Buckeyes Doing Some Soul Searching
By Patrick Murphy
“We were an embarrassment to Ohio State basketball.”
Photo by Jim Davidson
That was sophomore Sam Thompson discussing the blowout loss to Wisconsin last Sunday. This is one of the more difficult periods in the Thad Matta era, as Ohio State has lost three of the last four games and did not play well in their one win, a come-from-behind win over an unranked Northwestern team with just seven scholarship players available.
The problem seems to be, this team has not been an embarrassment all year. In fact, at times this year the Buckeyes have looked very good. It just has not been sustained from game to game.
Against the Badgers, things looked bad from the opening tip as Ohio State was never in the game.
“We just didn’t come to play,” Thompson said regarding the loss. “Not many teams go in there and win and we didn’t have the mindset that we needed.”
Junior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. agreed with Thompson assessment.
“We didn’t do anything we were supposed to do,” he said. “For some reason we woke up, rolled out of bed, and thought we were going to win when in reality Wisconsin is a very hard place to win.”
While the Kohl Center is a tough environment, especially recently for the Buckeyes, it was the way they lost that was surprising. The defense that is usually what this team hangs its hat on was simply not there. That is where Matta says Ohio State must get better.
“That has to be what we do tomorrow night,” the head coach said about the defensive end of the floor. “We have to get back to playing the defense that we need to play defense.”
What he is saying is simple. This team has trouble generating offense so it has to start on defense. They cannot allow teams to score at will because it is unlikely the Buckeyes can keep up.
Things do not get easier, as Ohio State welcomes Minnesota (18-8, 6-7) to town on Wednesday (7:00 ET, BTN). This is a team in a similar spot as the Buckeyes coming off a bad loss to Iowa and needing to get results.
Like the Buckeyes, the Gophers have had games this season where they have looked very good, yet others where many questions are raised. They have been a top ten team, but now are currently unranked and have a losing record in conference play.
“They’re probably in the same boat that we are in terms of what needs to be done,” said Matta of his upcoming opponent.
“They’ve got the pieces of the puzzle,” he continued. “Guards that can really shoot the ball, they’ve got guys that can break you down, they play 10-11, their post presence is something to be reckoned with… One of the biggest thing is they rebound the ball at a high level.”
Essentially he is saying it will require the best of Ohio State’s defense, and that is something that has been lacking lately.
Smith spoke to how recently this team has lost what identity they have established this season over the last few games.
“It’s getting back to our principles,” he said.
“We took for granted what we had going for ourselves and started to think of ourselves as a team we’re not. We’re not going to go out there and outscore anybody, especially in this conference.”
The fundamentals on defense will be essential to defend a desperate Minnesota team, really fighting for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Yet it will also require a better offensive effort.
In the loss to Wisconsin, the Buckeyes had six assists for the entire game. This lack of ball movement led to 37.5% shooting from the floor. This simply will not do it in a conference like the Big Ten, where the defense is tough and the talent is high.
Returning home will help Ohio State, as they will have the friendly rims and the crowd to help get them going, but pressure is starting to build for this team.
While many said this was a team that was ranked higher than they probably should have been to start the year, they were expected to at least be in contention for the Big Ten title, and never to be beaten like they were on Sunday.
This is a team that has something to prove. Last year, the starters got together for a meeting when things were not going well and were able to turn the season into a Final Four appearance.
“The team has gotten together a few times since Sunday,” Thompson informed the media. “We understand that what happened on Sunday was unacceptable and we’re working to change that.”