I watched the Michigan State game in many phases on Saturday. The first phase, as Sparty opened up on a mighty run in the Breslin Center, going up 13-2, and thinking that this was the Basketball Karma that comes with running it up against Michigan two Sundays ago. The crowd in Lansing is used to this; even the few Michigan State teams that have been only "kind of good" have always had the chance to put their foot on the gas at the right moments. The first seven minutes of the game felt like that, as Sparty put their feet equally on the gas and on the Buckeyes' throats in running up the score.
The second phase, however, was much more appealing, as Ohio State completely flipped the script, combining staunch defense and clever offense to go on a 15-0 run of their own, and holding the Spartans scoreless for almost a matching seven minutes. The gut punch that was an odd 6:00pm start in a foreign building seemed to wear off for the Buckeyes, and they began to hit a similar stride to that they had against Michigan, and against Purdue.
The rest of the game lived in basically the same phase that all Ohio State-Michigan State basketball games have been since Thad Matta took over the program and began battling Tom Izzo. Back and forth, back and forth, leads exchanged, extended, reduced and shifted back. If you followed the game on Twitter, you would have read a lot about Deshaun Thomas taking the game over offensively, while the rest of the team let him do his thing. This came to an emphatic peak when his three ball brought the Buckeyes level with just under three minutes to play.
But, as we all know, the rest of the game was spent in phase four, where the Buckeyes simply couldn't muster enough offense (or any other offense, more correctly) to hang with Izzo's bunch and, despite a last ditch comeback effort (and a very poorly judged Shannon Scott shot), the Buckeyes were left in the same place as they were against Duke, Kansas and Illinois: on the wrong side of a final score.
Since Saturday, we're left with many different thoughts about the game and the future for the basketball Bucks. While Aaron Craft has shown marked improvement over the last few games, he cannot be the team's second best scoring option, second to Thomas, who has been otherworldly at times, needing only worldly efforts from his teammates to ensure victories. Those efforts have not been present in the Buckeyes' four defeats, to say the least, and despite being a very talented defensive team, they are a one-headed offensive monster, and that won't win you too many games in the Big Ten this year.
When the Football Buckeyes hit the meat and potatoes of their conference schedule, there were times when things seemed almost as bleak. Like when a crappy, crappy Purdue team taking them to overtime in their own house, while Braxton Miller, who had to that point been the be-all-end-all of the team's offensive efforts, was sitting three blocks away at the Ohio State Medical Center. Knowing that the schedule would only get more difficult, the Buckeyes gutted their way to an eighth win and finished undefeated.
The Basketball Buckeyes didn't grind out a win against Michigan State, which separated them from their counterparts in the Horseshoe, but there are several notable similarities between the two squads. Similarities that might mean good things for Matta's crew.
For starters, the football team was all but defined by their quarterback. His heroics (along with some other notable performances against Nebraska) were the driving force behind his Heisman narrative, and the most important factor in the Buckeyes going undefeated to that point in the season. We see similar things on the hardwood, as it has been Thomas's show for the majority of the Buckeye season, with other players' performances (Craft against Michigan, LaQuinton Ross against Long Beach State, to name two of the too few) only slightly taking that spotlight from Thomas.
Also similar is the makeup of the different teams' defenses. There were more than enough times that Buckeye fans would thumb their noses at the Silver Bullets, but the results still spoke for themselves, and the team was undefeated. The basketball team isn't undefeated, but it isn't because of their defense. In their four losses (and 13 wins), they have yet to give up 75 points in any game all year, and are averaging a stingy 58 points allowed per game.
The football schedule only got tougher for the Football Bucks, with road tilts against Penn State and Wisconsin on the horizon after the Purdue game. On the basketball side of things, it certainly doesn't get easy, either. Two games against top-10 Indiana are left, as well as a road trip to Ann Arbor, and home games against Minnesota, Michigan State and Indiana. The conference is very good this year, and the basketball schedule is back-loaded with one tough game after the other.
What Meyer's bunch did, and what Matta's must aspire to, is take the schedule head on and make necessary adjustments, and it starts with finding - and trusting - another offensive option. Matta, who was just extended through 2019, has never been one to use his bench like many think he should. But it only takes one big game to find your capable second scorer. Meyer found that in Carlos Hyde, and rode him to big wins in Penn State and against Michigan. Matta must find that option on his team, and must do so quickly. He must reflect on what Meyer did on the gridiron to drive this team to a successful run in the remaining Big Ten schedule.
The Basketball Buckeyes can't finish the same way as the Football Buckeyes, and I'm sure they all hate the comparison in general. But if they can learn from what the football team did just a few short months ago, they might have to opportunity to one-up the football team in March.