Some final thoughts from Ohio State’s 84-74 loss to Iowa just as soon as I find my panic button.
"To panic, or anything like that -- I've never done that. I won't do that." - Buckeyes head coach Thad Matta
After my admittedly nonchalant response to Ohio State’s loss to Michigan State, I received some feedback that stated that I was being too positive. And maybe that was right, as I saw the Buckeyes’ defeat at the hands of the Spartans as more inevitable than anything, knowing that this OSU squad wasn’t going to run the table. But following another loss -- to a team that many feel is inferior to the Buckeyes -- I’m rethinking some things. I’m not ready to say that the sky is following just year -- that’s preposterous to write on Jan. 13, but I do think that there are definitely some issues and observations that can taken away from the last week of Ohio State basketball.
There are a number of issues that can pointed to with this basketball team, but the main one remains the same and is one that’s been asked about since Deshaun Thomas declared for the NBA Draft: who’s going to be the Buckeyes’ go-to guy? There wasn’t one on Sunday, even though LaQuinton Ross scored 22 points against the Hawkeyes. Down the stretch, when the Buckeyes needed them the most, buckets were hard to come by, as Iowa finished the game on a 22-9 run. Throughout the year, Matta has preached the benefit of not knowing who’s going to be his team’s leading scorer on any given night, but I think that there’s also something to be said for knowing who you can count on during important stretches, and we haven’t seen that from the Buckeyes just yet this season.
Speaking of Ross, there are some who want to pin this game on him, given his five turnovers and untimely errors, but I think that the junior forward can be an easy target at times. He may not score as consistently as many would like him to or speak as eloquently as his teammates, but the Buckeyes aren’t in that game without his 22 points and for that reason alone, it’s hard to direct a lot of blame at him. I, like many, was concerned with him sitting out the final 15 minutes at Michigan State, and while his 1-of-7 shooting may have earned it, I also don’t think it’s a stretch to say that in retrospect, that may have just been an error on Matta’s part. In my personal opinion, this team is only going to go as far as Ross is going to take it offensively, and I have no problem taking his bad as long as I know I’m also getting his good.
ESPN’s Bill Simmons has a premise about certain players that he calls the “90-10 theory,” where you love 90 percent of a players game, but the 10 percent you don’t like drives you so crazy that it detracts from the good 90. Now while I don’t like 90 percent of Ross’ game (the number is probably closer to 70 if you don’t include defense), Ross does enough good things that I’m willing to put up with everything else. Not only is he the Buckeyes’ most lethal offensive weapon, but his game is growing, and even yesterday I saw him make passes that he wouldn’t have made a year ago. I know that there is plenty that he still needs to improve on, but until I see a better option -- and I don’t think that’s Marc Loving just yet -- I see no reason not to ride or die with Ross.
So if I’m not blaming Ross, who am I blaming? I say no look no further than the Buckeyes backcourt and the team’s leadership. Six turnovers is way too many for a point guard of Aaron Craft’s stature, not to mention his inefficiency at the free throw line really took Ohio State out of the game down the stretch. Shannon Scott was basically a non-factor, making just one of his five shot attempts, and Lenzelle Smith Jr. disappeared after scoring eight points in the game’s opening five minutes. Any of those players plays a game just moderately better than the one they did on Sunday and the Buckeyes likely win this contest and prevent a losing streak from ever coming to fruition.
Also, you have to give credit to Iowa, who at 14-3 is just one game worse record-wise than the Buckeyes. The Hawkeyes are a much improved team in their fourth season under Fran McCafferey, and Strongsville native Aaron White continues to haunt the Buckeyes, despite stupid chants from the student section of “OSU didn’t want you.” Roy Devyn Marble scored 22 points, despite being guarded by Craft, and the Hawkeyes never backed down, even when they were down nine in the second half. Iowa’s going to be a tough out again on Feb. 4 when Ohio State heads to Iowa City and is a team who is probably better than its current No. 14 ranking.
So where do the Buckeyes stand now? Aside from two games back in the conference race, one could argue that Ohio State is at a crossroads of sorts when it comes to the 2013-14 season. Already 2-2 in conference play, the Buckeyes still have games with Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Iowa and Michigan State remaining on their slate. Going to Minneapolis on Thursday won’t be an easy task either, as Minnesota just took the Spartans to overtime as well, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Ohio State is in desperate need of a win. It’s still way too early to determine a ceiling for this Buckeyes team -- in my opinion -- but a fifth consecutive top-two seed in the NCAA Tournament does appear to be slipping out of their grasp.