It’s not time to panic. Not yet. But it’s time to wake up.
“You never know what team is going to show up. Some games we play hard, some games we don’t.”
Aaron Craft confirmed what Buckeye fans saw on the court Tuesday night. The Buckeyes are schizophrenic. There are nights where this basketball team looks like it would be ready to make a championship run, even if the tournament started tomorrow. There are other nights, like Tuesday, when Ohio State looks primed for an upset by a 10-seed with a decent perimeter shooter and an effective big man.
On Tuesday at Illinois, the Buckeyes lost 79-74. The Illini were assisted by an epic performance by guard Brandon Paul, who dropped 43 points on the Buckeyes (24 from behind the arc). Paul’s performance was eye opening. But it would be a mistake to blame the Buckeyes’ loss on one hot hand.
Tuesday’s game illustrated the same problems that dealt the Buckeyes a loss at Indiana.
William Buford has become a liability. His shot selection has been increasingly irrational and self-centered. He takes shots that difference-makers take. He doesn’t make them. Buford looks flustered when pressured, especially when the Buckeyes play away from home.
Something’s off with Aaron Craft. He’s been referred to numerous times throughout the season as the best point guard in the country but, since the Indiana game, he’s been average. Craft turns the ball over in critical situations. His perimeter shooting, which has never been strong, has weakened.
The team’s perimeter shooting is anemic. There isn’t a player on the team who can reliably knock down threes. Sadly, the most consistent three-point shooter of the last two weeks has been Jared Sullinger, who drained two more on Tuesday night. The lack of this element in the Ohio State offense is crucial. It’s needed to take pressure off of Sullinger when he’s in the paint.
These are all major issues. But the biggest issue with Ohio State basketball is the general lack of scorers. Outside of Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas, and William Buford, the Buckeyes don’t have anyone who can score consistently. If any one of those three is off, there’s no one to pick up the slack. Aaron Craft’s jumper is ugly. Lenzelle Smith is good for one or two three-pointers per game. The bench disappears in big games. At Illinois, the unit scored zero points.
All teams have problems. The issue is that the Buckeyes’ problems are the type that can be lethal in March. That’s because this team’s problems flare up in hostile environments. The Buckeyes are easily rattled and quick to lose focus as a result of vocal crowds and momentum swings. The NCAA tournament will, unfortunately, not be played at The Schott.
This team has plenty of time to fix its problems. The “lessons” these losses are teaching the team mean nothing unless the Buckeyes learn from them. UConn lost 9 games in the regular season last year before finally putting the pieces together in March. The Buckeyes undoubtedly have the talent to make a similar run. They also have the coach to make it happen.
But it’s time to grow up. 30-point blowouts at home of Big Ten bottom-feeders won’t cut it anymore. That’s not what March is going to bring. Those games give both the fans and the team false confidence. From now on, the Buckeyes’ progress should be judged by games like this one. Games against good teams on the road.
The next road test is February 4th at Wisconsin. Circle your calendars.
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