Sluggish Buckeyes Trending Downward in March

By Kyle Rowland on March 3, 2014 at 3:00p

It’s all so unfamiliar. The amount of losses, the late-season collapse, just uncharacteristic play all the way around. This isn’t the Ohio State basketball team people have become accustomed to.

Since the dawn of the Thad Matta era, the Buckeyes’ have won with a frequency not seen in generations. Suddenly, the months between the end of the football season and beginning of spring practice served a purpose. Buckeye fans became enthralled with their basketball team and turned Value City Arena, a maligned stale facility, into a worthy homecourt advantage.

The boasting has disappeared. With the calendar already reaching March, Ohio State sports eight losses with all of them coming in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes are placed in the middle of the conference and destined for a mid-tier NCAA Tournament seed.

Ohio State enters the final week of the regular season in sixth place in the Big Ten. It hasn’t finished that low since Matta’s first season when it was banned from the Big Dance. For Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr., next weekend’s senior sendoff won’t have the pizzazz they expected when the Buckeyes were 15-0 just two short months ago.

Sunday’s uninspiring loss at Indiana was the team’s second consecutive loss after repairing their resume during the month of February. Incredibly, this isn’t the first tailspin in a season most would rather forget.

“We were rolling until Thursday night,” Matta said after the Hoosiers’ 72-64 victory. “Right now, I think that we are really lacking in confidence and toughness in terms of playing through situations. Those are things that some how, some way, we have to get corrected.”

At this point, it might be too late. It’s not like these are new flaws appearing. Instead, it’s the reemergence of mistakes Ohio State’s made all season. Just when it looked like everything was corrected, a horrid two-game stretch proved, yes, even the Buckeyes can suffer down years.

In an age where parity dominates college basketball, look around at blue-blood programs such as Kentucky, North Carolina and Indiana. No one is immune to offbeat seasons.

Ohio State’s won 20 games every season Matta’s been at the helm, advanced to two Final Fours and been crowned with countless conference championships. Matta’s elevated the Buckeyes to elite status, and with that come outsized expectations.

“Thad really doesn’t get the attention or the credit that he should,” Indiana head coach Tom Crean said. “He is a great coach. That guy will be in the Hall of Fame at some point. There’s absolutely no doubt about it. I have tremendous, tremendous respect for him and what he does.”

Five losses in six games in January were the first signs this season’s team might not be Final Four caliber like so many in recent memory. But if any lingering confidence existed, the past week certainly wiped it away.

A season sweep at the hands of Penn State, which has five conference wins, is inexcusable. As is a loss to resurgent Nebraska just weeks after beating the Cornhuskers by nearly 30 points. Sunday also can be slapped into the bad loss column. Assembly Hall is Assembly Hall, but this is not a classic Indiana team. The Hoosiers were without Noah Vonleh and played horribly in the game’s first 10 minutes. 

One of the nation’s best defenses has abandoned the Buckeyes. They allowed too many threes last week, sent opponents to the free throw line too often and rarely got stops when they needed one. When you lack any semblance of a consistent offense, a sluggish defense quickly spells doom.

Sunday presented an especially anemic offense. Ohio State didn’t make a single three-pointer for the first time since January 2004, and 24 of their 25 field goals came in the paint. They also missed several bunnies and only converted 14 of 23 free throw attempts.  

“I think we had to get in the lane because we couldn’t make a shot,” Matta said. “We were 0-for-11 from three. We were short from there all day. We had some good looks, they just didn’t go down. It was just one of those days.”

With Vonleh, a projected NBA lottery pick, in street clothes, Amir Williams and Trey McDonald got in foul trouble, ending any potential advantage down low. But that wasn’t where the stupidity stopped.

LaQuinton Ross, two weeks after being ejected, picked up another deadball technical, which coincided with Indiana scoring 16 straight points and ending the first half on a 21-5 run. The Hoosiers erased an eight-point Ohio State lead and led 33-25 at halftime.

The Buckeyes were never tied or leading again.

“We pride ourselves on defense,” Matta said. “We missed layups and we missed free throws, and then all of a sudden, we clammed up and we lost our defensive intensity. We lost our juice on the defensive end. We had held them to only 12 points with eight minutes to go in the second half. When Yogi Ferrell hit a three, that’s when I knew we were in trouble. Even when we weren’t particular scoring well, we never got our defense to where it needed to be.”

Ohio State did have second-half opportunities. Similar to Thursday night’s mess at Penn State, though, Craft turned the ball over at critical junctures. On multiple occasions, he drove to the basket only to meet taller players who neutralized any scoring threat. The same story played out in January. 

Craft finished with three turnovers and shot 2-of-11 from the field.

“I honestly don’t know the answer right now. He drove and tried to get up on the rim, but he just struggled to score today,” Matta said. “He did some good things in the first half, but shots just didn’t go down for him. He’s trying to win, he’s trying to make plays. Unfortunately, he just had some bad bounces.”

Bad bounces could be a contagious disease, because it’s plagued Ohio State’s entire team. Still, sullen faces or not, the Buckeyes refuse to buy into the Doom’s Day theories. After all, the current roster’s experienced being written off before only to rise up and advance to the Final Four and Elite Eight the past two seasons.

But all the confidence and bravado could be acting as a masking agent for denial.

Said Matta: “We have to look ourselves in the mirror and get back to being basketball players.”


Comments Show All Comments

German Buckeye's picture

Maybe its just not happening this season.  I guess I'd be content with a NCAA tourney invite and we give whoever we play in the first round a tough game, win or lose.  Just don't go to the dance and lay an egg.

1MechEng's picture

As much as I hate to say it ... 15-0 = cruising through the cupcake part of the schedule.

Now they're 7-8 in the "meat" part of the schedule. Not too difficult to see that this is not really a great OSU hoops team, and the record against the tougher competition is finally causing the team to show its true colors.

The biggest problem is 2-fold:

1.) Lack of a quick start to games.

2.) Lack of a proven/consistent scorer, and the inability to hold leads or remain competitive late due to the lack of said scorer.

In most of the conference wins, OSU had a late 1st half/early 2nd half run that allowed the game to break open. OSU seems to score in spurts. When they're hot, they're hot. When they're cold, they're ice cold. No middle ground, it seems.

Just my $0.02 worth.

+1 HS
TheShookster's picture

Free throws and layups are tough. That's why this season has been so bad.

He ain't even stretch doe!!

+2 HS
Barney's picture

On another note, I could do without Q shoving everyone.    

Set your gearshift for the high gear of your soul!

+3 HS
OldColumbusTown's picture

I think a few people need to read these quotes from Kyle a few times over...

In an age where parity dominates college basketball, look around at blue-blood programs such as Kentucky, North Carolina and Indiana. No one is immune to offbeat seasons.

Still, sullen faces or not, the Buckeyes refuse to buy into the Doom’s Day theories. After all, the current roster’s experienced being written off before only to rise up and advance to the Final Four and Elite Eight the past two seasons.

This team is 22-8.  They've been inconsistent in a tough B1G, but if "this" is considered a terrible year for OSU basketball, I'd say we should consider ourselves lucky.

All they have to do is get into the tournament, and anything can happen.  I'm not betting on any results, but I'll bet this team will play hard when it counts.

+4 HS
BHT's picture

I have to agree that if this is a down year, we are lucky. We could have been as bad as Indiana or worse in a down year, but 22-8? By most standards, that's great.

+2 HS
Jack Fu's picture

To be fair, they're 22-8 because they played no one - no one - in the non-conference schedule. With Sparty's (or Michigan's, or Wisconsin's, or Iowa's) non-conference schedule this team is more in the 19-11, 20-10 range, and is squarely on the bubble.

That being said, 1. yes, this is a down year, and 2. yes, we are pretty fortunate that a down year is still likely to result in a tournament bid. But next year's freshmen had better be as good as advertised, or we're going to have basically the same kind of season next year.

daveyt11's picture

The blown leads are just mind boggling for a "defensive" team

9 point lead vs Iowa 2nd half (at home),11 point lead 2nd half vs PSU (also at home). 10 points to Michigan (home), 

But then we outscore Minnesota 46-18 in 2nd half, hold illinois to 39, Marquette to 35, close Purdue on a 19-4, almost a 17 point comeback in 7 minutes at MSU..unreal

Just venting



jkrk's picture

I'm surprised that folks are surprised. We don't have a good shooter on the team and we don't have a good big man. If everybody plays zone against us we won't win another game this year.

+1 HS
Josh P's picture

Just not playing Stanford football as of late

+6 HS
BHT's picture

Defense wins championships. How many times have we heard that? It is especially true for this team. It needs to rely on defense to score, and since this team is offenseively challenged, it needs to play defense like their lives depend on it. Not playing defense has cost this team in every loss this year.

thePhilipJFry's picture

Ohio State is the best defense in the B1G this season at 0.99 points per possession allowed.  Michigan gives up 1.09 points per possession (1.11 for Minnesota is last) and has a good chance to win a championship with the worst defense in the conference.  Defense by itself doesn't win anything.  In the two game slide Ohio State held IU under a point per possession, and held PSU to 1.02 points per possession.  Ohio State's problem this year has been poor offense.  They have one proven offensive asset in LaQuinton Ross, but often struggle to get him the basketball for long stretches of the game, or at critical times.

+1 HS
Chief B1G Dump's picture

Next years frosh should help this funk...
I said this earlier but at least Im not obligated to take the Bucks all the way in my brackets this year. Maybe Ill win one for once.

+1 HS
Buck Commander's picture

They create a vacuum!

Every time I set my DVR to record Biggest Loser......It always records Wolverine Football Games!

ScarletNGrey01's picture

This season's team is an enigma wrapped in a puzzle.  All it takes is a little luck and a couple of guys starting to hit some shots.  It happens in the NCAA sometimes, a team that was struggling and borderline gets rolling at the right time.  There is always hope, will be interesting to see how the bucks respond over the next few games.  A win over MSU would be a huge confidence booster.

The will to win is not as important as the will to prepare to win. -- Woody Hayes

bukyze's picture

Stephen Hawking, Einstein, Galileo, and Isaac Newton combined couldn't solve this riddle.  

+3 HS
Knarcisi's picture

What I liked yesterday is that we took it to the rack. 

Conversely, our outside shooting struggled to its peak.

What failed us was our defense. Way too many open looks for Farrell and Sheehy. 

ibuck's picture

Don't know whether they get rattled and zone out, or if they just have 'tudes, but it seems these Buckeyes are not listening to their coaches. Their B1G record is 1 game above .500, and this quote seems appropriate for basketball too:

The teams that don’t respect their coaches and don’t trust their coaches are the teams that go .500
~Zach Boren, OSU fullback /linebacker 2012

Our honor defend, so we'll fight to the end !

If you can't win your conference, just quietly accept your non-playoff bowl game.

+1 HS
armyvet83's picture

Typically, Thad's team have at least one or two consistent, good shooters from deep. When the team is hitting from deep, it opens up the lane for guys like Craft, Scott, etc. Problem 1: This team is not a good shooting team.

When plays aren't there, players have a tendency to force this issue thus leading to turnovers or poor shot selection. Two things need to happen: 1: Uptempo basketball - this team plays much better when the tempo is up especially on the offensive end and 2: Take what the defense gives you instead of giving poessions away (It doesn't help that this team cannot shoot worth a lick).

Lastly, this was a concern coming into the season, who was going to be the Buckeyes go-to-guy. I don't think its from a lack from trying but NONE of the guys have the "IT" to be that guy. Ross is a shooter not a true scorer. Thompson could be but lacks the confidence in his game (if he ever "gets it" this guy could be very good). Smith, Craft, Williams, and Scott aren't those type of players. Loving is to young but has shown some potential.

Overall bottom line: Our expectations were higher than the potential of this team. And next year may not be much better.

+1 HS
ScarletGray43157's picture

Agreed on all points.  Add to that ADV has apparently lost his confidence as well. 

In old Ohio there's a team that's known throughout the land...

Shangheyed's picture

Thomas should have stayed... would be a top 5 team and he would be on the cover or sports 10 pick!

+1 HS
gm3jones's picture

It's hard when your hungry...

There is nothing more remarkable as learning to think better.

+1 HS
ScarletGray43157's picture

Schedulers should put away the cupcakes and mix in some meat in the non-conference schedule.  Some losses early?  Maybe. Worth it later during the B1G?  Absolutely.  

In old Ohio there's a team that's known throughout the land...

OldColumbusTown's picture

To be fair, prior to the season starting we were looking at a schedule with three very quality non-conference opponents.  At Marquette (perennial tournament team), neutral vs. Notre Dame (perennial tournament team), and vs. Maryland in the ACC/B1G challenge (sometimes very good, sometimes average).  Those three games alone made this non-conference schedule as good as any other year.  However, Marquette and ND both regressed badly, and Maryland again is up and down.

chili96's picture

As this season comes to a close, will next years Basketbucks be better, worse or about the same?

I am a little worried because of the apparent lack of leadership. Who's going to step up and be a leader for a team that will welcome a lot of young talent? My initial guess is Shannon Scott, but I would really like to see LQR take a big leap in this department (for his sake).

Will these young guys respect the older guys who can't put the ball in the basket?

EvanstonBuckeye's picture

May not be a bad time to address the very real possibility that we were way overrated at the beginning of the year based squarely on the last two years and our success in the tourney. Also, I really think that the Buckeyes and other B1G teams will benefit greatly from getting the hell out of conference play. I don't know if this will translate into two wins in the NCAA (which would satisfy me) or not, but I'm ready to see us against a non-conference foe.