This season, the most polarizing player on Ohio State's roster is junior Marc Loving. The team's leader in minutes is also the leading scorer, but has hit a rough patch as of late. It's no secret that the Buckeyes aren't exactly where they want to be right now, and it's Loving who's been getting the majority of the flack for that. While his play has suffered in a major way over the last five games, fans are pointing to his so called "lack of energy" as the cause of this, and henceforth, the reason OSU isn't playing well. Well, Loving's recent play certainly isn't helping the Buckeyes, but placing all the blame on him is utterly ridiculous.
Through 23 games, Loving is playing an average of 33 minutes a night while scoring 13.3 points per game shooting at a 40.6 percent clip from the floor. The 6-foot-7 shooting guard out of Toledo carries a true shooting percentage of .519, which is significantly down from last season's of .609. The dip in TS% can be attributed largely to shooting only 31 percent from behind the arc, after shooting a lights-out 46 percent last year. Overall, he's putting up career highs in counting stats, but he hasn't been as efficient as his sophomore campaign.
Despite being less efficient, Loving is still putting up solid numbers. However, over the last five games he's shooting a putrid 25 percent from the floor, including a 1-9 performance in the loss to Maryland on Sunday. In those games, OSU is 2-3 with wins coming against mediocre Penn State and Illinois teams, and has all but seen their chances of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament fly out the window.
With frustration mounting in the fanbase, Loving is currently playing the role of scapegoat, and that title really isn't warranted. On Sunday afternoon at The Schott, people yelled to get Loving out of the game while complaining how he doesn't look like he cares. Sure, he didn't play well, but yelling at him that he's lazy and doesn't want to win? That's absurd. In Sunday's loss, there were multiple instances where he forced shots way too early in the shot clock. At a crucial point late in the game, he drove to the basket for what would've been a game tying layup, and missed it point blank. He had a bad game to cap off a bad week, and there were a good amount of fans at the arena that reminded him of it. For a guy that's searching for confidence, I'm sure having the hometown crowd turn on him didn't help.
The truth is that Loving is being asked to play a role that he's probably not ever going to be capable of playing for a team that expects to be great. Loving is a very good shooter, but he's not built to be a team's first scoring option. Last year he was efficient because he complimented players like D'Angelo Russell and Sam Thompson. This year, being the team's top offensive threat, he's been inefficient because he's having to carry a bigger load. While it's true that he isn't playing well, it's also true that this roster simply doesn't have the high-caliber weapons they've had in recent years. JaQuan Lyle hasn't turned out to be the second coming of Russell. Keita Bates-Diop is developing nicely, but he hasn't yet stepped into the role of "the guy". Because of this, Loving has had to fill in.
Ohio State has had a tough season. That part isn't up for debate. Placing the blame on Loving is up for debate, though. There's no arguing that he hasn't been good lately. If the Buckeyes want to finish the season on a high note, then he is going to have to settle in, gain some confidence, and knock down jump shots. Barring a miraculous run to the Big Ten championship game, OSU most likely won't be involved in any March Madness this year. Still, the blame for that lies just as much on the rest of the roster for underperforming as it does on Loving and his stretch of poor play.