By Bob Baptist
COLUMBUS: Sixteen scenarios are in play today involving the top five teams in the Big Ten standings.
Indiana has clinched the top seed in the conference tournament this week in Chicago, but depending on the outcome of games today, Ohio State could be seeded second, third, fourth or fifth, as could Michigan and Michigan State. And all could finish with a share of the championship.
“I’m only focused on the game at 12:30,” Ohio State senior Evan Ravenel said.
Spoken like the coach he hopes to be one day.
Coach Thad Matta said he told his players a few days ago that they “can’t win anything if [they] don’t play well” in the regular-season finale against Illinois in Value City Arena.
The Buckeyes have to defeat Illinois to gain a share of their fourth consecutive Big Ten championship, which they would earn if Michigan beats Indiana later today. A team has not won the Big Ten title four years in a row since Michigan State did from 1998 to 2001.
An Ohio State win also would clinch the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament, regardless of the outcome of the other games. The top four seeds receive first-round byes.
But seeding was of no concern to Matta or Ravenel when they met the media after practice Friday. Only winning was.
“We have one more game to play to end the regular season,” Matta said, “and that is the only thing that is on my mind, and hopefully the only thing on our players’ minds.”
Also on Ravenel’s mind is that the game will be his last in Value City Arena. It also could be the last at home for junior Deshaun Thomas, who is expected to enter the NBA draft after the season.
Rather than certain games, though, Ravenel said some of his fondest memories of his time at Ohio State — he transferred in after playing two seasons at Boston College — are the friendships he made. He also relished playing in historic arenas such as those at Kansas and Duke and throughout the Big Ten.
“My dad (Eugene) is a big basketball junkie; he loves watching basketball,” Ravenel said, “and he always used to tell me, as a kid (he) wanted to go to those places and watch a game. To give my father an opportunity to come see me play at these different venues has been a dream come true for him, and I’m glad I got the opportunity to do that for him.”
Little more than a week ago, Ravenel made a memory he would just as soon forget when Matta pulled him from the lineup in the second half of a close game at Northwestern and, red-faced with anger, chewed him out in full view of fans and network-television cameras.
Some criticized Matta for it, but it was Ravenel who apologized, via his Twitter account, for losing his composure on the court during a close game and behaving toward an official in a manner that could have resulted in a technical foul.
“I should have kept my head, and the situation could have been completely avoided,” Ravenel said on Friday.
He did not fault Matta.
“It’s funny,” Matta said, “but I got a text after that game from one of our current NBA players that said ‘I haven’t seen you that mad since you got on me,’ and he said, ‘Thank God you did (because) I wouldn’t be where I (am) had you not done that.’
“It’s always funny how people (on the outside) view things because, if you really don’t know the situation, in my opinion, it’s hard to have an opinion.”
Matta said he and Ravenel have not revisited the issue since.
“We both moved on,” Matta said, and he noted that Ravenel played “probably one of the best games of his career” in the Buckeyes’ win at No. 2 Indiana on Tuesday.
Ravenel said he and his teammates were ecstatic after the victory.
Today, he added, will be bittersweet.
“I’m going to be happy because I get to play basketball here one last time,” he said, “but I’m going to be sad because this is going to be my last time. My time at Ohio State has been wonderful from the day I stepped on campus … and I’m going to miss every moment of it.”