Many knew there were going to be some growing pains for this year's young Ohio State team, but not many could have predicted that Ohio State would lose four of their first six games this year. The latest loss for the Buckeyes came Tuesday night in Columbus, when Ohio State fell 64-58 to Virginia in the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The loss dropped Ohio State's overall record in the event to 6-7. The Buckeyes played tough throughout the game, never trailing by more than nine, but Malcolm Brogdon and the Cavaliers were just too much in the end.
Even though Ohio State is slumping right now, Marc Loving has stepped up as a leader on the offensive end for the Buckeyes. So far this year, Loving has hit double-digits in scoring in all six games, and currently leads the Buckeyes with 17 points per game. In the loss to Virginia, Loving registered 19 points, which has only been topped this season by the 25 points he scored last week in the loss to Louisiana Tech.
The junior from Toledo has picked up where he left off last season from behind the arc as well, hitting 41.9% of his three-point attempts. Loving joins Kam Williams and Austin Grandstaff as the only Ohio State players with at least 15 three-point attempts to be connect at 40% or better from long-range.
Tuesday's loss to Virginia continued a disturbing trend for this young Ohio State team. In each game this year, the Buckeyes have committed more turnovers than assists. For the season, Ohio State has committed 94 turnovers to only 70 assists. The main turnover culprit so far has been freshman point guard JaQuan Lyle, who has committed 20 turnovers already.
It's easy to point the finger at Lyle for the miscues, but it's also easy to understand as well, seeing as he has the basketball in his hands more than anybody else. The freshman has done some good things distributing the basketball, leading the Buckeyes with 5.8 assists per game. What Ohio State needs right now from Lyle is more consistency. If the Buckeyes can get the Lyle on offense that scored 18 points and dished out eight assists against both UT-Arlington and Memphis, they'll start gaining some momentum heading into Big Ten play.
Ohio State's opponent this afternoon will be a VMI team that is 3-3 so far this season. The Buckeyes and Keydets have squared off three other times, with Ohio State winning all three previous meetings in Columbus. Each of those meetings has seen Ohio State win by at least 33 points, with the last matchup between the schools coming in November 2011, where Ohio State won 107-74.
Following 10 years as head coach at VMI, Duggar Baucom left following last season to take the same position at The Citadel. Under Baucom, VMI became notorious for being the highest scoring team in the country. Beginning with the 2006-07 season, the Keydets were the top scoring team in the country. The Keydets also held that mark in the 2013-14 season, when they enjoyed once of their best seasons in school history, reaching the CIT Semifinals. Last year VMI took a step backwards, and were only able to amass a 11-19 record.
Baucom's replacement might be a name that is familiar to Ohio State fans. Former Penn State guard Dan Earl has taken over after spending beginning his coaching career as an assistant at Penn State under Ed DeChellis in 2006, and following DeChellis to Navy in 2011 to serve as associate head coach. Earl's first game as VMI head coach came against a familiar team, as the Keydets opened this season with a 62-50 loss to Penn State in State College.
Numbers to know
This afternoon's game will mark the 400th game as Ohio State head coach for Thad Matta. During that time Matta has accumulated a 301-98 record, and took the Buckeyes to two Final Fours. Add his previous coaching stops at Butler and Xavier and this will be Matta's 532nd overall game as head coach.
Through six games this year, Ohio State is only shooting 59.4% from the free throw line. The number is magnified even more since all four losses for the Buckeyes have come by eight points or less. After missing 14 free throws in the loss to UT-Arlington, Ohio State has started to cut down on some of their misses from the charity stripe, and against Virginia only missed four of their 12 free throw attempts.
Ohio State has a 12-1 record against current members of the Southern Conference. The three wins the Buckeyes have over VMI came when the Keydets were members of the Big South Conference. VMI was a member of the Southern Conference from 1925-2002 before moving to the Big South Conference, where they were a member from 2003-2014. The 2014-15 season marked the first season back in the Southern Conference for the Keydets. Ohio State will have a chance to add to their record against Southern Conference schools when they host Mercer on December 22nd.
Cast of characters
The big freshman is making a name for himself on defense and will only continue to become a better presence in the paint as he adjusts to the college game. Giddens already has three games in which he has recorded at least four blocks, and currently leads the Big Ten with 20 blocks through six games. While his blocks may get the headlines, Giddens is also a force on the offensive glass, with 15 of his 34 rebounds this year being offensive rebounds.
Tate nearly notched his second double-double of the season last time out, recording 12 points and eight rebounds in the loss to Virginia. The 12 points Tate scored was his second highest output of the season, only trailing the 21 points he put up in the season opener against Mount St. Mary's. The sophomore from Pickerington has also found his outside shot, as he has already hit four three-pointers this season after hitting just three during his freshman year.
If Ohio State wants to snap their losing streak, they'd be wise to stop Peterson. The junior leads the Keydets in scoring, averaging 20.2 points per game. Following the season opener against Penn State, where he went 3-18 from the field, Peterson has scored at least 18 point in each of VMI's five games since. The junior from West Virginia has been a proven scorer during his time for the Keydets, averaging at least 19 points per game in each of his first three years.
The only other Keydets player who is averaging double-figures in scoring so far this year is Julian Eleby, who is putting in 16.3 points per game. Eleby is a junior, but doesn't have quite as polished of a scoring track as Peterson, but is beginning to find his stroke. Last year as a sophomore, Eleby averaged 11.1 points per game for VMI. What has been most surprising about Eleby has been his three-point shooting. After shooting just 30% from behind the arc last year, Eleby has bumped that number up to 44.4% this year, hitting 12 of his 27 attempts.
How to watch
Game time: 4:30 p.m. ET
Radio: 97.1 The Fan
TV: Big Ten Network