Crossing the Desert

By Johnny Ginter on January 24, 2012 at 2:00p
It's clobberin' time

The Greek philosopher Zeno was famous for his paradoxes, one of which is called the dichotomy paradox. Basically what this paradox says is that to get anywhere, you must first reach a halfway point. However, to get to that halfway point, you must first reach the quarter point, and to reach that point you much reach a point 1/8th of the way there, and so on. In effect, because there are an infinite amount of points between you and your goal, you can never finish your journey. You're stuck in a paradox of eternal struggle.

The next 10 games that the Ohio State men's basketball team plays after the upcoming Penn State game on Wednesday won't actually last for an eternity, but they may end up seeming like one. In those ten games, Ohio State will play Wisconsin, Michigan, and Michigan State twice each, as well as Minnesota and Purdue in short order; if OSU plays up to their capability on a regular basis, they can all but lock up the Big Ten championship, but there is certainly the potential here for the Buckeyes to lose a lot of games here and hurt their overall ranking in terms of NCAA seeding.

February (and early March) is definitely make or break for the Buckeyes, and today I'll take a look at the teams remaining on the schedule and look for a ray of light embedded in the dank corridors of the cruelest month.

After the Nebraska game, Thad Matta said to the media that he "see(s) this team growing inch by inch, week by week." A fair assessment, as overall the Buckeyes seem to be making some improvement, albeit maybe a little slower than a lot of people would like. What remains to be seen is if an inch at a time is enough to overturn that dichotomy between the ultimate goal (an NCAA championship) and the speed at which the team is getting better.

The Unblinking Eye

On January 29th, Ohio State hosts a Michigan team that has felt like it's been a year away from being great for a couple of years now. Ha'Penny Hardaway, Trey "I actually don't shoot the trey very well" Burke and company will likely put up a fight; Michigan is one of the more efficient (efficient meaning points scored or allowed per 100 possessions) teams, both offensively and defensively, in the country and when you have that kind of discipline you can make upsets happen. Turnovers, an area of slight concern for OSU as of late, will likely be a factor in this game.

The next game is on February 4th in Madison against a Wisconsin team that Ken Pomeroy only gives OSU a 54% chance of beating, which is both oddly specific and also oddly exactly what I would put their chances at. If the Badgers aren't the best defensive team in the country it's because the other guys get to use knives. Playing them on the road is going to be a huge test, and provides Ohio State with their next opportunity for their first significant away win of the season.

Purdue is next, at home, on the 7th. I'm actually less concerned about this game than many of the others, as star Robbie Hummel is not the player he used to be, which is a problem on a team where he takes a third of their shots. Purdue could pull the upset here, but I don't see it happening.

Wreck of the Hesperus

The next four games will possibly be the most difficult stretch OSU will face all season. First the Buckeyes play a Michigan State team at home that I think is somehow being overlooked by just about everybody because of recent loses to Northwestern and Michigan. Draymond Green is a tough, tough player, and I'm having fits thinking about him deciding to snap out of his scoring funk against OSU (because that's what everybody ends up doing for literally no reason at all).

More of this, please

Then OSU must play two consecutive road games, the first time they've done that all year, against Tubby Smith's Golden Gophers on Valentine's Day and again against Michigan on the 18th. Michigan brings all the problems associated with that team, but exacerbated because it's a road game, and you can never count Tubby out. Not on Valentine's Day, and not when he's got an Aaron Craft prototype in Julian Welch. Both games are going to be extremely physical.

The Buckeyes then return home to play Illinois, a team that beat them by five on January 10th. It's probably a good bet that Brandon Paul won't score 43 points again, and it's telling that the Illini needed 38 of those 43 to beat OSU, but this was a game that Ohio State looked totally lost in. If Sully and the rest put in a similar effort, they may get the same result.

The paddling of the Swollen ass... With paddles

Matta rounds out the season with a home game against Wisconsin, which is going to be a revenge game for someone and also might settle the regular season Big Ten championship, followed by two away games: one against Northwestern that has seemingly abandoned the wacky Princeton style (at least in practice) that made them fun/COMPLETELY INFURIATING to watch in favor of a more straightforward "give John Shurna the ball and hope for the best" strategy. This is probably the easiest remaining game on the schedule, which is good considering that the next game is at Sparty on March 4th, which should be yet another revenge game of some sort involving elbows and shoving and all manner of poor behavior on the part of both teams.

I guess what I'm trying to say with all of this is that this is make or break time for the 2011-2012 Ohio State men's basketball team. I see anywhere up to six loses here, and the biggest factor will be whether or not Ohio State can become a competent road team against other top 25 teams, especially in conference. The doubts and concerns that Sully and Craft seemed to have about how the team prepares better be figured out in a hurry, because the next month plus is an absolute gauntlet through the toughest conference in the country. Only the strong survive.


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Scott K's picture


"There's a fine line between stupid, and....clever.  David St. Hubbins/Nigel Tufnel

sharkvsghost's picture

In the spirit of philosphical analogies, I would say that the preceding games best represent Plato's Allegory of the Cave, and the pending stretch will free us from our chains and allow us to discover the true form of this team.  Which Buckeye team is real? The one that curb-stomped Duke, or the one that lost to what will probably end up being a pretty average Indiana squad and allowed the likes of Brandon Paul to go off for 43?  I feel like so far we've only been watching shadows from the fire. 

swing hard in case you hit it.

sharkvsghost's picture

nailed it.

swing hard in case you hit it.

thatlillefty's picture

Beautiful. Just beautiful.

SouthBayBuckeye's picture



awesome simpsons ref.

Banned from ATO since June 3rd 2PMish PST

BucksfanXC's picture

I think I have to do it again, my blindfold came off.

“Any time you give a man something he doesn't earn, you cheapen him. Our kids earn what they get, and that includes respect.”  - Woody

baddogmaine's picture

I'm going to start talking about 2012 by first talking about 2011. Last year's squad was built to win it all. List what a team needs and we had it, except for a bench which, given that we didn't foul much and were  in great physical shape, was not an issue. Things came to a crashing halt when it turned out that one of the things we had - a reliable scoring guard - went up in flames, taking the team with him.

Simply put this year's team does not have the deadly outside shooter that takes some pressure off of Sullinger. It does not have the slasher who could break down a D when the game was on the line (Lighty). I have been told that Smith is a lock-down defender but if given the choice I daresay that most readers of this site would take Lighty over Smith in 2012. And while Diebler was not going to win many races he knew the importance of getting and holding position and rarely gave up, which are defensive musts Thomas has not learned yet. Matta is using more players off the bench than in the past, but if Ravenel were the defensive stopper some claim he would be averaging more than 12 minutes a game, if for no other reason than so he will be ready in a game where we need defense more than offense. This does not mean that this team is not capable of making a long run - after Butler's run to the NC last year it's hard to count anyone out - but I think the team is flawed. And I think that Matta did not help us with his line-up juggling last game.

To be clear I did not expect Smith to follow up the best game of his career by a wide margin with something similar. But I did expect Matta to try to find out if Smith's performance against Indiana was repeatable or a once-in-a-year fluke. By not getting him more into the flow of the offense (I'll use that phrase though I don't really like it), by giving him just 20 minutes the reality is that no one knows what can be counted on from Smith offensively. A second reality is that opponents are going to continue to view Smith as fifth option until he burns them again, and plan defenses accordingly. And unless Smith can come through we are going to be under duress.

Which means that we can expect that in this really tough stretch ahead of us we are likely going to find ourselves in situations where it's either Smith making the defense pay, or OSU paying for Smith's inability. With luck a loss will occur early, while Matta still has time to reconsider Smith's offensive value and get him the game experience that may fix inability due to inexperience. Because if Buford again goes KY in March and Matta can not hand the ball to Smith (in the flow of the offense, of course) we're going to get bounced again.

I'm partly upset with Tressel because he lied - I'm also partly upst with Tressel because he failed to prepare a QB to play in 2011. Matta is in a similar spot with Smith, methinks. If Smith gets tested and isn't up to it so be it. But I'd hate to see our season end early because a team that would win if all five guys on the floor could score lost because at least one of them wasn't prepared to do the scoring needed.

Ohio Guy in Jersey's picture

Yeah, you mentioned this after the game Saturday. The truth is, Lenzelle Smith IS the fifth option after Sullinger, Thomas, Buford, and Craft. That's why IU doubled off of him. He may become the fourth option, ahead of Craft, but that's as far as he moves this season. And no coach...none...runs plays for the fifth option. If this team gets bounced, it won't be because Thad Matta didn't adequately develop Lenzelle. And it's not remotely similar to developing a back-up QB, because he's getting plenty of playing time. But while I love his attitude, his good work on defense, his willingness to shoot the three, and his ability to rebound, he is a complementary player at this point in his career.

No...this team will rise or fall on the shoulders of William Buford.

Buckeyevstheworld's picture

I'm not getting my hopes up until they duplicate what they did at Iowa and Nebraska. I thought that they had figured it all out after that Indiana loss. Won't make that mistake again.

I do think Meatchicken was a year away last year. Then someone told Morris that he was good enough to play in the NBA now. Had he stayed I think they would be the 2nd best team in the Big Ten.

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

Johnny Ginter's picture


BucksfanXC's picture

Let's not talk about the substance of your article but continue to quote that episode of ...Shut up, it's a secret.

“Any time you give a man something he doesn't earn, you cheapen him. Our kids earn what they get, and that includes respect.”  - Woody

Johnny Ginter's picture

ah, that's alright, people rarely do anyway *droopy dog voice*

sharkvsghost's picture



swing hard in case you hit it.

The_Lurker's picture

"Ask me the questions, bridge keeper. I am not afraid." - Jared Sullinger

thatlillefty's picture

After the dismal '11 football season, this team has been a treat to watch. Not as talented as last year's squad, but talented enough to make a run in March I believe. We just need to come together these coming weeks and find that magic...

That and learn how to win on the road.