Knowing what you’re going to get every night from your team as a head coach should be affordable. The 40-some practices in the preseason coupled with another 100-or-so and over 20 games played is more than enough time on the court to find an identity as a team.
It was alarming, at the end of the nonconference season, that OSU had won by just two points against mid-major University of North Carolina Asheville. That came just days after OSU beat Youngstown State by 37 and allowed a season-low 40 points on defense. It’s back-to-back contests like those that hasn’t permitted the OSU fan base to have excitement for its men’s basketball team.
The Buckeyes were winners of three out of four heading into their matchup with the Iowa Hawkeyes on Saturday night, in Iowa City. With a win, OSU would have been tied for sixth in the Big Ten standings. Instead, the Buckeyes played one of their worst games of the year, losing convincingly 85-72. OSU never led in the final 31 minutes of the game.
Coach Thad Matta’s team had played like that before. The team came out of the gate, unfocused, not ready to compete for 40 minutes like the players have discussed at length this season. But against Iowa, it was clear that the Buckeyes most substantial issue this season is stringing together productive performances.
“You hope there’s a certain standard that guys are going to hold themselves and their teammates to,” Matta said. “This team has had a tendency to go back and we sort of start over and I think that’s been one of the challenges with this group of just continuing to demand as much as we possibly can.”
Matta continued to insist on Monday that the Buckeyes have played some “really good basketball” — which they have.
OSU played its best game of the season against Minnesota just three days prior to the debacle at Iowa. Against Minnesota, the Buckeyes were the team out to a double-digit lead in the first half. They were able to make stops and free throws down the stretch anchored by 19 points each from senior forward Marc Loving and redshirt junior center Trevor Thompson.
At Iowa, the story couldn’t have been more different.
Thompson had zero points and six rebounds. He fouled out of the game after just 13 minutes on the floor.
Loving scored nine points and was 4-of-11 shooting in 32 minutes of action.
Matta has had teams like this before. In 2013, OSU, ranked No. 13 at the time, lost at No. 20 Wisconsin by 22. It dropped Matta’s team to 8-5 in conference, but the Buckeyes rallied to finish second in the conference, won the Big Ten tournament and were five points away from a second consecutive final four appearance.
Matta said the 2012 team had a similar struggle, finishing the regular season at 4-3. Yet that team found a way to turn the edge and make the Final Four.
The argument can be made that those teams were vastly talented than the current OSU roster, but it’s true that Matta has had teams that surpass inconsistency. However, each time the 2016-17 Buckeyes have showed any sign of becoming a consistent team, they’ve fallen flat.
“Sometimes it just has to click,” Matta said. “We got a great opponent (Tuesday) night in Maryland and we’re going to have to play 10-times better than we did the other night.”
Matta said he doesn’t believe that this team, currently tied for 11th in the Big Ten at 3-6, will just lay down through adversity and fall off a cliff. He believes that all the problems are mendable, it’s just a matter of when the team buys into the message.
“They’ve got to want to shake themselves out of it,” Matta said. “This is where the tough get going.”