After starting the season 11-1 and jumping to as high as No. 2 in the AP Top 25 poll, the Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball team has lost three in a row, is 1-3 in conference play, and has failed to score 60 points in three straight games. While the defense continues to be solid, the Buckeyes’ offense has gone stagnant for almost two weeks now.
After jumping out to an 8-0 lead against the No. 12 Maryland Terrapins on Tuesday night, the eleventh-ranked Buckeyes stalled on offense and couldn’t buy a bucket if their lives depended on it. The Maryland lead hovered between six and 10 points for most of the second half, which is by no means insurmountable, but seemed like it was so much more because of Ohio State’s stale offense.
Even when the Buckeyes got two or three defensive stops in a row, they couldn’t string together even the smallest of runs on the offensive end to cut into the Terps’ lead.
Something has to change on Saturday at Indiana in order to get Ohio State out of the funk that they’re in. The Indiana Hoosiers are 12-3 (2-2), but are a team that Ohio State should beat. They have an impressive non-conference win over Florida State on their resume, but also played very tight in wins over Northwestern and Nebraska, the two worst teams (arguably) in the Big Ten.
So, what can Chris Holtmann and the coaching staff do on Saturday to shake things up and get Ohio State going in the right direction? Here are a few ideas:
1.) Start D.J. Carton
I’m a bigger fan of CJ Walker than most people seem to be. I see the leadership that he brings to this team and how his new teammates listen to him. He’s a great passer and gets people involved. He’ll contribute six to eight points per game himself as well, and Holtmann doesn’t start Walker because he expects him to go out and drop 20 on any given night. All around he’s a very dependable point guard, but I wouldn’t consider him explosive or flashy.
With the above being true, it could be time Holtmann gives Carton the keys so that we can see what he’s capable of doing with starter’s minutes. Over the last three games, Ohio State is averaging 57 points and shooting 34 percent from the floor, including just 27 percent from three-point range.
Carton is all of the things that Walker is not, in fact he is almost a perfect foil (minus the left-handed part). He’s explosive, dynamic, and aggressive. He speeds up games and forces opponents to move quickly.
But, he also can be turnover-prone at times, and has looked overwhelmed in Ohio State’s losses to West Virginia and Wisconsin. However, he can also jump straight out of the gym:
Carton is averaging 10 points per game in just under 23 minutes per contest. He shoots 40 percent from 3-point range, fourth best on the team behind Duane Washington Jr. and both Wesson brothers. He also dishes out 2.7 assists per contest, which is second on the team behind only Walker. He also averages almost three turnovers per game, the worst among Ohio State’s guards.
The bottom line is that Ohio State needs offense desperately, and needs it right now. If Carton turns the ball over a few times, I think Holtmann can live with that if he is also getting 15-20 points per night from his freshman guard.
2.) Start Justin Ahrens
I told you that we were going to think outside of the box, didn’t I?
You can wipe this idea away when Kyle Young returns, because I don’t see a good fit with Ahrens in the lineup if you’re also starting Young, Andre Wesson, and Kaleb Wesson. But, if Young sits on Saturday, I don’t think that it would be the craziest idea to throw Ahrens into the fire and see what you get back.
Ahrens is a one-dimensional player right now, and that one dimension is that when he’s healthy he gives you a near-elite level shooter. He won’t drive to the basket, he’s not a great ballhandler, he’s not a strong defender, and he won’t pull down many rebounds.
But, if you get the ball to him on the outside, he will make teams pay. Last season, Ahrens shot 38.8 percent from deep. During a five-game stretch at the end of last season where he was in the starting lineup, Ahrens shot 44 percent from beyond the arc and averaged 10 points per game. He had a career-high with 29 points against Iowa on February 26, last season.
At a time when Ohio State desperately needs a spark, I really don’t see the downside of starting Ahrens alongside Carton, Washington Jr., and both Wesson brothers Saturday at Indiana. He doesn’t need to play 20 minutes, but getting a shooter in there to start the game and maybe give the Buckeyes an early boost is a bold move that Holtmann could make against the Hoosiers.
3.) Bring back the salmon suit.
Here’s the facts, folks. Ohio State is undefeated when Chris Holtmann wears that snazzy salmon-colored suit. Hhe’s worn twice now, and his players loved it, the fans loved it, and Twitter loved it.
Andre Wesson said the jacket had "a little drip" to it. I have no idea what that means, but I guess that's a good thing. https://t.co/WwB0gk0l83— Colin Gay (@ColinGay17) November 24, 2018
Both times happened to be in St. John Arena, but who is to say what caused the luck? Was it the suit that led to those wins, or did the historic nostalgia that accompanies St. John Arena carry the Buckeyes to victory? I’m not sure, but a 100 percent winning percentage looks pretty good to me. Here’s to hoping that that suit is on the bus to Bloomington this weekend.