Listen, the last week has been rough, I won’t deny that at all. Less than 24 hours after the No. 2 Ohio State football team’s loss in the Fiesta Bowl, the Ohio State Buckeyes’ men’s basketball team took the court in Cleveland as the No. 2 team in the nation and were promptly picked apart by the West Virginia Mountaineers and their chaotic press defense 67-59.
Five days later, the Buckeyes returned home to take on an 8-5 Wisconsin Badgers team that was already seeing its NCAA Tournament hopes slip through their fingers. Ohio State was unable to corral the Badgers in Columbus, losing that one as well, 61-57.
As it stands, the Buckeyes are 11-3 overall and 1-2 in conference play. It won’t get any easier either, with their next two games being on the road at No. 15 Maryland and Indiana. Ohio State has fallen to No. 11 in the AP Poll after many were declaring them the best team in the country just a few weeks ago.
Ahh and the injuries. Musa Jallow, one of the best all-around defenders on the team, had ankle surgery before the season began and is likely to redshirt, meaning that he will not return this year.
Justin Ahrens is continuing to recover from a back injury that originated from a weight room accident over the summer. He is averaging just 2.8 points in 10.8 minutes per game this season.
Duane Washington Jr. has only hit 11 of his 34 shots (32%) since returning from a mysterious rib injury. In the loss versus Wisconsin he took 19 shots, but only hit six of them. He has looked like a shell of the dynamic playmaker and scorer that we saw before the injury.
Most recently — and probably most importantly — Kyle Young had his appendix surgically removed following the West Virginia loss, and he is still day-to-day according to head coach Chris Holtmann. Wisconsin grabbed 12 offensive rebounds in their win over the Buckeyes, but it is hard to believe that they would have gotten that many had Young been on the floor on Friday night.
The injuries are piling up, losses are finally starting to happen, and the schedule is about to take a sharp right turn into the meat of Big Ten play. You-know-what is starting to hit the fan in Columbus. This young Buckeye team is about to show us if they’re going to sink or swim.
With all that said...breathe.
Ohio State fans were definitely spoiled early on as the Buckeyes soared up the AP Poll rankings and racked up win after win against top-10 opponents. This is a very talented team, however they probably aren’t the best team in the country. North Carolina seemed like a good win, but in hindsight Ohio State definitely needed to win that game. Kentucky is solid, but nowhere near as good as John Calipari’s Wildcats typically are.
When you feel like you’re bulletproof, a few losses may make it seem like the sky is falling. But. I can assure you, that is not the case.
First, have you not noticed the parity in college basketball this season? Early in December, I wrote a piece on how all the teams suck. We’ve already had six different teams climb to the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll, because nobody can seem to hang onto it. Top-five teams have lost so many times that it’s hard to count. With all that said, would anybody really be shocked if a 6-seed or a 7-seed won the national championship come March?
Yes, seeding in the tournament is important, and Ohio State should want to win as many games as possible to get a geographically-friendly placement (Cleveland is a possible landing spot for first weekend games this year). Traveling across the country to Salt Lake City or Tulsa adds additional difficulty to an already compressed tournament schedule, so the Buckeyes should want to stay close to home, if possible.
But what is more important than their record is that the Buckeyes make sure they’re playing their best basketball in late February/early March, when the Big Ten Tournament ends and the NCAA Tournament starts. Look no further than John Beilein’s Michigan teams the past few years to see the blueprint of a team getting hot at the right time.
During the 2016-17 season, Michigan went 10-8 in Big Ten play, an average season in every sense of the word. They went into the B1G tournament as the 8-seed due to tiebreakers, but promptly beat Illinois, Purdue, Minnesota, and Wisconsin to win the B1G tourney. They became the lowest seeded team (8) to win the tournament, and rode that wave all the way to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament.
During the 2017-18 season, Michigan went 13-5 in Big Ten play, finishing two full games behind the Buckeyes and entered the B1G tournament as the 5-seed. They ran the table in the tournament, knocking off Iowa, Nebraska, Michigan State, and Purdue en route to their second consecutive B1G Tournament championship, and became the first 5-seed to win the B1G Tournament.
Their hot streak earned them a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where they rode that momentum all the way to the championship game, where they eventually lost to Villanova.
When you hit a bump in the road, it is important to keep things in perspective. Here are the facts we can not overlook:
- Ohio State is 11-3 despite two straight losses.
- Ohio State is 1-2 in conference play, with 17 games to go. Seventeen.
- Young, Washington Jr., and Ahrens are getting healthier every day.
- Ohio State is the best defensive team in the B1G.
- Holtmann is one of the best coaches in the country at making adjustments when necessary.
- Ohio State has proven that they can hang with the best of the best already, when healthy.
- With no elite teams in the country, the NCAA tournament is going to be a crapshoot anyway. As long as you’re there, you’ve got as good of a chance as anyone... but let’s get there first.
It’s really easy to panic when the hype around this team has been as great as it has been. Most home games are already sold out. People want to sharpie the Buckeyes into their Final Four and book their trips to Atlanta. Heck, I’m one of them!
But it is only January. And this is the most talented team Columbus has seen in several years. Let’s give Holtmann credit for their great start, and see how the rest of the Big Ten schedule pans out before we fall into an episode of mass hysteria.
Because there is so much basketball still to be played.