What did we learn about the Buckeyes in this loss to Purdue? We learned that when an opposing player has a career night, they will struggle to put the clamps on him unless Aaron Craft is put on the task. We learned that it is capable to harass OSU into having a poor shooting effort. We also learned that there are weak points to be attacked in OSU's defense.
But is there a team in the nation that you can not say the same thing about at this point in the season? Each of the country's top four teams lost this week. All of them dropped road games against conference foes. Winning away from home against a team that knows you inside and out is never an easy task.
There is no elite team in college basketball this season. Yes, the Buckeyes have lost at Wisconsin and at Purdue. No longer chasing a perfect season, they are now fighting for their lives when it comes to bringing home an outright Big Ten title.
This team remains an odds-on favorite to reach the Final Four. Nothing we saw in these two losses should put that belief to rest. Now, should they lose Tuesday to Illinois, all bets are off.
I think … that one thing is becoming clearer as the season progresses: this team has two players who can create their own shots and a number of others who play off of them.
The two who can create for themselves are Jared Sullinger and William Buford. We all know this, and it became extremely evident when both went to the bench with foul trouble in the first half against the Boilermakers.
Without Sullinger serving as a conduit for the offense in the paint and Buford working to get his mid-range going, you had a bunch of other guys looking for someone to make a big play. That is a cause for concern on a team that for much of the season has appeared to have an embarrassment of options on the offensive end.
It is clear that teams have figured out how to take Jon Diebler out of the game and his ability to impact the game has been greatly diminished in recent contests. Likewise, David Lighty's production has been down as his outside shot has stopped falling, allowing teams to sag off of him and take away his drive.
Those two players need to get to double digits on a nightly basis for the Buckeyes to have any shot at bringing home the biggest piece of hardware there is. Big performances from Buford and Sullinger can get OSU there, but they are going to need help to finish the job.
I think … that Deshaun Thomas' head must be a difficult place to reside right now.
The freshman's struggles have not gone unnoticed by the OSU faithful, especially if my Twitter feed is any indication. If I had a dollar for each person yelling for head coach Thad Matta to bench him for jacking up shots, I would be able to afford that Oasis record box set I saw last week.
To me, the biggest bad sign for Thomas is that his shot looks nothing like one that could turn a game around. His jumper gets to the rim with all the finesse of a bull in a china shop. Of his six shot attempts, just one looked good – a second-half three-point attempt that was dead on but did not fall. The freshman even had a free-throw attempt clang off the backboard and then the rim before going out.
Making matters worse, he got lost on defense at least once to allow E'Twaun Moore to drain a three-pointer. Offensively, he looked confused and had to be told where to be at least twice.
In no way do I think he has checked out mentally or that he is giving up on this team. To me, he has hit the freshman wall harder than anyone else in recent memory. Thomas will be fine, but it would be a huge boon for Matta if he would get there this season as opposed to the next.
And for those of you clamoring for Matta to bench Thomas in a game where Sullinger, Buford and Dallas Lauderdale battled foul trouble, who would you suggest playing in his place?
I think … that it was interesting to hear Sullinger and Lighty's comments after the game.
Both said that Matta's primary message was that the team brought a lack of toughness to the court and allowed Purdue to impose its will at both ends of the court. It was the same message delivered following the loss to the Badgers.
I'm not totally sure what to make of that, but toughness has not been a problem with this team for nearly the entire season. You have to wonder if this is a by-product of not having one key player to carry things, someone who can dictate what needs to be happening on the court.
Either way, with the number of minutes these guys have logged, I would think long and hard before I labeled them as not being tough. These performances have certainly been the exception to the norm.