Two straight losses for Ohio State at this time of the year naturally forces onlookers to look back to what happened a year ago.
Last January, the Buckeyes lost two games, and then everything snowballed. They ended the month with an 0-5 record after beginning it ranked No. 13 in the Associated Press top-25 poll. By losing to West Virginia on Dec. 29 and Wisconsin on Friday, No. 11 Ohio State (11-3, 1-2 Big Ten) understands what can happen if it doesn’t stop the losing, and it has a chance to do so when it heads on the road to face No. 12 Maryland (12-2, 2-1 Big Ten) on Tuesday night.
|No. 12 Maryland (11-2)||Xfinity Center (College Park, Maryland)||7 p.m.||ESPN|
Redshirt junior guard CJ Walker, when asked whether he'd characterize what has happened recently as the Buckeyes struggling, said he feels sure a bounce-back performance will come.
“I don't want to say struggle at all. I don't want to put that on my team or put that in my mind at all,” Walker said. “I'm always confident, so I wouldn't say doubting or anything like that. I feel super confident going into this game, just like each and every other game. I don't go into a game thinking we're going to lose or anything like that. I'm super confident going into Maryland, IU. I'm super confident in everything we do. So I wouldn't say struggling or anything like that. I just feel like we've just got to refocus and just figure things out. So I feel like we'll be OK.”
That mindset will get tested Tuesday night versus one of the top teams in the Big Ten.
Consecutive road losses to Penn State and Seton Hall in mid-December halted the momentum of a Maryland team that climbed all the way to No. 4 in the Associated Press top-25 poll. Since then, though, the Terrapins have regained their mojo, beating Bryant by 14 points on Dec. 29 and Indiana by 16 points on Saturday.
They’re now ranked No. 12 in the country, per the AP poll, and eighth in the nation by KenPom.
Since most of Maryland’s key contributors are returners, the personnel won’t take Ohio State by surprise. Still, it’s one of the most talented teams the Buckeyes will match up against throughout the Big Ten.
“They're playing with great chemistry, great confidence,” Holtmann said. “(Anthony) Cowan is leading the way as he's done for a couple years now. Fourth-year kid who's been a really good player for a long time. But it's not just him. Jalen Smith is playing really well, and then they've got guys like (Aaron) Wiggins. They've got a really good way about them now.”
Cowan, a senior putting up 16.4 points in 32.9 minutes per game, is a known commodity, having averaged at least 15 points per game in each of the past three seasons. The 6-foot, 180-pounder has hit 39.6 percent of his shots from the field and 35.4 percent of his 3-point attempts.
“Great at getting to the free-throw line,” Holtmann said of Cowan. “Great at getting in the seams of your defense. Jumps into you, creates free-throw opportunities. Can spray it really well. Obviously everyone in here I'm sure knows what he does late in games and late in possessions, for that matter.”
Beyond Cowan, Smith deservedly takes most of the headlines.
The 6-foot-10, 225-pound sophomore big man has put up 13.5 points, grabbed 9.9 rebounds and blocked 2.3 shots in 27.4 minutes per game. He has pulled down twice as many offensive boards as anybody else on his team, highlighting one of Maryland’s strengths. The Terrapins get offensive rebounds on 36.1 percent of their misses, the 17th-best rate in the country.
Wiggins, a 6-foot-6, 200-pound wing, has helped both in that area and as a scorer, averaging 11.2 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Eric Ayala, a 6-foot-5, 195-pound guard, also puts in 9.9 points per game.
Despite the talent atop the roster, Maryland’s offense has struggled with efficiency at times. The Terrapins have an effective field goal percentage of 47.7, the 234th-best in the country, and they shoot 30.7 percent from beyond the 3-point arc, a mark that ranked 264th.
Ohio State Preview
All eyes will be on Kaleb Wesson as he matches up with Smith in a battle between two of the most talented big men in the Big Ten.
Wesson was Ohio State’s only consistent source of offense in the loss to Wisconsin, and on Tuesday, he’ll have the challenge of facing a big man who’s in contention to become a late first-round 2020 NBA Draft pick. His offseason weight loss should benefit him, Holtmann believes.
“I think his mobility helps him, for sure, with a guy like Jalen Smith who is long and lean and slender and moves well and slips out of ball screens,” Holtmann said. “His length is such a factor. I do think, there's no question, that Kaleb's (body) change helps him with guys like that.”
It’s still unclear whether Wesson will have Kyle Young beside him in the post on Tuesday. After having his appendix removed a little over a week ago, Holtmann called his status “game to game” again on Monday. Should he remain sidelined, the Buckeyes will need more out of E.J. Liddell, who had possibly his worst collegiate game against Wisconsin with two points, zero rebounds and four fouls in 13 minutes.
In the backcourt, Ohio State needs to figure out a way to get DJ Carton and Duane Washington Jr. out of their respective ruts. Carton has three points, three assists and nine turnovers in his past two games combined. Naturally, Holtmann said his issue has been “careless turnovers.”
Washington hasn’t shot better than 37.5 percent in any of his past three games. He was an efficient three-level scorer early in the season, but that hasn’t been the case since he returned from an injury that sidelined him for a couple games in December.
“He been too antsy,” Holtmann said. “He's forced the issue too much and not been as disciplined as he's needed to be. And we need to coach that, and he's got to embrace that better. He's got to become more efficient than what he is. He's got the ability to score. He's got to be more efficient.
- Holtmann on the depth of post players in the Big Ten: “I've never been a part of a league with this many good, elite big men. I mean, not even close. You go on down the line of Big Ten bigs, it's a joke how good the five men are in this league.”
- Holtmann said there’s a possibility that Ibrahima Diallo or Alonzo Gaffney get a chance to play on Tuesday because Maryland offers such prowess on the boards: “We have thought about him as well as maybe Zo, one of those two guys could see some minutes tomorrow if Kyle is out and see if they can provide some rebounding.” He said neither will provide much of a “scoring punch,” but both are able to rebound well.
- Maryland has an all-time 8-6 record against Ohio State, which is 1-5 when facing the Terrapins in College Park.
- Beginning with Tuesday’s game, Ohio State will play three of its next four games on the road in an 11-day span. It’ll travel to Indiana and Penn State during the stretch.
How It Plays Out
A couple weeks ago when the team was rolling, the pick would’ve been Ohio State without too much thought. Now? It’s a much different proposition.
With Young potentially missing the game, Washington struggling to find much offensive efficiency, the freshmen floundering, offense outside of Kaleb Wesson hard to come by and late-game ineffectiveness, there are an abundance of uncertainties the Buckeyes. Maryland’s offensive rebounding and ability to score might be too much for a banged-up Ohio State team going through some struggles.
Prediction: Maryland 67, Ohio State 65