Buckeyes' Blunders Continue

It was supposed to be the season-saving victory. Oops, someone forgot to tell Ohio State's men's basketball team. Sunday afternoon at Value City Arena, the Buckeyes fell to Wisconsin 58-53 in a crushing blow to their NCAA Tournament chances. With every game given so much more importance this time of year, the Buckeyes sputtered down the stretch. Kyle Lamb explains how this has been typical.

Two timeouts, two trips, a missed 28-foot air ball and one heartbreaking home defeat in the final 16 seconds.

Yep, it was a microcosm of the 2007-08 Ohio State men's basketball team in the 58-53 loss against No. 10 Wisconsin.

In the final eight minutes, Ohio State scored just 4 points. In the final 11 minutes, the Buckeyes managed a paltry 7 points. And despite holding Wisconsin scoreless on six consecutive possessions, nearly all running down to a few seconds on the shot clock in the final five minutes, 56-53 was the closest Ohio State got to within what was once a 56-49 deficit.

It was, quite frankly, a directionless finish. Unorganized pick-up games have likely featured more aspiring, creative offensive execution than displayed by Thad Matta's sinking Buckeye ship on Sunday.

NCAA Tournament hopes, which were relying heavily on this home game against Wisconsin (23-4, 12-2 Big Ten), No. 14 in the RPI, are probably in critical condition. As the Buckeye tournament resume is lying helplessly on the operating table, doctors are wondering if the defending National runners-up are not about to flat-line in the home stretch.

Thanks to some quick 30-footers, a few clumsy passes and a sudden loss of balance in the legs of Ohio State offensive players, the more experienced, disciplined Badgers were patient enough to wait-out the expected implosion. And as scripted, it finally occurred.

As chaotic as life has been the past several weeks in Bloomington, Indiana under newly-named interim head coach Dan Dakich has to be feeling good. With a chance at the Big Ten Title, hosting Ohio State Tuesday evening on their home floor must seem like a gift from the basketball Gods.

It seems like only yesterday Ohio State was making a triumphant Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament run before falling on the season's final night. But barring a radical gut-check by these Buckeyes (17-10, 8-6 Big Ten), the only postseason jaunt afforded to them might be an N.I.T. appearance.

Who knows, perhaps for the first time in history, Ohio State and Florida can have a National Championship rematch – in the N.I.T. Championship the following season.

Unlike last Sunday, in a loss to arch-rival Michigan, Ohio State didn't look like lifeless cadavers. But the last five minutes, they certainly played like it.

Perhaps Ohio State simply is too naïve to realize they're staring a first-round N.I.T. game against Ohio University in the face, instead of a trip to Omaha as a No. 10-seed in the big dance. Or maybe, it doesn't matter. Maybe falling flat on their collective faces is just part of the learning process for four freshmen and a sophomore in a rotation of eight.

It's not supposed to be this way.

Matta has coached seven seasons, six of which he's coached in the NCAA Tournament. The one season he didn't was a 20-win season serving a self-imposed postseason ban. But perhaps Matta is learning a valuable lesson – in a league with better coaches, more hostile home crowds and better athletes, a system of talented players alone won't cut it.

The overwhelming issue this season, as evidenced by that depressing 16-second sprint to the finish today, where Ohio State tripped before the finish line, has been lack of attention to detail. Wisconsin, despite scoring just 58 points, worked the shot clock, moved the ball and waited for their shot. Ohio State threw unforced passes into the crowd, settled for 30-foot jumpers and tripped over their own feet.

It's not as if there weren't possessions available. Just a few minutes into the second half, Wisconsin 7-footer Brian Butch picked up his third foul. Nearly the entire first half, Ohio State thrived on dribble-penetration against out-matched Badgers. But as has been the case all year, there was no one to bluntly whisper in the Buckeyes' ears they weren't taking advantage.

Instead, they were taking their own tournament lives.

Barring a near-miraculous road victory against the Hoosiers, Ohio State can win its final three regular season games and it still conceivably may not be enough. Oh sure, there's still an opportunity to pick up a few wins in the Big Ten Tournament, if not win the thing and take the decision out of the hands of the NCAA selection committee, but that at this point seems like nothing more than a dream.

Ohio State cannot even get its act together for 16 seconds. Three consecutive days seems like an improbability.

Wisconsin made just two more field goals Sunday afternoon than did the Buckeyes. The 3-pointers, 7-of-17 for Wisconsin and 5-of-17 for Ohio State, made up the 5-point differential with one to spare. Turnovers were about even (15 for Ohio State to 14 for Wisconsin). But in the end, while the statistics were virtually identical, the execution was worlds apart.

Matta's success in March, multiple conference titles, tournament titles and deep NCAA Tournament runs are enough to prove the man can coach. But at some point, inexperienced team or not, it's time to take a step back and figure out the attention to detail.

Today, he only needs to reexamine 16 seconds. It will tell him everything he needs to know.


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