As you're probably aware, over the weekend, the Ohio State basketball team lost to another blueblood program, in an 82-74 loss to North Carolina in Chicago. The Buckeyes have now lost both games against elite competition this season, and their performance against the Tar Heels, where despite a solid comeback attempt in the second half, the outcome never really felt in doubt, has caused some Buckeye basketball fans to bring out the same Twitter talking points that they've used the last few seasons.
Let's not overreact. Let's not blame the same old, same old. In fact, let's take a closer look here.
Ohio State's out of conference schedule is not the problem here
This has been a popular critique of the team under Thad Matta, and on the surface, it's not hard to understand why. Ohio State scheduled only three teams from likely multi-bid conferences. They had a road trip to Louisville built in from the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the aforementioned UNC game as part of the Champions Classic, and a home game against Marquette, part of a previously scheduled home and home. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, the Golden Eagles, who are breaking in a new coach and are stuck in the roster transformation that comes with it, kinda suck this season. Marquette is 108 in KenPom, only 6-4, and despite wins over Arizona State, Tennessee and Georgia Tech, Marquette doesn't look like a postseason team right now. The Buckeye's nine point win isn't impressing anybody.
Just about every team schedules a few crappy low major teams to start the season. This year, Ohio State seems to have scheduled a slate that included a few particularly bad teams. North Carolina A&T is one of the worst teams in D1 by any metric. UMass-Lowell is ranked 299 in KenPom. Morehead State is 4-10. Miami (OH), yesterday's opponent, was ranked 274. There are some real dogs on this schedule, and perhaps only High Point, or maybe Wright State, is a likely threat to make a run at their conference's postseason spots.
But that doesn't matter at all.
First, fans clamoring for a schedule full of power teams don't understand how the constraints the program is under. Ohio State requires a large number of home games to meet their other budget obligations, as are lots of other power programs, which means getting a slate full of major conference teams is unrealistic. Ohio State still plays 2-4 "name" programs a season, and will have a tough slate next year, as they are slated to play Kentucky, Memphis, UConn and an ACC program.
There seems to be this idea that Ohio State struggled against Louisville or North Carolina because they weren't battle tested enough. Who is? Both Louisville and North Carolina are poor matchups for Ohio State, given their highly skilled big men, and length. Would Amir Williams not get eaten alive by Kennedy Meeks if Ohio State played Rhode Island and, I dunno, Washington, instead? It's hard to believe.
The truth is, Ohio State doesn't need to play a high volume of tough teams before Big Ten play. This is still a very young team, and once 2015 rolls around, they're essentially going to be playing nothing but teams in the KenPom top 100. They'll have more than enough chances to improve their tournament seeding in league play. Right now, Ohio State is playing a roughly comparable schedule to many Big Ten teams, and unlike Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State or Nebraska, Ohio State is actually clobbering their bad teams.
If you're a home season ticket holder, you can complain a little about a bad slate, or if you're dying for Matta to schedule Dayton, Xavier, or another bigger Ohio program. Otherwise, the schedule isn't the problem.
Ohio State isn't losing because of the zone
There seems to be a lot of chagrin about Ohio State's zone defense, with some blaming it for Ohio State's demise in their two big games, but the zone isn't going anywhere, nor is it the principle issue.
It's fair to say that primarily operating out of a zone does amplify some issues with Ohio State's team. It can put Ohio State, already a not-great rebounding team, into more difficult positions on the court to clean up the defensive glass, and they were exposed against Louisville and North Carolina. But, when executed properly, can prevent penetration, force teams into taking bad (and longer range) shots, and keep big men out of foul trouble.
Again, Ohio State is young. Leaving Russell, Williams, and others in a man-to-man situation can further expose them, and Ohio State's questionable frontcourt, leading to more easy basket opportunities. Ohio State has been effective most of the season in generating turnovers out of this defensive look as well, leading to transition baskets.
Fortunately for Ohio State, there aren't a ton of teams with the personnel to really blow up Ohio State's defensive front in the Big Ten. Wisconsin, Purdue and Iowa, with their big men, will be bad matchups, but given the pace of a lot of Big Ten games, forcing teams to beat you with superior longer range shooting seems like a safer bet, and playing zone extensively in the early season will make it more effective for when the games really count.
Ohio State is still a top 20 team in KenPom. They have tons of games remaining against quality teams. Right now, what we've learned is that Ohio State is not good enough to beat the fourth ranked team, and a preseason top ten team, away from home. Both games were blowouts early, ten narrowed considerably in the second half. Ohio State was not outclassed in either game. There's been nothing to indicate that this team isn't a tournament team, or even a Top 5 seeded one, based on this season so far.
So relax. This isn't a flawless team, and one that will probably continue to struggle against elite frontcourts, but there aren't a ton of those left. Enjoy D'Angelo Russell's growth and maturation, enjoy the Slam Thompson dot gifs, enjoy the growth of the other freshman, and enjoy what should still be a really good Ohio State basketball team.
You want basketball frustration? Talk to Michigan.
This? This is fine.