No Breathers in Sight for Struggling Ohio State Hoops

BruceHooley

The nice thing about Big Ten Conference football is that in times of trouble there's the chance Rutgers or Maryland will show up on the schedule.

The bad thing about Big Ten Conference basketball is that in times of trouble there's a chance Rutgers or Maryland will show up on the schedule.

There are no deep breaths, no off-weeks masquerading as game weeks, once the football powers put away their helmets and shoulder pads for the season.

So when you're riding a four-game losing streak, like Ohio State is after a 66-54 defeat Saturday at Indiana, don't look for a light at the end of the tunnel.

It will be an oncoming locomotive.

The Buckeyes, who were once ranked No. 2 nationally and a win over West Virginia in Cleveland away from ascending to No. 1, have undergone the most radical and rapid transformation from muscular to meek since Delilah cut Samson's hair.

OSU needs a gimme win, a confidence-booster, a restorative rout to rebuild belief that has steadily leaked away amid scoring 59, then 57, then 55, then 54 points as the losses have mounted.

But instead, the Buckeyes face a 7 p.m. Tuesday tip against Nebraska and a Saturday road game at Penn State.

The Cornhuskers are just 7-9, but have beaten Purdue by 14 and beaten Iowa by six.

The Boilermakers clubbed eighth-ranked Michigan State and Iowa beat Maryland by 18 and Minnesota by 20 -- two teams that have already beaten Ohio State -- which demonstrates the anybody-can-beat-anybody nature of Big Ten hoops.

The Cornhuskers clearly have issues of they wouldn't be under .500, but the one thing they do consistently is score, as evidenced by their 90 points at Indiana, the same place where OSU couldn't find the basket on Saturday.

If Ohio State can't get a win against Nebraska, it's hard to envision the streak stopping short of six games Saturday at Penn State, which will be smelling blood from an earlier 106-74 loss in Columbus on Dec. 7.

It's unfathomable how that Ohio State team, which scored more points than it had in a Big Ten game since 1991.

The Buckeyes shot 57% in that blowout of Penn State, which is a distant memory in light of:

  • 31 percent shooting against West Virginia, with 22 turnovers,
  • 40 percent shooting against Wisconsin, with 14 turnovers,
  • 31 percent shooting against Maryland, with 14 turnovers, and
  • 33 percent shooting against Indiana, with 16 turnovers.

What seemed a strength of the Buckeyes early in the year now seems a weakness -- their lack of a scoring hierarchy behind junior center Kaleb Wesson on a roster where the talent is evenly distributed.

When OSU was beating Cincinnati by eight points, Villanova by 25, North Carolina by 25 and Penn State by 32, it didn't matter if a starter took a scoring vacation, because a backup always seemed to deliver.

Now, no one is stepping forward to lead by example, and when someone tries -- like freshman D.J. Carton did Saturday at IU -- the good contributions often get offset by mistakes in other areas.

Carton's 10 points against the Hoosiers were a welcome addition.

His seven turnovers were not.

Holtmann may be nearing the time where he can no longer wait for someone to step forward. He may be on the precipice of being forced to hand leadership to certain players and live with their mistakes.

"We're not making wholesale changes at this point in the season," he said. "I think there are definitely some changes that need to be made. I think that's the pressing question right now.”

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