“Obviously it was a concern coming into the season, not only our depth, but our ability to manage that. We have to challenge our guards to make better decisions in some of those situations.”
Ohio State basketball suffered its second-straight loss Sunday against Michigan and, with the losses, some serious cracks seemed to emerge in Chris Holtmann’s lineup. The Buckeyes don’t actually have a true point guard, and that lack of depth has had serious consequences over the last week.
C.J. Jackson and Andrew Dakich, both of whom would normally have been shooting guards, have filled the role of de facto point guard for much of the season. However, that position is not one which comes naturally to either player. Jackson has shown flashes of greatness this season, and Dakich has been a contributor in limited minutes as a grad transfer, but neither is meant to be a player who anchors the Buckeyes’ offense— something that the likes of Michigan and Penn State have been able to exploit in their recent wins.
Both Michigan and Penn State are good teams that the Buckeyes had to face on the road, so it was expected that Ohio State would have tough matchups regardless. However, both opponents were able to capitalize on the lack of depth at the point guard spot. Ohio State had just eight assists Sunday against Michigan, with none from players at the point guard position. Versus Penn State, Jackson and Dakich had just three combined. Neither guard has been shooting well in their last two outings either. Jackson had a team-high 13 points against Penn State last week, but managed just three at Michigan. Dakich didn’t score a single point in either game.
Still, all hope is not lost for the Buckeyes. They are a lock for the NCAA Tournament and, despite being out of the top spot in the Big Ten, should have a high seed in the conference tournament. That means that Holtmann has time to make adjustments and shift his strategy--something that he has been able to do successfully all season.
“But Ohio State has also invested in some talented behind-the-scenes staff members who are tasked with reinforcing that message in different ways--from a presence on social media all the way down to unusual graphics edits that feature the recruits and make it easier to picture them in scarlet and grey.”
Urban Meyer and company have built up one of the most extensive and powerful recruiting pipelines in college football over the past several years, leading to some of the top recruiting classes in program history. While their on-the-field success has been the main factor leading to recruits choosing the program (along with the chance to win national titles and go on to the NFL, all while receiving a world-class education and mentoring through programs like “Real Life Wednesdays”), Ohio State has been highly successful at marketing its football program to recruits in new and innovative ways, including using social media and improved graphical elements in its materials.
For instance, the Buckeyes’ lineage of cornerbacks in recent years has been prolific. Starting with Bradley Roby and moving through Eli Apple, Gareon Conley and Marshon Lattimore (and, in just a few months, Denzel Ward), Ohio State penciled in four-star cornerback recruit Sevyn Banks to a graphic featuring the series of cornerbacks. The message is clear: Not only does Ohio State produce NFL-level talent, the program makes first-round draft picks at the position you play. Ohio State leveraged similar graphics to tout the lineage of Ohio State’s defensive line, going as far back as Bill Willis.
One of Meyer’s mantras has been the familial bond of brotherhood present throughout the program. One of the graphics this year featured not one, but two of the top-rated offensive linemen in this year’s recruiting class with the tag “La Familia,” demonstrating the brotherhood that begins even before players set foot on campus.
Finally, it doesn’t hurt that LeBron James, one of the top athletes in the world, is an Ohio State fan who is known to attend high-profile games. The Buckeyes leveraged James’ likeness in a graphic for four-star linebacker K’Vaughan Pope.
“The reality is that if you go through a power conference unscathed, then you’ve got one heck of a team. And by unscathed I mean...a loss or two.”
With two losses in their last two outings, Ohio State hoops is no longer in control of its own destiny in the Big Ten. After defeating Purdue last week in a battle of top-five heavyweights, Michigan State finds itself atop the conference standings for the first time since early January. And, with just two games left against Illinois and on the road at Wisconsin, it doesn’t look like Sparty will relinquish its hold of the regular season conference title this year.
Ohio State and Purdue sit one game back from Michigan State with the Big Ten Tournament scheduled to start next week in Madison Square Garden. Before that, the Buckeyes face a tougher-than-expected Rutgers squad tomorrow and Indiana later this week to close out the regular season. Purdue, meanwhile, goes on the road against the Illini before returning home to face Minnesota.
Michigan and Penn State, while three and five games back, respectively, suddenly have emerged as dark horses for the Big Ten Tournament title, with Penn State even in the conversation as a bubble team for the NCAA Tournament. Both teams were able to contain junior forward Keita Bates-Diop who, prior to the Buckeyes’ outing versus Penn State Thursday, had been the conference’s leading scorer.
Ohio State still has a shot at the conference title, but Michigan State certainly looks better than it did when the Spartans came to Columbus in January. The Buckeyes last earned a share of the title in 2012, when they were in a three-way tie with Michigan and Michigan State to conclude the regular season, and last won an outright championship in 2011. With tough, mid-seed competition expected in the NCAA Tournament, the Buckeyes will have work to do to get back on track to where they were just 11 days ago when they defeated Purdue in West Lafayette.
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