Cody Cousino / Photo editor
Poor practices prior to games, on-court chemistry struggles during games and a disengaged star player have started to derail what seemed to be a promising year for the Ohio State men’s basketball team.
After losing three of five games and dropping from No. 3 to No. 10 in the rankings during that span, the Buckeyes are facing major issues as the regular season winds down.
OSU has two regular season games remaining, but the postgame mood following Sunday’s 63-60 defeat by Wisconsin was that of a NCAA Tournament loss.
“Somebody’s got to step up and just be that guy to say, ‘This is enough,’ and bring us all together,” said sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas.
It’s clear that the Buckeyes are desperate for leadership as the calendar turns to March, but where will it come from?
Conventional wisdom would say that guard William Buford, the team’s lone senior, who sat inches to the right of Thomas as he professed the need for a leader, would be the primary player to speak out and rally the team.
But the fact of the matter is that Buford’s leadership style doesn’t fit the needs of the Buckeyes right now. The team needs a vocal presence, something Buford has shown a discomfort with during his four years at OSU.
That’s not to say that Buford isn’t a terrific player or a good leader. It’s just that his lead-by-example approach doesn’t seem to mesh well with a team that, aside from Buford, relies heavily on sophomores and a couple freshmen.
What about All-American sophomore forward Jared Sullinger, whose past success and national recognition should instantly qualify him as a team leader?
Sullinger has been quiet of late, failing to hit double digits points while shooting 1-of-7 on free throws the past two games combined. He was not made available for comment following the loss to Wisconsin, quite possibly his final game at the Schottenstein Center.
During the postgame press conference, Matta implied that Sullinger has seemed disinterested lately.
“I know this, when Jared is playing his best basketball, he’s engaged and into it,” Matta said.
The theme of disengagement was prevalent throughout the team Saturday, leading Matta to throw the Buckeyes out of practice the day before their final home game. That’s a very alarming occurrence this late in the season when a supposed championship-contending team should be locked in for the stretch run.
Matta dismissed immaturity as being at the root of OSU’s problems.
“My freshmen always come to practice,” he said. “They do a great job. Honestly, I don’t know the answer.”
Unfortunately at this point in the season the lightly-played freshmen will be of little help to a team devoid of leadership. If the Buckeyes want to make a serious run in March, the answer will have to come from within the quartet of sophomore guard Aaron Craft, Sullinger, Buford and Thomas.
The most likely candidate at this point is Craft, who took the lead on answering postgame questions from the media Sunday. Whether or not this means Craft will elevate his leadership role moving forward remains to be seen.
One thing is for sure, if the Buckeyes can’t come together and resolve their issues in the next couple weeks, the disappointment of February will turn into greater disappointment come March.