of the fourth quarter to make it a little more respectable. After the Denver game, everyone jumped on the OSU bandwagon, except me of course, as I was already onboard and was sitting comfortably in my seat for a couple weeks by then.

End Of The Streak & Big Ten Play.

After the Denver win, OSU was flying high. The Buckeyes’ 9-0 start was the second best in program history, (the 1966 team opened up the year 14-0) and they were in the top 5-10 of almost every poll and media ballot. Their undefeated streak was broken the week after the Denver game though, as Notre Dame beat OSU 12-7. Ohio State would then go on to lose their second game in a row and first conference game of 2017, when they lost to Penn State 9-4 in Happy Valley the week after the Notre Dame game.

The back-to-back losses certainly took some of the wind out of OSU’s sails. Up until that point, OSU had an answer for every opponent they faced. Neither loss was a “bad loss.” Indeed, Notre Dame was #2 in the country when they played OSU, and Penn State was 9-0 going into their game versus OSU. Nevertheless, some whispers about if Ohio State was for real came back after the Buckeyes dropped 2 straight.

OSU responded to their first two losses of 2017 with a three-game win streak over Johns Hopkins, Michigan, & Maryland. The Michigan win was important because it was a conference game and Michigan was still in or around the top 20 at the time. However, the victories over Maryland & Johns Hopkins were more impressive, as they helped to catapult OSU into the top spot in the Big Ten regular season standings. Moreover, Maryland was ranked #2 at the time they played Ohio State, which gave the Buckeyes another top 5 win to go along with their victory of Denver.

The win streak ended the next week versus Rutgers though, in OSU’s finally regular season game of 2017. One week after beating Maryland in OT, the #WhitneyInOT gods smiled the other way and handed OSU its 3rd loss of the season. The loss to Rutgers was consequential. Up until the Rutgers game, OSU was in first place in the Big Ten regular season standings with a 3-1 record, which included wins over Hop & MD. The loss to Rutgers dropped OSU out of first place opened the door for either MD or Hopkins (both 3-1 in the Big Ten at the time) to grab the regular season crown when they faced off against each other hours after the Rutgers vs. OSU game. Maryland ended up crushing Hopkins, winning the Big Ten regular season crown, and the conference's top seed in the 2017 Big Ten Tournament.

Big Ten Tournament & The Big BBQ.

OSU went into the Big Ten Tournament with a 13-3 record, had the tournament’s #2 seed, and they were the host of the tournament. Despite the loss to Rutgers the week prior, Ohio State was still favored to at least make the Big Ten title game and they had already beaten the #1 seed Maryland Terrapins in the regular season; winning the entire tournament was definitely a possibility.

After dispatching Hopkins 15-13 in the first round, OSU played a very close game versus Maryland for the Big Ten title. It was a back-and-forth affair, as neither team was able to shake the other one off. In the end Maryland made a couple more plays, and a big illegal procedure call against Ohio State with 1:03 left in the fourth quarter, helped to give Maryland the 10-9 edge over the Buckeyes.

Despite not winning the conference’s AQ, OSU still earned a spot in the 2017 NCAA Tournament as an at-large, and received tournament’s #3 seed. The Buckeyes faced a tough test in Loyola in the first round, but were able to come away with the 7-4 win over the Greyhounds to advance to their third quarterfinal appearance since 2013. Their opponent in the Elite 8 was Duke. The Blue Devils & Buckeyes hadn’t played each other since their 2015 NCAA Tournament first round match-up, when the Buckeyes stunned the two time defending champion Blue Devils for a 16-11 win in the Durham. The 2017 edition of OSU vs. Duke, looked very much the same as the 2015 version, as Ohio State (again) beat the Blue Devils 16-11. The win over Duke gave OSU its 15th win on the season and the program’s first trip to the Final Four.

Ohio State’s progression from a fringe top 20 team to one of the best 2 or 3 teams in the nation was a remarkable thing to witness this season. The team captured the attention of Buckeye fans around the country, and watching the school and the Columbus community embrace the team was one of the best things to follow this year. Ohio State is now 2 wins away from bringing home a title. Given how well the Buckeyes have played this season and their propensity to surprise people this year, I wouldn’t be shocked if they won the whole dang thing on Memorial Day.