O'Brien announced Tuesday that he has reinstated leading scorer Tony Stockman after a one-game suspension. At the same time, O'Brien also announced that small forward Matt Sylvester will be out four to six weeks with a foot injury. And, for good measure, O'Brien may be looking to point guard Brandon Fuss-Cheatham a little more as he comes off a career-best 17-point effort in Saturday's loss to Iowa.
And, of course, all of these developments -- good and bad -- come as the Buckeyes are preparing for what could be their toughest week of the season. OSU hosts No. 17 Wisconsin at 8 p.m. Wednesday before visiting No. 21 Purdue Saturday.
"This is obviously going to be a difficult week for us," O‘Brien admitted. "The bad news is who we're playing. The good news is that three of our next four games are at home. That's nice to know. But to play the two top teams in the conference in a row, particularly in the predicament we are in at 1-4 in the conference, we can't continue to slide a whole lot more."
The Buckeyes have dropped five of their last six games to fall to 9-9 overall and 1-4 in Big Ten play. But if OSU could come through with an upset of the Badgers (13-3, 4-1) O'Brien believes that may be the thing that gets this team going toward the stretch run.
"That would be just what the doctor ordered," O‘Brien said. "There's nothing like winning a game or two to give your team some confidence and that's what we need to do. We've got to get a little bit lucky. We've got to win a couple of games. I've got to believe that if we can win a couple of games and start to feel better about ourselves, we can take it someplace"
On Friday, O'Brien announced that Stockman would not make the trip to Iowa after a lackluster practice the day before. At that time, the coach said he and Stockman would meet again Monday to decide upon his return to the squad.
O'Brien was apparently happy with Stockman's response as he announced he would return to the starting lineup with Fuss-Cheatham in the backcourt and Nick Dials moving to the bench.
"Tony Stockman will start with Brandon, J.J. (Sullinger) and the two big guys (Velimir Radinovic and Terence Dials)," O‘Brien said. "It couldn't be any better. There's nothing to hide. Tony has had two good days of practice and we welcomed him back with open arms."
One of O'Brien's conditions was that Stockman, OSU's leading scorer at 12.8 points per game, had to prove to him he wanted to remain a part of the group. Clearly, that threshold has been met.
"If I didn't feel that way, I wouldn't let him come back, let alone start," O‘Brien said. "Hopefully it's just another lesson learned. Obviously, he is a major part of our team. I feel very comfortable with where he is. We had a good conversation the other day. He's had two good days of practice, so there is no reason to not try and move forward.
"One of the things he needed to do was apologize to them for not being with us on the road for a game we had to win. He did that. I think it's forgotten and everything is forgiven."
Stockman met with reporters as well Friday to discuss the matter. Coming off a 1-for-9 three-point shooting performance against Indiana last Tuesday, Stockman admitted he was not in a good frame of mind for Thursday's practice.
"I had a bad practice," Stockman said. "I understood everything that coach did and I didn't disagree with it. It wasn't like I was mad at him or anything like that. There were no hard feelings. It was more like my mood and effort. I was down. I actually played all right. It was my mood and sometimes my effort during practice. I knew something was going to happen. I was just hoping he wasn't going to kick me off.
"Now I'm back and I'm ready to play. I look at this as a second chance. I‘m excited to play and I just hope I don‘t disappoint him again."
Stockman said it was hard to watch the Iowa game on television, knowing he could have perhaps made a difference in the 79-65 defeat.
"It was a long weekend for me," he said. "That's all I was thinking about all weekend. It was hard for me, a little frustrating at times. They would get close and you'd say, `If they can just make a couple of good plays, it would be all right.' But that's how it's been all season for us. We just need to make some plays."
Stockman said he and O'Brien had been at odds before, but the coach had never taken such drastic measures.
"That's why he did it," Stockman said of the suspension. "It happened before where I just came back the next day. He did something this time so it would never happen again. He had talked to me and the team about playing hard all the time. By him doing it, it told me he was fed up with it and he wasn't going to tolerate it any more, which is understandable."
From the moment the suspension was handed down, Stockman made it clear he intended to return.
"We talked about it and he said I had to make up my mind what I wanted to do," Stockman said. "I told him at the time that I want to play and I just had a bad day. I was just down on myself. I was frustrated. I told him all along I wanted to come back. He said to come in Monday and talk to him again."
Stockman is hoping his shooting woes are behind him.
When asked if he still thinks every shot is going in, he said, "I do and that might be my problem. I've been working on it and I've been hitting them when I'm by myself. That gives me more confidence because I'm hitting them in practice. Hopefully they'll start falling in the games."
The injury plagued career of sophomore small forward Matt Sylvester took another turn at Iowa as he suffered an injury to his left foot during the course of the game. O'Brien announced that Sylvester could miss four to six weeks with the injury.
The injury is to his Plantar Fascia in the arch in his left foot. He is expected to make a full recovery.
Sylvester has played in 16 games this season. He has averaged 3.1 points and 1.4 rebounds in just over 10 minutes a game.
Fuss-Cheatham Coming On?
With Stockman missing at Iowa, Fuss-Cheatham enjoyed his best offensive showing in his three seasons at OSU. He connected on 5 of 11 shots from the floor and all seven of his free throws on his way to a career-high 17 points.
"Certainly, Brandon got some baskets at the end, but I think just the mere fact he was aggressive taking the ball to the basket was a good thing," O‘Brien said. "Out of his five baskets, they were all around the basket. I think that's his strength. He played to his strength. Another big component was he was 7 of 7 at the foul line. He got off to a rocky start with his free throw shooting early in the year. He has done much better over the last five or six games.
"If he can just keep pushing the ball and keep improving and keep making the defense have to guard him by pushing the ball up the floor, that's good. Hopefully he'll continue to play that way."
Fuss-Cheatham, who may be finally near 100 percent after dealing with assorted injuries himself, is just trying to provide some punch to OSU's listless offense.
"We've been struggling at the offensive end," he said. "I feel like I could be more aggressive out there. Plus, I've been making my foul shots. If you take it to the hole, you'll get fouled. I just needed to be more aggressive.
"It's always nice to have some points. I'm not really known for scoring. But with this team right now, we need some guys who can put it in the basket. If I go out there and be aggressive, I think that might be good for the team. We're getting good shots. They're just not falling. If we do start making our shots, we'll be right there."
Fuss-Cheatham opened the season as a poor free throw shooter. But the 7-for-7 showing at Iowa is something he hopes to build off of.
"If you do start making them, you start to think you can make them," he said. "The last few games I've been making my shots. I‘m not thinking about too much."
Wisconsin travels to with Big Ten wins over Indiana, Michigan State, Michigan and Illinois -- all by double digits. The lone league loss was at two-point setback (53-51) at Purdue. The Badgers were 9-2 in nonconference action with losses at Maryland in overtime and at Alabama.
Junior Devin Harris, a 6-3 guard, is considered as the favorite at this point for Big Ten player of the year honors. He leads all Wisconsin scorers with 16.9 points a game. He also has made the most 3-pointers (25), field goals (79) and foul shots (87) for the Badgers. Forward Mike Wilkinson, a 6-8 junior, also averages double digits with 12.1 points a game. He is the team's leading rebounder with 7.2 caroms per outing.
Harris and Wilkinson are joined in the starting lineup by 6-3 guard Boo Wade, 6-9 center Andreas Helmigk and 6-8 forward Zach Morley. The Badgers haven't missed a beat without guard Freddie Owens and forward Alando Tucker, each nursing injuries and not expected to play against OSU.
It is unlikely that OSU will fear Wisconsin. The Buckeyes lost to the Badgers 53-52 at home last January before upsetting the regular season champion and top-seeded Badgers 58-50 in the Big Ten tournament in Chicago. O'Brien said he has referred to those games as well as a 94-92 overtime loss at Madison from the year before in preparing for this match-up.
"I've spent the last couple of days looking at both games we played against them (last year)," O'Brien said. "If you take it back another game further, the last three times we've played them we've lost in overtime in Madison, we lost on the last shot here and then we beat them in Chicago. The last three times we've played them, as good as they've been, we've played pretty well against them. Hopefully we'll be able to do something similar. But we're going to have to score. I think that's going to be the biggest thing. We need to score some points."
With opportunities dwindling for OSU, Stockman hopes the Buckeyes put their best foot forward Wednesday night.
"They're leading the league right now and they're ranked," he said. "It's going to be a tough game for us. We want to see what we can do against those guys. We're just putting too much pressure on ourselves in the games. If we relax and go ahead and play, we should be all right."
Fuss-Cheatham added, "That would be great for us. If we could just get over that hump and finally win a big game, I think our team would come together. We've just been down. This game would be a nice boost for us."
* Bo Ryan is in his third season at Wisconsin and his 19th overall as a collegiate coach. His teams have produced a record of 439-127 during his career. His record in Madison is 56-24. He has coached at UW-Milwaukee and UW-Platteville.
* Ohio State leads the all-time series against Wisconsin 80-56 with a 29-38 record in Madison and a 50-18 record in Columbus. Ohio State has gone up against eight Wisconsin teams all-time that entered the contest against the Buckeyes as a ranked team in the Associated Press top 25 poll. The Buckeyes are 5-3 in those games, including 3-0 at home.
* Ohio State's current roster of players has played in just 11 games against the Badgers. Radinovic has the most experience with four games vs. Wisconsin. He averages 5.8 points and 2.6 rebounds. In two games last year, Shun Jenkins, a senior forward, averaged 10 points and 9.0 rebounds vs. UW.
* OSU is 0-2 against teams ranked on game day with losses to then-No. 13 Georgia Tech (73-53) at home and at then-No. 19 Illinois (85-63). Illinois is currently unranked, while Georgia Tech is ranked 14th. Texas Tech was unranked when it defeated OSU 80-72 on Jan. 4, but is now ranked 13th.