This team began the season as a Final Four contender. Is that still the case?
Rob Ogden and Tony Gerdeman debate.
Ohio State has dropped three-consecutive games and has fallen below .500 in conference play. Some are beginning to hit the panic button on these Buckeyes.
Thursday night in Minnesota was the culmination of Ohio State's struggles, as the Buckeyes turned the ball over 10 times in the second half and shot just 35 percent from the floor in what seemed like a must-win game against the unranked Gophers.
But Thad Matta's teams have gone through these stretches before and have been able to rebound.
This team began the season as a Final Four contender. Is that still the case? Rob Ogden and Tony Gerdeman debate.
Sports are full of hyperbole.
It's easy to crown a team when things are going good, and maybe even easier to condemn them when things are not.
It's clear that things are not going well for the Buckeye right now. The team that was a national title contender ten days ago is now destined for the NIT. Or so goes the hyperbole.
Yes, Ohio State has lost three straight games after beginning the season 15-0, but take a deep breath. It's going to be okay.
Look, the Buckeyes were never going to go 40-0, or 39-1 or even 38-2 for that matter.
Dropping three consecutive games is never good, but it's not the be-all, end-all. It's January, people.
Louisville lost three straight games last year. And how did it turn out for them? Oh right, they won the national championship. And two of those losses were to unranked opponents, in January no less.
Plus, are you really going to doubt a Thad Matta-coached team. The guy lives for March more than the daffodils do.
Historically, his teams usually make a run sometime in February.
Have you so soon forgotten last year's team, which was beaten 74-55 at Illinois, lost three of four conference games in mid-February and then went on an 11-game winning streak, claiming the Big Ten Tournament title and advancing to the Elite Eight?
Or what about the year before that. That team dropped three of five games in mid-February before turning it on and advancing to the Final Four.
Even the 2007 team, which lost only four games, was playing by far its best basketball of the season by March.
That's fine, you say. But the Buckeyes lack the talent of those past teams, you argue.
But the success of last year's team in the tournament was largely due to the emergence of LaQuinton Ross, who gave Ohio State a second scoring threat aside from Deshaun Thomas.
The Buckeyes haven't gotten much from anyone other than Ross lately, but it's never too late for another scorer to emerge. Remember, prior to the start of postseason play, Ross was averaging only 7.3 points per game last season.
This year, Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson are both averaging 8 points per game. Freshman Marc Loving isn't far behind at 6.6
Who's to say one of them won't turn it on come tournament time?
Furthermore, I've got to believe the struggles of Aaron Craft will subside, as well.
During the three-game losing streak, Craft has 22 points, 16 assists and 15 turnovers.
My calculator tells me that's 7.3 points, 5.3 assists and 5 turnovers per game.
For his career, Craft is averaging 8.7 points per game along with 5.9 assists and 2.6 turnovers.
Count me among those that believe the senior will get back to those numbers soon.
Come tournament time it's about getting hot at the right time. If Ross and Lenzelle Smith Jr. heat up even just a little bit and the guards cut back on the turnovers, there's no reason to believe the Buckeyes can't contend for the Final Four. I mean, come on, it's March Madness, baby, anything can happen!
Can Ohio State make the Final Four? In basketball? Before this last week or so, I would have said yes because my life-long basketball theory is that a team only needs to get hot for a few games in order to land in the Final Four. But then Iowa and Minnesota happened, and now I'm not sure this team is capable of getting hot for two games, let alone three. And then, of course, doing it at the exact right moment.
Right now, I just can't see this team making it to the Final Four with the lineup as it is. It is usually the backcourt that takes a team to the Final Four, and in its current form, this backcourt just isn't going to do that. There isn't enough shooting – and you generally need a lot of it to make it far. There are just too many neutral players on offense to score as much as this team will need. You can't have a two-headed point guard that won't shoot, and a third guard that will shoot as often as he can, regardless of whether or not the shots are falling.
To make matters even worse, the Buckeyes have a post presence that is as indifferent as a teenager being asked by their mother if they like the sweater she's wearing. Ohio State struggles to score inside – and that includes the guards, and they struggle to score outside. I just don't see how this is a formula for four NCAA Tournament wins.
I understand the angle that the Buckeyes will always play solid defense whether they're shooting well or not. But as we saw during the Jim Tressel Era, when you put so much pressure on a defense, an entire game can turn on just one play because the offense isn't good enough to distance themselves from even lesser opponents.
While I think it's too early to declare that this team has no shot at the Final Four, I don't think it's too early to suggest that the Buckeyes that played against Iowa and Minnesota have no shot at the Final Four. Things will need to change, but looking at the roster, I don't know how that happens. Too many players have grown accustomed to being inconsistent, and it would take some serious planetary alignment for the Buckeyes to end up in the Final Four come March.