The 2013-14 Ohio State men's basketball team hasn't been one of Thad Matta's classic squads to say the least, but there are some flashes of hope heading into tournament time.
After finishing the non-conference a perfect 15-0, the Buckeyes have had a bumpy ride during Big Ten conference play. Five losses in six games during January had many Buckeye fans wondering if this team was even worthy of a tournament bid. Thad Matta's team appeared to have righted the ship in February, however. The Buckeyes won six out of seven games heading into a rematch against last place Penn State.
The Nittany Lions have proven to be Ohio State's kryptonite this season. Penn State defeated Ohio State 65-63 in State College, Pa to sweep the season series against the Buckeyes. If losing twice to the Big Ten bottom dwellers wasn't bad enough, the Buckeyes doubled that up with a 72-64 loss on the road against the Indiana Hoosiers on Sunday.
Long shooting droughts have plagued Ohio State (22-8, 9-8) all season and have allowed multiple inferior teams to compete deep into basketball games with the Buckeyes.
The Buckeyes shot 0-11 from long distance Sunday, which ended a streak of 367 consecutive games with a made three-point field goal.
The Buckeyes currently sit at sixth place in the Big Ten. They have not finished that low since Thad Matta's first season in Columbus (2004-05).
With one game remaining in the regular season, the Buckeyes are well served by the week off they have to prepare for an emotional senior day against the Michigan State Spartans. If the Buckeyes can take care of home court, they will finish with 10 conference wins and some momentum for the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.
It appears that Ohio State will have to play an opening round game in the Big Ten Tournament this year, but they can still lean on their previous experience and success in the event. The Buckeyes have made it to the championship round of the Big Ten Tournament in seven of the last eight years. Four of those appearances led to Big Ten Tournament titles.
Senior guards Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. have had the privilege of playing beside some tremendous players in their time at Ohio State. The two have never failed to reach the finals of the Big Ten Tournament and they certainly don't want this to be the year they fall short.
The Buckeyes also have to take solace in the fact that the team was beginning to figure things out before losing back-to-back road games against Penn State and Indiana.
Head coach Thad Matta said the team was rolling until Thursday night's letdown against the Nittany Lions.
It is back to the drawing board for now, but Ohio State is starting to get offensive contributions from players not named LaQuinton Ross.
Junior forward Sam Thompson has entered the Ohio State starting lineup and made a huge impact. He is averaging double figures in his last four ball games and said he liked where Ohio State was headed after defeating Minnesota at home Feb. 22.
Only time will tell if Ohio State's bench will give out enough production to propel the Buckeyes forward.
Freshman forward Marc Loving has clear talent and will be a force next season when an influx of new players will be hitting the Columbus campus. For now, Thad Matta will settle for some consistent bench scoring from his young front court player. Loving has five games of eight points or more during Big Ten play, but also has gone scoreless six times in the conference season.
Junior guard Shannon Scott has been another odd case this season. Scott was a huge piece in Ohio State's Elite 8 team just a season ago. His defensive pressure and speed with the ball causes opponents to speed up and change out of their game plans. However, an up and down season has him now coming off the bench to give the Buckeyes some much needed energy in the second unit.
There is much to be said about Ohio State's recent struggles being due to the physicality of the league. The Buckeyes score best when they are out in the open court, which is difficult to do in the slow-motion Big Ten. When the conference tournament ends, Ohio State will be playing a more free flowing style of basketball that could certainly benefit this offensively challenged squad.
Just a year ago, the rival Michigan Wolverines finished fifth in the Big Ten during the regular season and were outed in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament. That team was obviously bogged down by the half court style of the Big Ten. The Wolverines won five games in the NCAA Tournament en route to finishing as the national runner-up to the Louisville Cardinal.
The Buckeyes do not possess the offensive fire power of that Michigan team, but Ohio State still has a very reliable defensive team. Ohio State leads the Big Ten in scoring defense (58.8ppg) and is second in the conference in terms of field goal percentage defense (.401).
Ohio State will not win any beauty contests this year, but neither will the rest of the Big Ten's finest.
As Ohio State football kicks off spring practices this week, the basketball Buckeyes can still salvage some of the spotlight with a deep run in March.
Thad Matta has coached Ohio State to four consecutive Sweet 16 appearances, and you shouldn't be surprised if you see the Scarlet and Gray as one of the last teams standing again later this month.