Were Ohio State's Struggles Inevitable?

With the recent defections of Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas to the NBA, maybe it was only a matter of time before the Ohio State basketball hit a losing skid. Having lost five of their last six, the Buckeyes will head to Madison looking for a bounce back win against Wisconsin.

It's not a coincidence that only one team in college basketball has reached each of the past four Sweet 16s.

With the constant turnover that the NBA's "one-and-done" rule has created across the country, success has been harder than ever to sustain and instant gratification often comes at a price. So was it only a matter of time before Ohio State's winning ways caught up to the Buckeyes, who enter February having lost five of their last six games?

OSU head coach Thad Matta says yes.

"I think so. I mean, you look at Kentucky last year," Matta said, referencing the way that the Wildcats followed a 2012 NCAA championship with a first round exit in the NIT. "The days of high school-AAU basketball are over with and the reality of this is what it is now, it does make an impact. I think from the standpoint of what we've gone through -- yeah, it has been difficult."

What the Buckeyes have exactly gone through in the past two years has been the losses of both their leading scorers and rebounders in each of the past two seasons. In 2012, center Jared Sullinger declared for the NBA Draft after his sophomore season, while Deshaun Thomas joined him in the professional ranks a year later.

Matta -- who knows a thing or two about replacing NBA talent -- admitted that combatting those defections has been even more difficult than he imagined, as struggles on both ends of the floor have been apparent throughout Ohio State's recent skid.

"I remember the year we lost David West he was the National Player of the Year and I had a group of guys that said, ‘I'll be David, I got David.' No, you don't got David," Matta said, drawing back on his time as the head coach at Xavier. "You've gotta be yourself, but then you've gotta be better and then you've gotta do it collectively."

Thomas, in particular, has proven difficult for Ohio State to replace this year after a 2012-13 season that saw the then-junior average 19.8 points per game. With LaQuinton Ross currently pacing the Buckeyes with 14.2 points per contest on 42.3 percent shooting, Matta believes that he may have underestimated just what his former forward meant to his Ohio State squad.

"Deshaun was the leading scorer in the best conference in the country last year," Matta said. "What the public eye doesn't see is how guys can play off of him and get theirs. You don't have that now."

As a result, the Buckeyes currently find themselves sitting in seventh place in the Big Ten -- and maybe even on the outside looking in when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. Without what's perceived to be a quality win on its resume and a pair of losses to lowly Penn State and Nebraska, Ohio State certainly has plenty to prove in the next month, before it can think about extending its Sweet 16 streak to five.

That's something that the Buckeye players are well-aware of and was the subject of discussion during a players-only meeting in the day that followed OSU's loss to the Nittany Lions.

"We know we're not an NCAA Tournament team right now," junior guard Shannon Scott said. "We're just playing bad ball."

The "bad ball" that the Buckeyes have been playing lately has included several untimely miscues, including blown defensive assignments, missed free throws, and even botched dunk attempts. At one point during Wednesday's loss to Penn State, Ohio State held a six-point lead that was soon cut to three, after a five-point swing where a Nittany Lion 3-pointer followed a missed dunk by Buckeyes guard Lenzelle Smith Jr.

It's errors like that that have hindered Ohio State in recent weeks, and leave Matta wanting to create some self-inflicted wounds of his own.

"That's why they don't let coaches carry handguns on the sideline," Matta said with a laugh. "Not for the player, for themselves."

That's a sentiment that is likely shared in Madison right now, which is where the Buckeyes are headed to face a Wisconsin team that is enduring struggles of its own. After a 16-0 start to their season, the Badgers have dropped four of their past five games, including defeats at the hands of Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Northwestern.

With two teams in similarly desperate situations, Saturday's 12 p.m. ET tipoff could prove to be equally as important to both the Buckeyes and the Badgers, each of whom are searching for escapes to their respective skids.

"Nothing surprises me anymore," Matta said of Wisconsin's losing streak. "We're all kind of going through the battles."

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