Earlier this week, our Connor Lemons wrote an article cautioning Ohio State Buckeyes’ fans not to panic because of the recent poor play from the 11th-ranked men’s basketball team. I think that he is absolutely correct in his assessment, but I also think that the basketball Buckeyes might have hit rock bottom against the No. 12 Maryland Terrapins on Tuesday night, and that is not a completely terrible thing.
In a 67-55 loss — the Buckeyes’ third in a row — Chris Holtmann’s team struggled in three key areas that are all more than slightly interconnected; shooting, passing, and ball security.
In OSU’s first 12 games, in which they went 11-1, the team was shooting 49.1 percent from the field and an impressive 40.9 percent from behind the three-point arc. Obviously the competition has improved against No. 17 West Virginia, Wisconsin, and No. 12 Maryland, but during their three-game losing streak, the Buckeyes are shooting just 34 percent from the floor, including 26.76 percent from distance. Against the Terps on Tuesday night, Ohio State shot a dismal 5-for-27 (18.5%) from downtown.
It’s also important to remember that the Buckeyes are still playing defense in at least similar fashion to how they were earlier in the season. In their three-straight losses, they are only giving up 65 points per game, and their opponents are shooting just 41 percent from the field. If they can get their shooting at least somewhat back to where it had been before the collapse, their defense should be able to do the rest.
In their first 12 games, the Bucks were averaging 15.75 assists per contest. Conversely, they were averaging 12.7 turnovers per outing, but against the ‘Eers, Badgers, and Turtles, OSU collectively had 10 assists to 16.3 turnovers. That means that in their first 12 games, OSU had a 1.24-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, but since, they are 0.61:1.
Against Maryland, Kaleb Wesson and Andre Wesson had 29 pf OSU’s 55 points, with D.J. Carton adding 14 of his own. The rest of the team had just 12 collective points.
But, with all of that recent awfulness acknowledged, the good thing about hitting rock bottom is that there is only one way to go. And, if you look at it from the recovery and treatment perspective, rock bottom is the catalyst to making dramatic changes, and even though OSU faces the 11-3 Indiana Hoosiers at 12 noon ET on Saturday, Jan. 11, it might be time for them to rebound back into their early season form.
Now, just to be clear, I’m not equating a rough few weeks of collegiate basketball to individuals struggling with addiction, but what I am saying is that it is bound to get better, and it might be happening soon for the Buckeyes.
Young teams will gel
The turnovers have been a bugaboo for a big part of the season, but it’s important to remember that in many ways, this team is still figuring out how to play together. Yes, their three leaders in minutes per game are upperclassmen, but behind the Wesson brothers is CJ Walker, who is in his first season as a Buckeye following his transfer from Florida State. Also, despite playing 25 minutes on Tuesday, it was announced that he would be questionable against Maryland because he had been ill coming into the game.
While he has a strong 1.81:1 assist:turnover ratio, he hasn’t yet exhibited the command of the offense that you would want to see from a veteran point guard. However, he has shown progress in that respect and at times has shown flashes of being the leader that this team desperately needs in the front court.
This is also true when it comes to the five underclassmen playing double-digit minutes every outing. As the season progresses, and the freshman adjust to the collegiate level, and the sophomores adapt to their roles, there is reason to believe that the young players on the team will get better at withstanding the pressure of Big Ten defenses as well.
Young man coming back?
Kyle Young sat out for his second consecutive game on Tuesday night, and when you factor in that he had an appendectomy immediately following the WVU game, you can give him a pass there too. But, he warmed up with the team in College Park, and Holtmann called him day-to-day at his Monday press conference. So, it is reasonable to assume that he will be back sooner rather than later.
Now, Young isn’t the second coming of Jim Jackson, Greg Oden, D’Angelo Russell, Keita Bates-Diop, or any other of the best Buckeyes in recent-ish memory, but he is a vital role player who does all of the little things for Ohio State, and cleans up for the rest of the team. He’s shooting 70.2 percent from the field this year, and averages 8.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.
On a team that lacks an inside presence not named Kaleb Wesson, Young’s availability is incredibly important for Ohio State. Not only does he shoot an insanely high percentage, because he rarely venture outside the lane, but he also allows the Buckeyes different options in offensive schemes and floor spacing.
If and when he returns, this should dramatically improve the Buckeyes’ play. The three and a half days off might also help Duane Washington Jr. who just hasn’t been himself since coming back from missing two games with a mysterious rib injury. Before sitting out against Minnesota and Southeast Missouri State, Washington was shooting a whopping 53.7 percent from beyond the arc. Since, he is 6-of-20 (30%).
Getting these two starters back to as close to 100 percent as possible will be a big bonus for the Buckeyes.
Chris Holtmann’s been here before
I think that it is often easy to forget just how challenging the 2018-19 season was for this basketball team, because of the fact that they won a game in the NCAA Tournament. But, let’s not forget that they lost their first five games in January last year, before winning four of their next five and eventually beating the Iowa State Cyclones in the first round of the Big Dance.
While February and March of 2019 still had more Ls than most Buckeye fans would normally be comfortable with, I think that it is important to remember that Holtmann has proven that he is a really good coach, especially when it comes to making adjustments and motivating his team.
Let’s be honest, last year’s squad had no business winning 20 games, and yet they did. Holtmann knows that his team is struggling right now, and as his team gets healthy (assuming that it does) I think that he has earned the confidence of Buckeye Nation.
I think that it is fair to ask whether or not I am viewing this shocking crater in the Buckeyes’ season through Scarlet and Gray colored glasses as I am often wont to do. Perhaps I am, but I watched the first 12 games of the season, and while I realize that many of the teams that they played in the first month or so of the campaign can’t compare to the ones that they are facing in conference, the Buckeyes’ ability to shoot and pass can’t completely disappear like it seems to have in the past week and a half.