It has been just 37 days since Dec. 15, 2019. Yet, for the Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball team, that day a little more than a month ago, might as well have been a different millennium. Before the Buckeyes and Minnesota Golden Gophers took to the floor at Williams Arena in Minneapolis that day, Chris Holtmann’s OSU team was 9-0 overall and 1-0 in the Big Ten, and on the verge of becoming the top-ranked team in the AP Poll, having already ascended to that spot in Ken Pomeroy’s revered analytical rankings.
In the game, the Buckeyes were dominated from the field, shooting only 38.3 percent to the Gophers’ 54.4. Since then, OSU has gone 3-and-5 overall and just 1-and-4 in the Big Ten, falling completely out the AP Top 25.
On Thursday night, the Buckeyes will look to regain some semblance of the winning ways that got them out to one of the most exciting starts in recent program history. However, to do that, they are going to need to turn around three troubling trends that have kept them on a downward slide for more then a month.
However, there is cause for at least a little optimism; as Bill Landis from The Athletic noted, this isn’t the first time that the Buckeyes have seen a dramatic January decline. But, after losing five games in a row in January last season, they were able to bounce back and make the tournament, so all is not lost for Team 121.
Comparing some numbers from Ohio State's January 2019 slump to this year's January slump.— Bill Landis (@BillLandis25) January 18, 2020
Couple common threads: Turnovers, 3-point defense, putting other teams on the FT line.
But it all basically looks very similar. pic.twitter.com/dofgbyascb
1.) Shoot the ball better
In the first nine games of the season, the Buckeyes shot an impressive 49.3 percent from the field, and an even more eye-popping 41.3 percent from behind the 3-point arc. Since that fateful loss to the Gophers last month, Holtmann’s crew has gone 41.8 percent from the floor and only 35.6 percent from downtown.
With the calendar flipping to the new year, obviously the competitiveness of the schedule increases with the onslaught of the meat of the B1G slate. So, a dip in shooting percentage is not completely without legitimate cause, but the problem is exacerbated by the fact that the exact opposite has happened to OSU’s opponents.
They have gone from shooting 33.3 percent from the field and 29.3 percent from distance in OSU’s first nine games to shooting 42.5 percent overall and 36.6 percent from beyond the arc in their last nine games.
Again, the improvement of B1G competition plays a part here, and when you look at the percentages for the nine games since the Minnesota loss (OSU: 41.8 and 35.6 | Opp.: 42.5 and 36.6), they aren’t that different. But, perhaps an even bigger factor in this equation is that the Buckeyes are simply taking fewer shots than they had been.
In the first month of the season, OSU was averaging 27.4 shots per contest (9.6 from three), but since, they are only getting up 22.2 and 8.1 respectively. Between plummeting percentages and tumbling totals, that’s not a recipe for success. Fortunately, the Gophers have allowed the fifth most shots of any B1G team this season, and the sixth best opponents’ shooting percentage.
2.) Stop turning the ball over
The shooting slump is not the only thing that the Buckeyes have been doing poorly since the first month of the season. Due to OSU’s relative youth (only one scholarship senior on the roster, and a whole host of freshmen and sophomores starting and contributing), there is no surprise that they have had some issues holding onto the ball at times this season.
However, things seem to have switched following that Gopher game. Coming into the contest, OSU was giving the ball away 11.6 times per outing; a number that would have them at second in the conference if they were still averaging it today. But since Dec. 15, they are giving it away at a 15.1 turnover-per-game clip.
On the season, the Buckeyes are only causing 13.1 turnovers per outing, so their 13.8:13.1 turnover:takeaway ratio is third worst in the conference, with a -0.7 turnover margin per game. OSU is also struggling in the assist-to-turnover department as well. With 258 assists and 248 turnovers, they are currently sitting at 1.04:1, for fourth worst in the league.
Fortunately, Minnesota is one of two teams in the B1G (along with Michigan State) who has a worse turnover margin this season at -0.8.
3.) Help a brother out
One of the more frustrating aspects of the Buckeyes’ recent losing ways has been seeing how little support that the team has give to Kaleb Wesson. Easily one of the best five to 10 big men in the country, the younger Wesson brother is undoubtedly the best offensive weapon that the Buckeyes have.
While his attempts and makes have declined a little in the last nine games, that’s not really the biggest issue with Kaleb’s usage. In the first month, he was averaging 14.1 attempts and 6.5 field goals per 40 minutes. In the subsequent nine games, he’s averaging 13.1 attempts and six FGs, so still in the same relative neighborhood.
But, where the change has been most impactful is in how much of the offensive weight that he’s been asked to shoulder. In the first nine games, Kaleb Wesson was averaging 14.1 points per game, and accounting for 17.45 percent of OSU’s scoring. Since then, he’s putting up 15.2 points per outing, which translates to 22.72 percent of his team’s points.
His 80 attempts from the field in the first nine games were 15.97 percent of the Buckeyes’ shots, while his 92 since then are 19.25 percent of OSU’s total. Not only has the talent increased as the Bucks have gotten into the Big Ten schedule, but the size has as well. So, as Kaleb is asked to carry more responsibility in the offense, he is also taking an increased beating physically.
While his new svelte physique is probably built for more of a beating, if Holtmann wants to ride his big man down the stretch, it would be helpful if someone else stepped up now in order to give Kaleb a little bit of unofficial load maintenance.
Fortunately, the Gophers have allowed multiple double-digit scorers in all six of their B1G games since beating Ohio State on Dec. 15, including two games in which three opposing players scored 10 or more, and two more games in which four players went for double-digits.