The clock is continuing to tick closer and closer to midnight for the Ohio State men’s basketball team.
Just five games remain on the schedule for OSU (16-10, 8-5), and it has not become any easier to figure out where the group stands as a team.
The 8-5 conference record puts the Buckeyes in decent shape for 10 conference wins, which is typically a magic number for an NCAA tournament bid for a conference like the Big Ten.
But with OSU only having one win in eight tries against teams ranked in the top 50 of the RPI, it likely will need a lot more work than two wins to grab an at-large bid.
Therefore, its brutal remaining schedule can be seen as both fortunate and not so much. It needs those signature wins to improve on its 1-7 record against top 50 teams, but, at the same time, it has been almost completely unable to grab those thus far.
“We’ve shown glimpses of us playing good basketball, and, at the same time, sometimes we do the opposite of that,” said redshirt sophomore guard Kam Williams. “I think if we capitalize on when we do play good basketball, it will give us the momentum we need to push through the final half of the season.”
Four of the final five games on the team’s schedule are against teams currently ranked in the top 50 of the RPI, beginning with Tuesday night at home against No. 50 Michigan (19-7, 9-4).
“I think that you’re getting into late February, and obviously all games are vitally important,” said sophomore forward Jae’Sean Tate. “You look where they are, where we are, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out there are some implications to this game.”
Still, OSU coach Thad Matta said he is not in a position to concern himself with the standings or his team’s postseason chances. He is simply concerned with seeing his young players grow from night to night.
One of those players, the elder statesman of the rotation players, junior forward Marc Loving, has been limping through an extended period of poor play. The last time Loving shot over 50 percent in a game was Jan. 10 against Indiana, and he has been held in single-digit scoring five times in the last eight games, including a zero-point performance in Saturday’s win at Rutgers.
“We need Marc to play really good basketball. Sometimes when shots aren’t going in, just go rebound,” Matta said. “Find another way, if the shots aren’t falling.”
That team up north
Michigan has not been spectacular all season long, but it has done what it has needed to do to get by.
Its plus-2.1 point differential per game is just middle of the pack in the conference, as neither its offense nor defense has been anything worth writing home about.
Still, with victories over No. 6 Maryland and, most recently, No. 17 Purdue to their name, the Wolverines have proven themselves as a team capable of being very dangerous.
Matta chalked that up to their rampant 3-point shooting, which, when falling, he said can be almost impossible to deal with.
“I think matchup-wise, the most alarming thing is how many 3-pointers they shoot,” Matta said. “We’re not going to stop them from shooting them, but we have to make them as difficult as possible.”
A boost for the Wolverines came in their previous game on Saturday, when they got senior guard Caris LeVert back after an 11-game absence from a leg injury.
Though he did not score on Saturday, the Pickerington, Ohio, native, who averages 16.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game, represents a go-to playmaker for coach John Beilein.
Raising it up
Fans hoping to see a performance by “Red Panda” or “Quick Change” at halftime of Tuesday’s game might be disappointed, but the intermission event is already planned.
Former OSU guard Evan Turner, who played 101 games in scarlet and gray from 2007-2010, will be honored at halftime of the game, complete with his No. 21 jersey being raised to the Schottenstein Center rafters.
Turner, the 2009-10 national player of the year, averaged 15.0 points per game over his three years in Columbus. In his third and final season, he registered 20.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and 6.0 assists per contest.
“Evan represents what hard work and commitment means to being a player,” Matta said. “Another thing is, he represents somebody that had a great appreciation for this university and his teammates.”
The Buckeyes’ next contest after the Wolverines is scheduled to come on the road in Lincoln, Nebraska, to take on the Cornhuskers. The game against Nebraska is set to begin at 7 p.m. on Saturday.