The bad news: Ohio State should've hosted Nebraska yesterday.
The hopefully good news: Minnesota was able to play yesterday, although they only dressed seven guys, ahead of a scheduled Thursday night date with Ohio State in Williams Arena.
After its own COVID issues created a three-week layoff, the Nebraska postponements means the Buckeyes will go nine days between games, assuming Minnesota can make it happen on Thursday.
Chris Holtmann's squad finds itself sitting on a 12-4 record including a 5-2 record in conference play, one game back of 6-1 Michigan State in the standings.
Against that backdrop, here are Five Things hovering over Ohio State's solid first half of the season.
E.J. HAS 1,000 CAREER POINTS IN HIS CROSSHAIRS
After scoring 13 points against IUPUI last week, E.J. Liddell stands at 988 career points across two and a half seasons at Ohio State - just 12 points shy of becoming the 60th Buckeye to record 1,000 career points.
His career-to-date 13.0 points per game average would rank 32nd among Ohio State's 1,000-point scorers.
If Lidell's 19.4 points per game average this season holds, it will be the 31st best leading scorer season since 1947 (75 seasons).
Again assuming the 19.4 season points per game average holds and Ohio State plays at least its 12 remaining regular season games, Liddell will become the 40th Buckeye to reach the 1,200 point plateau. Even more impressive, he'd be just the 18th Buckeye in the 1,200-point club to play three seasons or less.
TALE OF TWO SEASONS FOR JUSTIN AHRENS
It's hardly breaking news when a three-point specialist goes on a hot or cold streak but wow that's what we've seen from Justin Ahrens through Ohio State's first 16 games this season.
The Versailles, Ohio product shot a frigid 21.2% from beyond the arc over his last seven outings, connecting on just 7-of-33 attempts on the way to an anemic 3.9 points per game.
The cold streak came on the heels of a highly productive first nine games of the season as Ahrens buried 44.4% of his shots from distance (24-of-54) while averaging a more sturdy 9.1 points per contest.
Smash those two streaks together and his season-to-date marksmanship stands at 35.6% compared to full season averages of 42.5% last year, 40.4% in 2019-20 and 38.8% as a freshman in 2018-19.
Ahrens' current drought rivals his nine-game skid to end the 2020-21 season in which he made just five of his final 22 three-point tries (22.7%) as Ohio State limped to a 3-6 finish. Across the first 22 games of last season, Ahrens shot a blistering 46.7% from the field (49-of-105) to average 7.2 points per game in support of Ohio State's 18-4 record.
Back to this season, Chris Holtmann desperately needs Ahrens to pick up at least until Justice Sueing returns from injury and gives Ohio State another multi-dimensional scorer it lacks today alongside Liddell and Malaki Branham.
VALUING THE BALL REMAINS AN ISSUE
Taking care of the basketball has been a season-long issue for the Buckeyes and with the defense not forcing a ton of opponent miscues, Ohio State has its worst turnover margin, -1.1, since Holtmann arrived in Columbus.
Obviously, as great as Liddell's been, his expanded role in handling the ball a ton, while also averaging the most minutes per game, has E.J. turning it over 2.9 times per contest.
To his credit, he's cut down on his giveaways a tad over the last four games, turning it over twice each in three of those four games along with three in the loss up in Madison to average 2.3 per game.
|SEASON||TURNOVERS/GAME||RANK||TURNOVERS/POSS||RANK||OPP TURNOVERS/G||TO MARGIN|
Jamari Wheeler is second on the team in turnovers per game at 1.9, while playing the second most minutes per contest and of course handling the ball a lot as the team's primary point guard.
Where Ohio State could use improvement alongside E.J. comes primarily from Meechie Johnson. Johnson's been out a few games with injury but before that he was averaging 1.8 turnovers per game despite playing the eighth-most minutes per night.
BUCKEYES SHOOTING THE LIGHTS OUT
One way to overcome less-than-stellar turnover stats is to shoot the dang lights out and Ohio State has largely done that through 16 games.
The Buckeyes rank 16th nationally with a field goal percent of 48.3% and a three-point field goal percent of 38.0% to rank 23rd. Both metrics are team bests to this point of the Holtmann era.
Liddell, as Ohio State's primary weapon is shooting 51.2% from the field, good for eighth in the Big Ten among players with at least 150 attempts. If his accuracy holds it would be a career high and a solid leap from last year's 47.4%. That increase is even more impressive when you consider 29% of his shots are coming from beyond the arc so far this season after 24% came from downtown a season ago.
Zed Key actually leads the Buckeyes in accuracy among teammates with at least 20 field goal attempts, shooting 59.3% on 108 attempts. Key ability to get position deep in the lane and finish with either hand has been meaningful to Ohio State's success as his 9.4 points per game slot third on the squad.
|SEASON||FIELD GOAL %||NATL RANK||3PT FIELD GOAL %||NATL RANK|
Branham, Ohio State's second-leading scorer at 10.0 per game is shooting a respectable 44.6 from the field as a rookie perimeter player. His 130 attempts fall just short of qualifying for the B1G's leaderboard but he'd tuck in just head of Wisconsin's Johnny Davis otherwise. His ability to get to the rim and a college-ready midrange game, along with a solid 38.5% accuracy behind the arc are just scratching the surface of what he'll bring in the future.
Kyle Young (55.6% on 72 FGA), Jamari Wheeler (48.2% on 83 FGA), Cedric Russell (51.9% on 27 3FGA) and Gene Brown (50% on 28 FGA) have also shot well for the Buckeyes.
HOLTMANN ON CUSP OF 100TH WIN AT OHIO STATE
Last Tuesday's win over IUPUI gave Holtmann 99 victories against 48 defeats in his roughly four and a half seasons on the job.
With a win at Minnesota on Thursday, he would become the seventh Buckeye basketball head coach to bag 100 victories.
|HEAD COACH||SEASONS||RECORD||B1G TITLES||SEASON WON 1ST B1G TITLE|
|HAROLD OLSEN||24||259-197||5||3RD SEASON|
|FRED TAYLOR||18||297-158||7||2ND SEASON|
|RANDY AYERS||8||124-108||2||2ND SEASON|
|JIM O'BRIEN||7||133-88||2||3RD SEASON|
|THAD MATTA||13||337-123||5||2ND SEASON|
That said, despite Holtmann's general success in Columbus, he didn't win a league crown over those first four seasons ( or get the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament) and if I'm being honest, I'd probably bet against a Big Ten title happening this season based largely on the impressive depth the conference currently boasts.
Right now, of the five head coaches in the 100-win club, only Eldon Miller failed to win a league title. Miller's run spanned 10 years and Holtmann is just midway through year five but of the five coaches with 100 wins who did win a league title, all of them did it by their third season.
If it doesn't happen this season for Holtmann, his 2022 class sure looks like it could be the one to eventually push his program to the top of the league but there's also little reason to believe the conference won't continue to be one of the deepest in college basketball.