It has been quite an inconsistent season for Ohio State basketball.
The Buckeyes were one of the hottest teams in the country for the first two months. After beating Cincinnati and steamrolling Villanova, North Carolina, and Penn State, Ohio State was sitting at No. 3 in the country.
Ohio State then suffered a setback to Minnesota, its first loss of the year, and followed that up with a rousing victory over Kentucky in Las Vegas.
But then came the rough patch. Including a tough loss to West Virginia in Cleveland, the Buckeyes lost six of seven games between Dec. 29 and Jan. 23. Their only win was a 12-point home victory over lowly Nebraska.
Then, on Jan. 30, after he led the team in scoring in a win over Northwestern, freshman guard D.J. Carton announced he'd be stepping away from the program to focus on his mental health. At the time, Carton was third on the team in points per game.
It was fair to wonder how Chris Holtmann's team would respond. While Holtmann has faced adversity in his tenure at Ohio State, including last year when the team went through a similar stretch, it had never been at this level.
Well, they've responded quite well. Sandwiched around a frustrating loss against Wisconsin, the Buckeyes have won five of six games, with wins at Michigan and Northwestern and holding serve at home against Indiana, Rutgers, and Purdue.
While they haven't always been pretty wins, Holtmann and the players know that it's never easy in their conference.
“A win's a win in the Ten,” Kaleb Wesson said. “They're not going to look pretty in the Ten. They're not going to look pretty. A win is a win in the Ten.”
A variety of players have stepped up to enable Ohio State to go on this run. Wesson has been his normal self, leading the team in scoring in three of those five wins. Carton (Northwestern) and Kyle Young (Purdue) were the other two. Andre Wesson had a double-double against Rutgers. Luther Muhammad has scored at least nine points in three straight games. C.J. Walker has just one turnover in his last two games combined. It has been a collective effort from a group that needs it.
With an upcoming road game on Thursday at Iowa, who features National Player of the Year candidate Luka Garza, and then a quick turnaround back to Columbus to face Maryland on Sunday, it will be a tough week again, at least on paper.
Holtmann has mentioned several times that offense is much tougher on the road than at home. Thus, Ohio State's defense needs to continue its good play, which was on display Saturday against Purdue.
Regarding his young team's maturity, Holtmann said, “We're better than we were. Let's see how we are on the road.”
After all that has come this season, somehow, some way, Ohio State still has a chance to earn a top-four speed and a double bye in the Big Ten tournament if it finishes the season strong.