Heading into this season, the 40% of Buckeye fans that follow the basketball team with any type of seriousness1 thought very good things could be in store. After all, Thad Matta was bringing back all five of his starters from a 22-win team and the one departure in the rotation was a seven-footer that couldn't rebound. Further, in Evan Turner, the Buckeyes had, in the eyes of this homer at least, the best player in the Big Ten.
The B10, Right Now
For the first eight games, things went swimmingly. The team went 7-1 with a close loss to UNC in the Garden, quality out-of-conference wins against Cal and Florida State, and the expected 30 and 40 point hammerings of the James Madisons and Lipscombs of the world.
And then The Villain broke his back.
A team missing its glue took one on the chin at Butler before putting together ho-hum wins over Presbyterian, Delaware State and Cleveland State before moving on to conference play. Though they were winning, a true scoring threat failed to emerge. Buford disappeared a bit, Diebler couldn't carry the load and though Lighty went off for 30, those nights would be the exception as opposed to the rule.
The Buckeyes, without Turner dropped their road opener at Wisconsin, which to be fair, is a tough place to play, regardless and then followed it up with loss at Crisler. Turner returned for the Indiana game, surprising most with such an early recovery and OSU easily topped the hapless Hoosiers, but three days later, the Buckeyes came up short against the Gophers and were dead in the water at 1-3 in the Big Ten and facing a road trip to sixth-ranked Purdue and a home tilt with the surging Badgers. It's uber-rare, but not impossible to win the conference with a 13-5 mark, but opening 1-5 is not exactly the way you want to do it.
Thad's crew watched Robbie Hummel go Reggie Miller on them to the tune of eight first half three pointers and 29 points in the first half and the dreaded 1-5 conference start moved closer to reality before storming back to upset the Boilermakers. Turner's career-high 32 was an emphatic way of saying he's back and the team followed up the road upset by taking down the Badgers at home on Saturday.
Instead of starting 1-5, the team has rebounded to a respectable 3-3 and there's a glimmer of hope for what would have been an impossible thought only a week ago -- the Buckeyes might be in a position to make a serious run at the Big Ten regular season crown. Sound crazy?
|2/20||@ Michigan State|
|2/24||@ Penn State|
There's a dangerous game in Morgantown this weekend that may or may not put a dent into the team's swagger depending on how things turn out, but strictly looking that the remaining conference games, we're probably looking at a 10-2 finish in a best-case scenario: road losses to Illinois and Michigan State and taking the rest. Worst case, I still think you're looking at an 8-4 finish. Purdue the second time will be a challenge, even at home, while one of the roadies between Iowa and Penn State kind of spook me for as outrageous as that sounds. And don't think I'm not excited to miss the Wildcats in Evanston for the first time in my life, either.
So assuming the best and a 10-2 finish for a hot team with The Villain owning opposing defenses, the 13-5 mark puts the team in the neighborhood of teams, including OSU in '02, that won the Big Ten in the early part of the decade. The Buckeyes would need some serious help, however. The Spartans are currently 5-0 in conference play and Izzo has one of the more physical and better prepared teams in the nation, so an 8-5 finish on their end would require a break (or five). Kalin Lucas getting tossed from practice a few more times would certainly help.
That aside, looking at Sparty's schedule, there are four road games that could bite them: Minnesota on Saturday, Wisconsin on 2/2, Illinois on 2/6 and Purdue on 2/27. But where would a fifth loss come from? At Michigan? Purdue in East Lansing? At Penn State (blind squirrels and all)?
This grand scenario is assuming the Spartans stop the Buckeyes in East Lansing. If the Buckeyes can steal that one, which may setup as a de facto regular season title game, then the path becomes much clearer and we're celebrating the hoops team turning it around like the football team did.
And then that sweet, sweet class of 2010 shows up to school.
- 1 It gets brought up plenty around these parts, but we still refuse to believe Buckeye Nation can't support both major mens' sports with a passion. Longhorn fans seem to pull it off.