Anatomy of a 2-7 January for Chris Holtmann's Buckeyes

By Chris Lauderback on January 29, 2023 at 10:10 am
Chris Holtmann
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

A fitting end to January unfolded last night in Assembly Hall as Chris Holtmann's basketball Buckeyes collapsed at the end of the first half en route to a 16-point loss. 

The defeat dropped Ohio State to 2-7 for the month, marking the program's second-worst January since Holtmann took over ahead of the 2017-18 season. While the January Swoon talk has surrounded Holtmann for years now, the fact is his previous two squads went a combined 11-5 in January. The angst actually comes from years two and three of his stewardship when the Buckeyes went a combined 3-11 in the dreaded month. 

That said, while Holtmann's current group mercifully turns the page on its January slate, Ohio State finds itself sitting with an 11-10 overall record and a 3-7 mark in conference play - results which are significantly worse than any of Holtmann's previous OSU teams. In fact, even the two previous teams with disastrous Januarys - the 2019-20 and 2020-21 squads - still stood at 13-7 overall entering February. The 2019-20 group was also just 3-6 in B1G play and still make the Dance so maybe that's a silver lining.

The cold reality is the Buckeyes are staring down the barrel of failing to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in Holtmann's tenure if things don't pivot quickly. Up until now, fans could count on his program to at least make the field even if making the second weekend proved elusive. Now, Ohio State has a ton of work to do to make the field. 

So how did Ohio State find itself in this position after starting the season with a 9-3 record including 1-0 in league action heading into another January tailspin? 

After beating Northwestern in dominant fashion to start the New Year, Holtmann's squad had No. 1 Purdue on the ropes in Value City Arena, up 69-66 with 42 seconds left, before the Boilers scored the game's final five points aided by OSU's inability to break a full court press.  It's also notable Ohio State lost Zed Key in that one with a shoulder issue and nagging injuries have persisted for Holtmann's best post player. 

While missing an opportunity to take down No. 1 was a gut punch, the next two games were haymakers as Ohio State led Maryland by five at halftime before being outscored by 12 in the second half to drop a very winnable road game. A new low occurred the next time out as the Buckeyes dropped a 70-67 contest at home to KenPom's then-No. 193 ranked Minnesota. 

Losses at Rutgers and Nebraska followed with the Buckeyes taking the Scarlet Knights to overtime in an understandable defeat but finishing on the wrong end of the scoreboard versus the Cornhuskers was another matter. Ohio State shot 36% overall and scored 22 points in the first half against KenPom's No. 101 team. 

To its credit, Ohio State got off the mat and drilled Iowa at home but then got bullied in the paint at Illinois before last night's lackluster performance in Bloomington saw the Buckeyes get beat on the glass by six, allow 50% shooting across the board and misfire on 14 of their 19 three-point tries. 

Interestingly, even as Ohio State still has KenPom's No. 8 adjusted offensive efficiency mark, its January shooting struggles are evident. The Buckeyes made just 43.8% of their two-point shots in January after hitting on 55.5% in December. That mark is magnified by a 38.9% accuracy from the paint (not within 4.5 feet of the rim) after hitting on 49.2% of those attempts in December. The drop off from the beyond the arc hasn't been quite as bad but still, OSU shot 39.6% from deep in January after posting a 42.7% mark in December. Ohio State shot over 50% from the floor just once the entire month, connecting on 56.3% of its shots in the blowout of Iowa. 

Making adjustments at halftime and winning the second half also proved a tall task. Ohio State was outscored in the final 20 minutes in seven of nine January contests for a total deficit of 26 points. That number received a boost with the Buckeyes posting a 14-point second half edge in the win over Iowa. Ohio State and Indiana each scored 40 points in last night's double-digit OSU loss. 

Winning the backboards was also a tough chore in January. In the seven losses this month, OSU lost the glass five times, only outrebounding Minnesota (+7) and Rutgers (+2). Purdue grabbed 10 more rebounds than the Buckeyes while Maryland and Illinois posted lopsided 14-rebound advantages. Of course this was expected to be a problem even before Key's injuries. 

You can decide for yourself how much luck has factored in to the January woes but KenPom does have Ohio State as the No. 363 luckiest team - good for last place. 

No matter how you slice it or where you want to place blame, Ohio State is in its biggest hole of the Holtmann era and time is running out to turn things around. Maybe a fresh month can mean a fresh start. 

Currently 12th in the league standings, the Buckeyes have 10 regular conference season games left. At 3-7 in conference play, it will take some work to make a run at even a .500 record. To finish a cool 10-10, Ohio State (Ken Pom #27) would need to go 7-3 against this slate: 

  • Wisconsin (KP #72)
  • @Michigan (KP #58)
  • Northwestern (KP #42)
  • Michigan State (KP #41)
  • @Iowa (KP #36) 
  • @Purdue (KP #4)
  • Penn State (KP #52)
  • Illinois (KP #24) 
  • Maryland (KP #32) 
  • @Michigan State (KP #41)

I'll leave the predictions to the experts but there's no question this group needs to find itself in a hurry to avoid missing the Dance for the first time since Holtmann's arrival. At this point, posting the program's first losing season since Jim O'Brien's last team went 14-16 in 2003-04 doesn't feel completely off the table. 

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