Ohio State has been inconsistent all season. The team’s best win would have to be either an overtime road win against Minnesota, who is now just 12-7 and 1-5 in the league, or a 19-point home romp of an 11-7 Michigan team that has a 4-2 league mark.
The Buckeyes have lost all of their biggest games, falling to Louisville and North Carolina in the nonconference and twice to a solid Iowa team in league play. Clearly, none of this is good news for Ohio State fans, but there is a ray of hope: Thad Matta teams almost always get better as the season goes on.
That may seem like a given, teams should improve as they play more games together and figure each other out, but getting that growth out of team after team regardless of personnel is impressive. Matta has 10 full seasons under his belt at Ohio State, and there are very few instances of a team stagnating.
One of those seasons was last year. The 2013-14 Buckeyes started 15-4 before closing the season 10-6, failing to win games that would have kept them in contention for the league crown.
Perhaps the only other example would be the 2008-2009 team, a squad that started 13-4, but stumbled to a 9-7 finish and were ousted in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Siena.
The argument could be made that the 2007-08 team didn’t show growth. That version of the Buckeyes went just 6-6 in their final 12 regular season games after starting 13-6, but factoring in the postseason they closed on a 7-1 run that included the NIT Championship. I would argue that team improved, it was just too late for most to notice. This year’s team has 12 regular season games remaining, and despite their .500 conference record could still plausibly earn a two-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament. With two additional teams this year, the top four seeds in the conference tournament will start the postseason in the tournament semifinals. Over the past five seasons the fourth-place team in the league has had, on average, six or seven losses. That means the Buckeyes would have to close the season 9-3 to feel good about their chances.
That record – 9-3 – is precisely what Matta teams have averaged in their last 12 regular-season games over the past 10 seasons. Whether he can get that result this season remains to be seen. The best indicator may be the play of previous Buckeye teams. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the two Matta teams the 2014-15 squad best mirrors.
The Ceiling: The 2009-10 Buckeyes
This would be the best case scenario for the current Buckeyes. The 2009-10 team started out 14-5 and was 3-3 in the league through six games, just like this year’s squad. They had fared slightly better in the nonconference, defeating Florida State but dropping games to North Carolina and Butler.
Five years ago, Ohio State’s best player was an aggressive guard, adept at scoring, passing and rebounding. This year’s team can say the same thing. Matta has even compared freshman D’Angelo Russell to Evan Turner. But five years ago Turner had figured it all out, finishing his junior season as the Naismith Award winner as the country’s best player. Though that was a down year for individual performances, it may be difficult for Russell to rise to similar heights as a freshman.
The key role players on the 2009-10 squad at season’s end were Jon Diebler, David Lighty, William Buford and Dallas Lauderdale. Asking Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott, Amir Williams and JaseSean Tate/Kameron Williams to match that may be a tall order.
The Floor: The 2007-08 Buckeyes
Unfortunately, this may be the other Thad Matta team that most closely matches the current iteration. Seven years ago, the Buckeyes stumbled to a 6-6 record down the stretch before recovering for a 5-1 postseason and an NIT crown.
Show your support for the champs—stock up on Bucks gear by clicking here!
That team was laden with youth as freshmen Kosta Koufos, Diebler and Turner continued to figure things out and Lighty adjusted to a larger role as a sophomore. The same could be said this season as Russell, Williams and Tate continue to improve while Marc Loving looks to take a leap as a sophomore.
It can be argued that no player on that team was as talented a player as Russell, but even with the excellent freshmen, this appears to be the worst-case scenario for the 2014-15 Buckeyes.
With 12 regular-season games remaining, a lot can happen for Ohio State. Perhaps this season’s Buckeyes split the difference between their two most obvious analogs. That would result in a Big ten finish around 11-7, a fringe tournament team that is peaking at the right time.
Considering Matta’s history, it seems likely that the team will improve. The only real question is will it be too late.
Buy your tickets and watch another year of great Buckeyes basketball here!