Armchair point guards across Columbus have tried to diagnose just what's gone wrong for the Buckeyes since their 15-0 start to the season, but the ones who know best what Ohio State's problems truly are reside inside the Schottenstein Center.
What follows is a breakdown of what the Buckeyes' issues -- or perceived issues -- have been in each of their past two performances. On Wednesday, Ohio State head coach Thad Matta, guard Shannon Scott and forward Sam Thompson essentially played a round of "fact or fiction?" with the media, revealing the truths and falsehoods about their recent struggles.
In the past two games, the Buckeyes have combined for 38 turnovers, giving the ball away 21 times against the Spartans and 17 times against the Hawkeyes. Point guard Aaron Craft has racked up 10 combined turnovers in OSU's past two contests, which followed a three-game streak that saw the senior give the ball away just once.
Asked what's bothered him the most about his team's two most recent outings, Matta admitted that it's been the turnovers, which have been uncharacteristic for his veteran-laden squad.
"Turnovers would definitely be (No. 1)," Matta said. "More so, just the careless turnovers, like, ‘You can't make that play.'"
Given that it tops Matta's list of concerns, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Scott said that an increased emphasis has been placed on taking care of the basketball in the days following his Ohio State's loss to the Hawkeyes.
"I've just been working on taking care of the ball in little ways," Scott said. "Trying not to make sloppy passes. Putting the ball where it needs to be, getting the shooters the ball right in their shooting pocket instead of all over the place. If I'm not turning the ball over as much, maybe we have a better chance at winning some of our games."
Lack Of A ‘Go-To Guy'
We saw it multiple times last season. The Buckeyes would need a basket and Deshaun Thomas would go get it.
Before that it was Jared Sullinger. And before that, it was Evan Turner. And even before that, it was Greg Oden or Terence Dials. But now? Ohio State appears to lack a player that the Buckeyes can count on to consistently score down the stretch of closely-contested contests.
On Wednesday, Matta said that last week was the first time this season that he's missed having a ‘go-to guy,' as the Buckeyes had benefitted from a balanced scoring approach through their first 15 games.
"I would say, your Jareds and your Deshauns, those guys had a knack for somehow, someway of finding a way, via the free-throw line or getting inside the defense, to score," Matta said. "We did lack that down the stretch of, ‘Hey, let me make the play.'"
Junior LaQuinton Ross has been thought by some to be that guy, but he sat out the final 15 minutes of OSU's trip to East Lansing in favor of freshman forward Marc Loving. Ross bounced back with a 22-point performance against the Hawkeyes, despite being held scoreless for the game's final seven minutes as Iowa closed the contest on a 22-9 run.
Now that Matta is faced with the issue of not having a go-to scorer for the first time since he arrived in Columbus in 2004, the pressure on Ross to become just that may only be amplified in the coming weeks.
"Obviously we need LaQuinton to play well ... we gotta get him back playing," Matta said. "That's the biggest thing -- not just him, but we have to have a level of consistency about us in terms of everything that we're doing. Offensively, defensively, transition. Those are the things that everybody -- not only LaQuinton -- has to do their job."
Looking For A Lineup?
Perhaps one reason why a go-to guy for the Buckeyes hasn't emerged yet is because lineups and roles have varied on a nightly basis.
Against Michigan State, it was Thompson who led the way for OSU, scoring 18 points, which included crucial baskets in what was ultimately an overtime loss for the Buckeyes. The junior forward, however, sat out a majority of the stretch of OSU's ensuing loss to Iowa, as Matta felt that he had found a lineup that he liked better at the time.
Hindsight, of course, always seems to be 20/20 and it's easy to question what could have worked when something else didn't. And while a nine-man rotation may make for more difficult decisions in close games, Matta maintains that he enjoys having flexibility with his options from game to game.
"At this stage, so much of it is simply predicated on who's playing well and when they're playing well, why they're playing well," Matta said. "I like the luxury of having the nine guys that we go with. At any given time, those guys can do something to help the team."
Despite being in a position where his role or minutes can fluctuate on any given night -- as is the case with several other players on the OSU roster -- Thompson is just fine with where he stands on the Buckeyes roster.
"It's just about being ready to play when your number is called," Thompson said. "I'm not upset about playing time, I'm not upset about stats. I'm upset that we wanted to get two big wins last week and we didn't get them."
It's A Long Season
As Matta pointed out merely moments after the final horn had sounded following their loss to Iowa, the Buckeyes were in this exact same position last year. In fact, Ohio State even managed to endure a rougher road bump, bouncing back from a 22-point loss to Wisconsin with 11 consecutive wins, a Big Ten Tournament title and a trip to the Elite Eight.
"The last few years, we've just done a good job of getting back to doing what we do as a basketball team," Thompson said. "I don't think anyone in the locker room is hanging their heads. We're obviously upset about the losses. None of us like to lose, we're all competitors. We know that it's a long season. We know that we still have an opportunity to do all of the things that we set out to do this season."
That's to say that in a 30-something game season, losses are nearly inevitable. It's been 37 years since a college basketball team has run the table, and with only three unbeaten squads remaining this season, that stretch is likely to extend to a 38th year.
The Buckeyes clearly have plenty to work on, but their season won't be defined by a two-game losing streak in January. OSU will attempt to stop its skid tonight when it travels to Minneapolis for a 9 p.m. tipoff with Minnesota, which will serve as the next of multiple opportunities for the Buckeyes to correct the issues that have been listed above.
"We're preparing for Minnesota like we prepare for everybody, but a lot of it is on us," Matta said. "Saying, ‘These are the things that we have to do better. Our attention to detail has to be better. And it has to be for 40 minutes. It has to be possession by possession.' That's where I want their minds thinking."