Here’s the bad news for Ohio State men’s basketball: The Buckeyes are on the cusp of matching the two worst seven-game stretches in 16 years, dating back to Jim O’Brien’s final year as head coach.
With another loss, Ohio State will have lost six out of seven games for just the third time since 2003-04. The other time was a season ago, when the Buckeyes won only once in January.
Hope may be on the horizon for the slumping Buckeyes, however, as their next three games against Minnesota, Northwestern and Indiana could allow them to pick up a head of steam and string together multiple sorely needed tallies in the win column.
“No one wants to lose, but the reality is, in college basketball, you’re going to lose games,” head coach Chris Holtmann said. “The idea is: What’s the group made of when that happens?”
In their past nine games, of which Ohio State lost six, the Buckeyes have had the luxury of home-court advantage just three times. They’ll have it twice in the next three games.
Four times, the Buckeyes have traveled to play in Big Ten arenas –– Minnesota, Maryland, Indiana and Penn State –– and four times, the Buckeyes have fallen.
That’s not so uncommon in arguably the nation’s toughest conference, in which each school has lost at least four games.
Big Ten teams have won a combined 86 percent of their games at home this year, but less than 24 percent of their contests on the road.
“Am I surprised to see the scores on Sunday of a couple of our Big Ten games? I mean, you can say you’re surprised now, but not really,” Holtmann said. “You’re not surprised with anything.”
Northwestern is one of two teams in the Big Ten to drop more than one home game this season, and the only one with a losing record on its home court — exactly where the Buckeyes will match up with them Sunday.
The Wildcats are the only team lower in the conference standings than Ohio State, and Northwestern’s poor play is no fluke statistically. It stands in the bottom five in the conference in scoring offense and defense, offensive and defensive rebounds, made 3-pointers and most other categories.
No game is won before it’s played, but if Ohio State can’t take care of Northwestern, it will indicate the train is further off the rails than even the stoutest doubters have surmised.
But the Buckeyes have already lost to Minnesota and Indiana this season –– the two opponents bookending this three-game stretch for Ohio State.
Minnesota handed then-No. 3 Ohio State its first loss of the season behind a blazing hot 35-point performance from sophomore guard Marcus Carr in mid-December, and Indiana pulled off a double-digit victory against Ohio State amid its four-game skid.
Both matchups found the Buckeyes in enemy territory, though, and as Ohio State’s most recent game indicates, a second meeting between Big Ten opponents can yield vastly different results.
Ohio State hung 106 on Penn State at home in a 32-point blowout in the first contest between the pair Dec. 7, but the Nittany Lions flipped the script with a 90-76 win in the second meeting on their home floor Saturday.
A sustained slip in play during the second half of the season was surely a factor in Ohio State’s difference in output against Penn State, but a home boost may just tip the scale in the Buckeyes’ favor.
Another tangible distinction between matchups is the presence of sophomore guard Duane Washington.
The Buckeyes’ second-leading scorer missed the first Minnesota game with a rib injury and was benched for most of the game against Indiana ahead of a one-game suspension in the ensuing week.
But Washington may have finally found his groove after enduring a near monthlong shooting slump, hitting 3-of-5 3s for 20 points in a losing effort against Penn State.
“You kinda know what you’re gonna get from certain guys on most nights, like [forwards] Kaleb and Andre [Wesson] and Kyle [Young], but I think our guard play is critical,” Holtmann said.
The Buckeyes have fallen out of the rankings for the first time this year and soon face matchups at Michigan and Wisconsin before playing three ranked teams in four games following that.
If there ever were a time to take a stand and get back on the positive side of a streak for at least a few matchups, that time would be now for Ohio State.