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Subpar guard play a big reason for Ohio State’s three-game skid

The Buckeye backcourt has not been playing at a high level.

NCAA Basketball: West Virginia at Ohio State Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

“The Buckeyes’ four-player backcourt rotation has been an escalating disaster since that 67-59 loss to WVU in Cleveland on Dec. 29. Either that or CJ Walker, D.J. Carton, Luther Muhammad and Duane Washington remain in a post-Fiesta Bowl funk from the football Buckeyes loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff...”

- Bruce Hooley, Sports Illustrated

A few short weeks ago, the Ohio State men’s basketball team seemed unstoppable. With only one loss on the year, the Buckeyes had just defeated No. 6 Kentucky — already their third victory over a AP Top 10 opponent on the season. The defense was playing like one of the best in the country, and the offense was moving the ball around and knocking down shots with ease from all over the floor. With a short holiday break before the team’s final non-conference against West Virginia, it looked as though OSU was in for a special year.

Unfortunately, the Ohio State team that returned from the eight-day layoff was one that took a drastic turn for the worst. After falling to West Virginia 67-59, the Buckeyes lost Kyle Young for an indefinite amount of time, needing surgery to remove his appendix. They followed up the Mountaineers loss with two-straight Big Ten defeats at the hands of Wisconsin and Maryland, and moved to 1-3 in conference play to begin the year. The defense has been nowhere near as locked in as they were previously, and the turnovers and shot-making have been nothing short of dreadful.

So what changed for the Buckeyes as the calendar flipped from 2019 to 2020? Well, a big reason for OSU’s struggles has been the play from its backcourt. All four of Ohio State’s guards have seemingly all hit a devastating slump at the exact same time. The same players that had come up big all season long — D.J. Carton, Luther Muhammad, CJ Walker and Duane Washington — have since disappeared.

Against the trio of ranked opponents in Villanova, North Carolina and Kentucky, that group of four players combined to score 123 points on 43-of-83 shooting (52 percent). In the team’s current three-game slide, those same players have combined to go 28-of-96 shooting (29 percent) while scoring 88 points. Washington really has not seemed himself since returning from a rib injury, while Muhammad has shot a paltry 1-of-14 from three-point range during the losing streak.

Young’s absence is obviously a big factor in the losses as well, as outside of his obvious large presence on both defense and in the rebounding game, his high-energy style of play seems to invigorate the team when he’s on the floor. However, until their big man is able to return, Ohio State’s guards must find a way to turn things around on offense. It is unclear whether Young will be cleared or not for the Buckeyes’ next outing, but either way Chris Holtmann and his squad will have to find a way to stop the bleeding when they take on Indiana on Saturday at noon.

“When I first went to Ohio State back in the spring time for practice, [Coach Mattison] was the first guy I talked to because I knew him right off the bat,” Latham told Trieu last weekend. “He was telling me how different Ohio State’s program was and how their facilities, practices, culture, all that was a lot better at Ohio State than Michigan.”

- 2021 OT J.C. Latham via Steve Lorenz, 247Sports

Recruiting is a tough business, especially when one of your assistant coaches moves from one school in the most heated rivalry in college football to the other side. Greg Mattison did just that when he chose to leave Michigan to join the Buckeyes, but there has been no questioning his allegiance to Ohio State since he joined the staff, and the job he did in helping to resurrect a defense that struggled mightily in 2018 was incredibly impressive.

As a man whose seen both sides, Mattison could be a key figure in any recruits decision when trying to choose between the two marquee Big Ten programs, and it appears as though he is using his unique perspective to lure recruits to Columbus and away from Ann Arbor. According to an interview with 247Sports analyst Allen Trieu, 2021 OT recruit J.C. Latham was told by Mattison that Ohio State is the superior program. The OSU assistant coach also told the four-star offensive lineman that he thinks Latham’s development would be “ten times better” with the Buckeyes rather than any other program.

Latham, a Wisconsin native, is a target for both the Big Ten schools, and as the No. 14 OT in the nation at 6-foot-5.5, 285 pounds, he would be a big addition to either team’s 2021 class. Currently, there are eight 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions for the o-lineman’s landing spot, with 62 percent of them leaning toward the Buckeyes.

Ohio State tight end Rashod Berry has accepted an invitation to play in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. A postseason all-star game for draft eligible players, the NFLPA provides a week-long experience that extends a chance for players to showcase their skills to NFL scouts and coaches. It aims to prepare participants for both the speed and intensity of professional football as well as the business and lifestyle changes that go along with it.

Berry was originally recruited to Ohio State to play defensive end, but made the switch to the offensive side of the ball before the 2017 season. Utilized mainly for his blocking, Berry hauled in 17 passes for 198 yards and four touchdowns over his Buckeye career, including what would be the game-winning touchdown in last year’s Rose Bowl victory over Washington.

The game is set to take place on Saturday, Jan. 18 at 7:00 p.m. EST, and will be broadcast on NFL Network.

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