Once a Calling Card, Ohio State's Defense Struggling At Times in Big Ten Play

By Tim Shoemaker on February 17, 2017 at 1:05p
Ohio State's Marc Loving in a defensive stance at Michigan State.
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For Ohio State basketball, 72 appears to be the magic number.

As in, points allowed in Big Ten play. The Buckeyes are 5-0 in the conference when holding teams to 72 points or fewer. When Ohio State has given up more than that, however, it is 0-9 in league games.

It's certainly an interesting statistic and one that illustrates how this team needs to play: The Buckeyes are better off playing low-scoring games. When the score crosses that 72-point threshold, Ohio State's offense hasn't been able to keep up.

Thad Matta's program was founded on its defensive presence, though, and this season, that presence has been absent more than it's been present. It's a big reason why the Buckeyes are just 15-12 on the year and 5-9 in the Big Ten.

Ohio State is allowing opponents to score 69.2 points per game on the season. Should that number remain where it is, it would be the highest per-game average in Thad Matta's 13 seasons as head coach. In Big Ten play, that number jumps up, too. The Buckeyes are allowing an eye-popping 74.9 points per league game.

Ohio State Defensive Efficiency
Ratings Under Thad Matta
Year Adj. Defensive Efficiency
  Points Per 100 Poss. (Rank)
B1G Defensive Efficiency
Points Per 100 Poss. (Rank)
2016-17 99.9 (82nd) 109.9 (14th)
2015-16 95.9 (43rd) 103.0 (6th)
2014-15 92.8 (26th) 100.5 (4th)
2013-14 87.3 (2nd) 96.2 (1st)
2012-13 88.0 (10th) 95.0 (2nd)
2011-12 85.5 (4th) 93.6 (2nd)
2010-11 87.5 (8th) 102.3 (3rd)
2009-10 89.1 (26th) 96.0 (3rd)
2008-09 93.2 (62nd) 106.5 (8th)
2007-08 88.5 (16th) 96.8 (3rd)
2006-07 87.7 (12th) 94.5 (3rd)
2005-06 89.0 (20th) 97.0 (2nd)
2004-05 90.8 (31st) 98.4 (4th)

It shouldn't come as a huge surprise Ohio State's defensive efficiency ratings this season are lower than they've ever been under Matta, either. According to kenpom.com, the Buckeyes currently rank 85th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing 99.9 points per 100 possessions. In Matta's previous 12 seasons, Ohio State ranked outside the top-40 nationally in defensive efficiency just two other times: in 2009 (62nd, 93.2 points allowed per 100 possessions) and last season (43rd, 95.9).

The Buckeyes' defensive efficiency numbers in Big Ten play are even more staggering. Following Thursday's action, Ohio State ranked dead last in conference games with 109.9 points allowed per 100 possessions. 

For some perspective, here are the defensive efficiency rankings in Big Ten play for the Buckeyes over the last five seasons prior to this one: 2016 (103. points allowed per 100 possessions, 6th in Big Ten); 2015 (100.5, 4th); 2014 (96.2, 1st); 2013 (95.0, 2nd); 2012 (93.6, 2nd).

The loss of Keita Bates-Diop to a season-ending injury certainly hindered Ohio State at the defensive end of the floor. this year Bates-Diop, a 6-foot-8 junior forward with a 7-foot wingspan, was arguably Ohio State's best perimeter defender whose length made it difficult on opponents. If healthy, Bates-Diop would likely be guarding the best player for the opposing team on a nightly basis. Not having that option certainly has an impact on the Buckeyes' defensive efforts as a whole.

But at the same time, Ohio State has played plenty of games without Bates-Diop this season. There has been time to adjust to not having him on the floor. He only played in nine of the Buckeyes' 27 games on the year.

With just four games remaining in the regular season, Ohio State is already assured to fall short of double-digit Big Ten victories for the first time since Matta's initial season in Columbus. Matta has never had a losing conference record in his first 12 seasons leading the Buckeyes — or in his entire coaching career, for that matter — but one more loss in the regular season and that goes out the window.

It certainly doesn't feel like a coincidence that streak could be snapped in what is currently the worst statistical defensive season in the Matta era. 

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