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Ohio State basketball may have a self-identified leadership problem

Hopefully fixing it will stop this three-game skid...

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Penn State Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

“I’ve not been practicing hard enough and I can’t really speak for anyone else, but that’s kind of led to our performance in the game, and mine especially.”

-Ohio State senior point guard C.J. Jackson, via Adam Jardy, The Columbus Dispatch

Perhaps the pundits were right when they picked Ohio State to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten in basketball last season—at least it certainly looks that way as the Buckeyes are on a three-game skid with losses to No. 6 Michigan State, Rutgers and Iowa. Thus far this season, Ohio State is Rutgers’ only conference win. But this slide doesn’t tell the whole story for what has still been a surprisingly good team this year. Up until their loss to Michigan State last Saturday, the only blemish on the Buckeyes’ record was a 10-point defeat to Syracuse in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. Though Ohio State exhibited many of the growing pains of a young team, such as slow starts and easy turnovers, the team has been able to overcome its issues up to this point.

Part of the clear problem has been a lack of experience on the court. It was an inevitable result of losing most of the firepower from last season. Key returners include senior point guard C.J. Jackson, sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson and junior forward Andre Wesson. None of these players, with the exception of the younger Wesson at certain points, were heavily relied on for the team’s success last season.

That is going to have to change moving forward, and it starts with Jackson. The senior has already identified his leadership—especially in practice and in the weight room—as an area which needs improvement for the betterment of the team as a whole. While head coach Chris Holtmann agrees that there is currently a lack of leadership on the court, he’s been hesitant to put the mantle on Jackson solely, stating, “He doesn’t need to put all that on him. Other guys need to lead, but he knows why he came off the bench.”

“Obviously you want to open the score up just a little bit, just in case something crazy happens, so get a takedown or two.”

-Ohio State redshirt junior wrestler Kollin Moore, via Mike Welker, The Lantern

The toughest part of Ohio State’s wrestling schedule may still lie ahead, but it still helps to be undefeated almost halfway through dual match play with some solid wins under the belt. The No. 2-ranked Buckeyes earned a 37-4 win over Michigan State in Columbus Saturday to remain unbeaten on the year. Though the Spartans are not ranked themselves, the win comes off dual match defeats of Wisconsin (No. 10), N.C. State (No. 9) and Indiana.

Ohio State won 9-of-10 matches against the Spartans, the lone loss coming from true freshman Malik Heinselman at 125-pounds to the No.8-ranked wrestler in his class. Importantly, six of the nine wins earned crucial bonus points. Senior Joey McKenna (141-pounds), senior Myles Martin (194-pounds) and redshirt junior Kollin Moore (197-pounds), all of whom are ranked in the top-two of their respective weight classes, remained undefeated individually on the year. Martin faced an up-and-coming redshirt freshman in Cam Caffey at Michigan State, but Ohio State associate head coach J Jaggers acknowledged “That’s kind of the difference right there between a man, Myles, a senior kind of really knows himself and knows his wrestling…”

It’s critical that Ohio State accrue all the points it can get in coming weeks as it prepares for a showdown with No. 1 Penn State, the defending national champions, on Feb. 8 in Columbus. The Buckeyes won’t have much rest as they work to get there, as they are scheduled to face off against No. 6 Michigan, No. 19 Illinois and Northwestern. The latter two matches are on the road and on the same weekend, but Ohio State will take on its chief rival at Value City Arena next week. The Big Ten as a whole remains dominant on the wrestling scene, holding on to the top-two spots and six of the top-10 in the national rankings.

“If I didn’t have a Ryan Day, I’m going for a public search. But the guy’s a stud.”

-Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, via Dan Hope, Eleven Warriors

Urban Meyer was 37 years old when he coached his first game as a head coach with Bowling Green. He was 41 when he went to Florida. He was the hottest rising star in the coaching game, and was youthful by most college coaching standards. That’s because, back then, coaches were supposed to be older, seasoned and bringing significant experience at the FBS level—especially if they were to be considered for a head coaching role with a historical powerhouse.

That narrative is starting to shift, however. While certainly not the norm just yet, major programs seem to be looking to younger candidates to fill vacant roles, especially when those candidates come from within the program. Lincoln Riley’s hiring at Oklahoma was a surprise at the time not just because it marked the sudden end of the Bob Stoops era at Oklahoma, but also because Riley was just 33 at the time. Now, Ryan Day has become another example of a non-traditional coaching background being hired at a major program. Neither Riley nor Day have any previous head coaching experience. Neither rose through the ranks, spending time in FCS before taking on larger roles in the FBS with progressively bigger programs. Riley, at least, has found success in the college ranks, while coaches such as Sean McVay with the L.A. Rams have brought the trend successfully to the NFL.

As he prepares for his first season at the helm, Day is bringing on new coaches in the same spirit with which he himself was hired. Wide receivers coach Brian Hartline and special teams coordinator Matt Barnes are both just 32 years old. Al Washington, the recently appointed linebackers coach, is 34. Greg Mattison, the new co-defensive coordinator brought from Michigan, bucks this trend. At age 69, he brings 47 years of coaching experience to the staff, greatly increasing the average.