Now in his 13th season as Ohio State's head coach, Thad Matta experienced something he never had before Sunday.
His team fell to 0-3 to start Big Ten play.
With a 78-68 loss at Minnesota on Sunday night, the Buckeyes are still winless in the conference. The only other team still searching for its first Big Ten win besides Ohio State: Rutgers.
It's only the second week of January so the Buckeyes have some time to get the ship righted, but there's still an incredibly difficult road ahead. Ohio State's next two Big Ten games are Thursday at Wisconsin and Sunday at home against Michigan State. The Buckeyes aren't likely to be favored in either of those matchups.
“I wouldn’t say there's concern because we work our butts off every day," junior forward Jae'Sean Tate said after the loss to Purdue last Thursday. "We’ve just gotta keep grinding it and we’ve just gotta to keep working. ... We’re working hard and eventually we’re going to hit our stride. I know it. I can feel it.”
|2005–06||1–2||12–4 (1st)||NCAA 2nd round|
|2008–09||3–5||10–8 (4th)||NCAA 1st round|
|2009–10||1–3||14–4 (1st)||Sweet Sixteen|
|2013–14||2–4||10–8 (4th)||NCAA 1st round|
Slow starts in conference play have been somewhat rare under Matta at Ohio State. His teams usually begin to ascend around this team of the season with the hopes of peaking in March.
Outside of this season, the Buckeyes have struggled out of the gate in Big Ten play just five times — and two of those came in Matta's first two seasons at the helm. Most recently, it occurred during the 2013–14 season as Ohio State won its first two Big Ten games but then lost four straight to start league play with a 2–4 mark.
During the 2009–10 season, as star guard Evan Turner missed time with a fractured vertebra in his back, the Buckeyes began the Big Ten season with a 1–3 record. Ohio State finished that season with a 14–4 conference mark — good enough to win the league.
The year before that, the 2008–09 season, the Buckeyes started Big Ten play 1–2 and after splitting their next four games were 3–5. Ohio State finished fourth in the league that year and made the NCAA tournament.
In Matta's first two seasons leading the Buckeyes, his teams started 1–4 (2004–05) and 1–2 (2005–06). The latter team wound up winning the Big Ten.
So, yes, turnarounds are possible.
“That’s why you take it one game at a time," Matta said after the Purdue game. "But I know when the schedule came out that I looked at it and said, ‘Uh-oh.’"
This year's team certainly doesn't feel like those teams mentioned, though. Ohio State is still rather inexperienced and it doesn't have a go-to player. And, frankly, the Big Ten is a better, deeper league than it was then. There may not be national championship contenders at the top like there have been in the past, but the bottom of the league is much improved and it makes every single game a difficult one.
Basketball is a unique sport in the sense that when talent is relatively equal like it is throughout most of the Big Ten, teams can get hot — and cold — at various points of the season to make runs. Even last year's Ohio State team — which many thought was the worst of the Matta era — started conference play with a 4–1 Big Ten record.
The schedule is undoubtedly difficult and Matta and Co. certainly have their hands full. But there are still 15 conference games to be played and with that comes plenty of opportunities to turn this around.
The Buckeyes are looking for something, anything, to spark them right now.