Because the fact is that midseason struggles are nothing new for OSU basketball, the only program to reach the Sweet 16 in each of the past four NCAA Tournaments. Even during star center Jared Sullinger's sophomore year, the Buckeyes faced their fair share of adversity during the season, which ended with a a trip to New Orleans.
In fact, it was less than two years ago that Ohio State endured what multiple players on the team referred to as the "February from hell," which included a five-game stretch where the Buckeyes lost three games -- two of which came on their own home court. Following a loss to Michigan State on Feb. 11, 2012, Matta stressed the importance of his team figuring out a way to bounce back.
"We've got to learn, that's the bottom line," Matta said. "Today, when things didn't go well, we didn't pull together the way we should have."
It may have taken a few more lumps -- a loss to Michigan in Ann Arbor and a defeat at the hands of Wisconsin on their own senior day -- but the Buckeyes found a way to do just that in 2012, winning a share of the Big Ten regular season championship and advancing all the way to the Final Four before losing to Kansas in the national semifinal game. Merely moments after his team had punched its ticket for Bourbon Street, Matta gave credit to Ohio State's struggles for what was ultimately a successful season.
"That loss opened their eyes and said, 'Hey, maybe we're not as good as we think we are,' " Matta said, referring to Ohio State's Feb. 26 home loss to the Badgers. "Maybe it got us pointed in the right direction."
A year later, another Buckeyes squad found itself at a crossroads, in a season where Ohio State's ceiling wasn't perceived to be as high as that of its predecessor.
Ranked 10th in the country, the Buckeyes headed to Ann Arbor, where they walked away with a 76-74 overtime defeat at the hands of the No. 3 Wolverines. OSU followed that outing with an 81-68 home loss to top-ranked Indiana, but neither of the Buckeyes' losses to Michigan or the Hoosiers compared to what came a week later.
It was on Feb. 17, 2013 that Ohio State was handed its worst loss in more than three calendar years, a 71-49 beat down by the Badgers in Madison. Having just endured a 22-point defeat -- and their third loss in four games -- the Buckeyes season again appeared to be on the brink, but like it did the year before, Matta's squad rallied back.
Ripping off 11 straight wins, Ohio State was not only playing for a potential conference championship on the final day of the season, but the Buckeyes found themselves within minutes of a second consecutive Final Four appearance before Wichita State ended their season in the Elite Eight. After an unlikely run given the struggles they had endured just a month prior, the Buckeyes again gave credit to the hardships that they had faced earlier in the season.
"I can't say a few weeks ago we would have responded the same way that we did tonight," guard Aaron Craft said following Ohio State's win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament title game. "We did a good job of understanding there's a lot of basketball to be played, and we're capable of coming back."
But will the Buckeyes be able to net the same type of comeback this year that it has in each of the past two seasons? That remains to be seen.
After a 15-0 start to the season, Ohio State took its No. 3 ranking to East Lansing, where the Buckeyes suffered their first defeat of the season -- a 72-68 overtime loss at the hands of the Spartans. A game later, Ohio State endured its home loss to the Hawkeyes -- an 84-74 Iowa win -- which put the Buckeyes two games back in the Big Ten conference and on their first losing streak of the 2013-14 season.
Given all that his program has been through in the past two years, Matta isn't quite ready to hit the panic button just yet though, as he's well aware that there's still a lot of basketball left to be played in the next two months.
"We were in this exact same position last year," Matta said. "The biggest challenge is making sure that our minds are where they need to be in terms of what we have to do to get better. We're so far from the end of the finish line. To panic, or anything like that -- I've never done that. I won't do that."