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Ohio State men’s basketball’s woes evident, national footing more muddled

Andrew Holleran / Photo editor

The blueprint to winning a game of basketball, as Aaron Craft insisted, isn’t terribly complicated.

“All in all, (it’s) a simple game,” said Ohio State’s junior point guard after his Buckeyes had faltered-for the third time in just more than a year-against the Kansas Jayhawks, 74-66.

The outcome of any contest, Craft said following Saturday’s game in Columbus, is, foremost, a product sought with a straightforward focus and inevitably realized because of such modest means. 

“Get stops,” he started, “and put the ball in the bucket.”

The latter of which, one of the sport’s most elemental concepts, first came easy, at least from a distance, for a Buckeyes team playing on its own court in front of a sold-out Schottenstein Center crowd.

Those gathered to witness a rematch of last year’s Final Four-a game coach Thad Matta’s crew lost, 64-62-watched OSU connect on 46 percent of its 3-pointers in a barrage of deep shots in the first half against a Jayhawks squad that had yet to play in a true road game this season.

The stage felt set for the Buckeyes (9-2), which stumbled at now-No. 1 Duke, 73-68, a month earlier, to earn their first quality win of the season and vault themselves back into the national discussion of this year’s most elite teams.

A further autopsy of the game-particularly its second act-might’ve proved the long ball was the only thing keeping Buckeyes afloat against coach Bill Self’s unfretted squad.

The weaknesses, which appear more evident with each passing week, of a team that’s only been legitimately challenged once this season might not be difficult to dissect.

OSU, likely, has heard such observations hurled at them already. Remarks like, but not limited to, the alarming absence of a consistent scorer behind junior forward Deshaun Thomas; the lack of a dominating figure on the inside; a team failed its only test of the season en route to amassing nine uninspiring wins against simply overmatched squads.

Against Kansas, all three seemed to feel genuine and the stat line reflected it.

In the game’s second half, OSU’s offense, chiefly its ability to chuck the carrot-colored ball into the hoop, sputtered, and by sputtered, it could be said that it resembled the customary “Beat the Clock” basketball halftime spectacle where one fan, usually of mediocre athletic ability, is challenged to make a certain amount of shots in a finite length of time.

“There was one point in the second half where I turned to the bench and I said ‘Hey, let’s call a play where we score,'” Matta said, half jokingly, half incensed by the 25 percent the Buckeyes shot from the floor during that span-which included a 2-18 outing from behind the arc.

“They weren’t falling,” Thomas, who notched 16 points in spite of being double-teamed most of the afternoon, said of OSU’s dismal rate of connection in the second half. “They just weren’t falling.”

Matta said that inability was infectious.

“You gotta put the ball in the basket in games like this,” he said. “We couldn’t do it and it became contagious throughout.”

Admittedly, the Buckeyes said the shots were there.

“We had great looks, wide-open looks,” Thomas said, his head drooped just a tad.

No. 10 OSU, though, was not entirely incompetent.

Regardless of a lack of presence in the paint, the Buckeyes were out-rebounded, 41-37, by the Jayhawks and held their own in points scored in the paint with 22 to Kansas’ 34. OSU helped force the Jayhawks into 19 turnovers-a figure that allowed the Buckeyes to get out in transition and rally off 23 points. 

“We’ve got to continue to get better defensively because transition is great to us,” Matta said.

Perhaps the most distressing notion for OSU is their ability to execute on some levels and still lose by eight to a team in a place where they had only lost nine times since the 2006-07 season.

While it would seem there is little shame in losing to the No. 1 and No. 6 teams in the nation, OSU has yet to earn a quality win, and doesn’t have another chance to do so before a Jan. 5 trip to No. 12 Illinois.

The ceiling for this certain Buckeyes team perhaps won’t be what it’s been in the past two years.

While OSU’s woes might be clear, its footing among the sport’s elite is more muddled.

OSU is likely a good, perhaps even a really good team, but maybe not a great one. Disproving that notion won’t easy.

With six of the Big Ten’s teams currently ranked in the Associated Press poll’s top 20, OSU will be playing teams on par with the Jayhawks in terms of talent, coaching and overall aptitude-teams like No. 2 Michigan, No. 5 Indiana, No. 11 Minnesota, No. 12 Illinois and No. 19 Michigan State.

“We want to play teams like this,” Craft said. “It’s going to be like this, we’re going to play great teams every night.”

Craft’s reminder that basketball is an uncomplicated game of scoring and not allowing the other team to do the same is arguably an honest, precise synopsis of any basketball game stripped of its extraneous variables.

By his minimalistic theory, if the Buckeyes shoot better and play stouter defense, the wins will come. But it may take more than that.

“The worst thing we could do is overcomplicate things and try to look for secrets and easy shortcuts,” he said.

It might be because such things don’t exist.

OSU is set to play Chicago State Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center. 

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