We've reached the portion of the college basketball season where the good teams separate themselves from the rest of the pack. If March and April are when the actual championships are won, February is when the cream begin to distinguish themselves from the crop.
Under Thad Matta, Ohio State has fallen under the "cream" category in just about every year. The Buckeyes have prevailed in nearly 71 percent of their games from February through the Big Ten tournament under Matta. Here are the year-by-year February-through-Big-Ten-tournament marks for Matta-coached Ohio State teams:
It comes as no surprise that some of the better Buckeye teams in recent memory posted the top records from February through the Big Ten tournament. The 2006-07 unit swept the Big Ten regular season and tourney crowns and had its 22-game winning streak snapped in the NCAA final. In 2009-10 and 2010-11, Ohio State claimed both the regular season and tournament trophies in Big Ten play. The 2005-06 team won the Big Ten regular season crown and fell in the title game of the conference tournament. The 2012-13 Buckeyes closed their regular season with eight straight victories (four over ranked opponents) and secured the program's then-record fourth Big Ten tournament championship.
The lone Matta-coached Ohio State outfit in control of its own fate that failed to qualify for March Madness was the 2007-08 squad, perhaps not coincidentally the only Matta team to finish under .500 from February through Big Ten tournament play. (The 2004-05 Buckeyes were barred from competing in the NCAA tournament due to violations under previous coach Jim O'Brien.)
The 2007-08 Buckeyes were razed by NBA departures, some of which were predictable (Greg Oden, Mike Conley) and others, (Daequan Cook) that were unforeseen. Seniors Ivan Harris and Ron Lewis were key contributors from the 2006-07 team that ran out of eligibility. The 2007-08 team was 15-6 (6-2 B10) entering February and finished the season 19-13 (10-8), winning the National Invitation Tournament.
The current Buckeyes appear to be a slightly worse version of the 2007-08 team. The 2015-16 squad is without the services of D'Angelo Russell, the No. 2 overall pick in the June draft, as well as Anthony Lee, Trey McDonald, Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott, and Amir Williams, each of whom exhausted their eligibility after last year. Following their five-point setback to visiting Maryland Sunday, the current Buckeyes now own a record of 14-9 (6-4 Big Ten) as the calendar flips to February.
The 2015-16 season is shaping up to be an outlier season for Ohio State. The Buckeyes fail to make an appearance in the latest NCAA tournament field projections compiled by SB Nation, ESPN, and CBS. Ohio State is 1-6 in seven games against teams ranked in the top 50 of KenPom.com's efficiency rankings. The Buckeyes' remaining schedule is no joke either, with four games remaining vs. top 50 KenPom teams, including a home-and-away set with Michigan State (KenPom's No. 6 team) and a home date with Iowa (No. 2) to close the regular season.
Ohio State's margin for error is extremely slim these days. Out of 351 Division I teams, the Buckeyes rank 235th in scoring offense, 241st in turnover margin, and 305th in free-throw percentage. It would be difficult enough for a veteran Ohio State team that does not score consistently, does not take care of the ball, and can't convert free throws at an acceptable rate to embark on the program's typical winter sprint to the finish of the regular season; the current Buckeyes are attempting to do just that while regularly playing four sophomores and five freshmen. Given its clear shortcomings and a laborious remaining schedule, finishing strong and pushing for an NCAA berth is probably too much to ask of the current group.