Thursday night’s Ohio State men’s basketball game was tough to watch, especially in the second half. The Buckeyes shot just 31% from the field and turned the basketball over 15 times in the 67-51 loss to the Indiana Hoosiers in Bloomington. Ohio State actually took a 36-35 lead with 17:41 left in the second half after a three-pointer from Malaki Branham. Trayce Jackson-Davis would make a jumper less than a minute later to give the lead back to Indiana, and the Hoosiers wouldn’t trail again in the game.
The Buckeye football team has in a way changed the way we deal with losses on the gridiron. Now whenever the scarlet and gray fall, it feels like the world is ending. Granted, Ohio State should be beating everyone on their football schedule, we have to remember that the players are still either in their late teens or early 20s. Despite NIL allowing college student-athletes to be paid now, that doesn’t mean they are professionals yet.
While it’s not after every single loss, we can see some of those overreactions starting to seep into the Buckeye basketball team. In a way that’s good because it means that Chris Holtmann is creating a program that is expected to win, but it’s also not so healthy to take losses on the hardwood so hard. Especially when you look at the Big Ten, which has become a meat grinder.
It’s probably rich when you look at who is telling you to relax a bit when handling Ohio State’s inevitable losses in Big Ten play. I’m not exactly a model of sanity if you looked at my Twitter during Ohio State football or Buffalo Bills losses. The circumstances are a little different when it comes to those situations. We’ve seen in the past where double-digit loss Ohio State basketball teams have still made the NCAA Tournament, where a single loss could know the Buckeye football team out of contention.
There might be reason for a little concern for the Ohio State men’s basketball team following the way they’ve played in the two games after they were sidelined for three weeks due to COVID-19 issues, just remember both of those games for the Buckeyes were on the road, where there are no easy wins in the Big Ten. The biggest problem for Ohio State in their first two games of 2022 has been the play of E.J. Liddell, who is just 5-26 from the field during that span.
After starting off the season looking like a candidate for the Naismith Award, Liddell has come back down to earth lately. Some of that could be knocking some rust off after the three-week layoff. Another issue that could be hurting Liddell’s play is he has had to carry the team so much so far this season. Currently, Liddell’s 18.9 points per game is doubling the 9.4 points per game that Zed Key, who is Ohio State’s second-leading scorer, is averaging.
Reinforcements should be on the way to help Liddell and company as the season moves along, though. Justice Sueing has played in just two games this year, while Seth Towns still hasn’t seen the floor as he recovers from injury. Getting Sueing back in the lineup will be huge since he can take some of the pressure off of Jamari Wheeler, who is handling a lot of the point guard duties. This should allow Wheeler to focus more on defense, where he is one of the best in the country.
Even though Justice Sueing has been a big missing piece to this Ohio State team so far this year, don’t underestimate what the return of Seth Towns will mean. While Towns isn’t going to give the team 25-30 minutes per game, he should be able to give the Buckeyes a spark with 10-15 minutes off the bench per game. It’s easy to forget that Towns was the Ivy League Player of the Year in 2018 since he has dealt with injuries since then. It wouldn’t be surprising if Towns’ play won the Buckeyes a crucial Big Ten game or even an NCAA Tournament game this season.
The biggest reason to have plenty of hope for this year’s Ohio State men’s basketball team is just look at the rest of college basketball. Defending champion Baylor is still undefeated, along with a couple other teams, but there really hasn’t been anyone that has established themselves as the team to beat this year. Much like we have seen in recent years, the NCAA Tournament is going to have more twists and turns than an F1 race. Add in COVID-19 throwing a wrench into games for another year, and we know even less this year than in a normal year.
So when it comes to Ohio State, there are going to be some high moments, as well as some runs of pretty ugly play. In each of the last three seasons, the Buckeyes have had a four-game losing streak. Hopefully they are able to slow down any losing stretches until they get to that point, but at least Chris Holtmann teams have plenty of experience dealing with adversity. If the Buckeyes can stay healthy as they work their way through the Big Ten season and tournament, they have a really good shot at making the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the first time under Holtmann. You just might have to deal with a few hiccups on the way there, so don’t sweat those moments too hard.