It may be hard to believe, but Ohio State has actually had a good basketball season so far. The Buckeyes sit at 21-7 and hold an 11-5 record in unquestionably the toughest basketball conference in the country this year. They're ranked in the top 16 in both the Coaches and the AP Poll Top 25s, will likely be seeded no lower than a 5 or 6 seed in the NCAAs, and as of Monday morning, have an outside chance of winning another share of a regular season Big Ten title. That is, in most metrics, a good season.
And yet you'll be hard pressed to find folks who have really enjoyed it. Despite their lofty preseason ranking, few seriously expected Ohio State to actually compete for a national title. Their rankings at the moment can't really be held as a colossal disappointment, like say, Kentucky's. With the Big Ten's leading scorer in Deshaun Thomas, you can't really say the Buckeyes are short on star power either. And yet across the Internet, from Buckeye beat writers to fans to bloggers, the general mood about this team is more about trepidation and worry than enjoyment. Why are folks not enjoying this basketball team? Why hasn't this season been fun?
It's true, there have certainly been a few rough moments. Virtually all remaining Buckeye bandwagoners bailed after the Jan 5th debacle at Illinois, where Ohio State was summarily blasted 74-55, causing some to openly wonder if they'd even make the NCAAs. February 17th date at Wisconsin, a game the Buckeyes desperately needed after dropping games to Michigan and Indiana and barely getting past Northwestern was another low point, as the Buckeyes were completely run out of the gym, 71-49. Ohio State has let a few bad teams hang around a little longer than needed, from their two dates with Northwestern, to road trips to Penn State and Northwestern, even an early season struggle with Winthrop, a squad that is now under .500 in the Big South.
Still, virtually every team struggles with an undermanned squad or lays an egg over the course of a long season. Ask Duke, who lost by roughly a billion points in their first meeting with Miami. Or Michigan, who not only let Penn State hang around, they actually *lost* to them. Kansas was beaten by TCU, a school that many were unsure still had a varsity basketball team. The beat goes on; I'm a little skeptical that a few poor showings have slowed OSU's popularity. Even the more dominating squads of the last two years had a few off nights.
One reason for the general ennui may be the fact that Ohio State is not playing a cosmetically attractive brand of basketball. Outside of sporadic SLAM THOMPSON DOT GIF flashes of greatness, the Buckeyes do not get up and down the court, do not bury the opposition in a flurry of threes and dunks, and if Thomas is struggling, they'll often go for long stretches without making field goals. Ohio State wins games thanks to very effective perimeter defense, and timely, if not pretty, scoring. Granted, that's still effective, as Ohio State beat top 5 Michigan and Michigan State squads, and was right there with Duke, Kansas, Michigan (again) and Michigan State (again) at the end of the game. Still, there is no Diebler raining down threes, there isn't a charismatic low post threat, or even a likely first round draft pick playing right now. This is a team built to win 59-56, which isn't always the most accessible product for television.
Fans may also become a bit spoiled by Matta's unprecedented run of of success. After a string of league titles, 20+ win seasons and a slew of first round NBA draft picks, perhaps our mindset has shifted so much that we expect excellence, and a 4th place finished in a stacked Big Ten is now seen as a failure. I don't personally subscribe to this view, as I'm not so far removed from the pre-Matta days to remember where an NCAA birth alone was cause of celebration, but I can see where people are coming from there.
The most likely reason though, has nothing to do with the basketball team at all, but with Urban Meyer. No matter how good Ohio State performs on the hardwood, this is a football school. After a 12-0 season and a highly touted recruiting class under his belt, expectations are sky high for Meyer and the football team, which is sucking energy and excitement that might go to the basketball team. Even if Ohio State beats Indiana on the road tomorrow, an article about 2014 recruiting will probably do better traffic numbers and get more comments just about everywhere on the Ohio State-sphere.
I'm guilty of this too, as are most folks who aren't absolutely die-hard college basketball fans, and it's a bit of a shame. This season's squad may not be as impressive on paper as some some of the squads during the Sully or Oden eras, but this is still an impressive team in their own right. We're getting to watch one of the most athletic players in recent memory, one of the best point guards in Ohio State, if not Big Ten history, and a dynamic scorer who could change a game by himself. Given the relative parity of college basketball this season, a Sweet 16 or beyond run would certainly not be impossible.
I attended tiny American University before I transferred to Ohio State, a lonely outpost in Patriot League, near the lowest of the low majors. I saw a lot of bad basketball. I even survived noon tipoffs against Navy and Army in a glorified high school gym that wasn't even half full. Getting on ESPN the Ocho or whatever other tiny TV station was a big event, and having even a sniff at postseason play back back then would have been a milestone campus event.
It's tempting, but you don't want to take this sort of thing for granted. For all our worrying and fretting about Amir Williams and the lack of a second scorer, this Buckeye team still has the chance to do some great things this spring.
Let's try to enjoy what we have while we have it. Urban and company will take care of the fall soon enough.