Ohio State's Issues Easy to Diagnose, but Difficult to Fix

Bruce Hooley

The answer to what's turned Ohio State from second-ranked to unranked might be complex and multi-leveled, but it's pretty simple to articulate for freshman guard D.J. Carton.

"We've struggled shooting, and that's made us rely on our defense and our defense hasn't been there," Carton said. "That's made us lose games."

Anything else?

"In the beginning of the season, if we weren't shooting (well), our defense would still be there and we could get away with some wins," Carton said. "Now that we're not shooting well and we're not defending, that's just bad basketball."

If only the Buckeyes (12-5, 2-5) could shoot as straight literally as Carton just did figuratively, their problems would be over.

Instead, they'll have to settle for an opportunity to set things straight at 6:30 p.m. Thursday against visiting Minnesota (10-8, 4-4), the team that started their downward spiral.

When OSU went to Minneapolis on Dec. 15, it was 9-0 and ranked No. 3, but despite Carton's 19 points suffered an 84-71 loss to the then-sub .500 Gophers.

Marcus Carr inflicted the first dents in what until then had been an impeccable Ohio State defensive reputation, scoring 28 of his 35 points in the second half.

The Buckeyes hadn't allowed any of their first nine opponents to shoot above 40% and only one had scored more than 60 points until Minnesota shot 54% and scored 10 more than any previous opponent.

OSU won two straight after that defeat, but has since gone off the rails with five losses in six games, the latest a 90-76 failure Saturday at Penn State, which like Minnesota shot 54%.

Head coach Chris Holtmann can give a detailed answer about the breakdowns or cover most of them under one umbrella.

"I think there are multiple things and reasons that we would look at it," he said. "One is, we're playing against opponents who are pretty good, but a lot of it, we have to play tougher and smarter. Bottom line, we just have to find a way to play tougher and smarter. That may seem like an oversimplification, but there's a lot that goes into that."

Carr embarrassed Ohio State with repeated drives to the basket in the teams' first meeting and no defender ever got physical with him or took it upon himself to stop the onslaught.

Saturday, Penn State's Lamar Stevens saw an opportunity late to posterize OSU's front line and did so with a drive from the center line to a sledgehammer dunk that no one tried to impede.

Holtmann didn't care much for the timidity of his team in either case, but with the hot glare of the Kansas-Kansas State brawl still shining from every highlight show, treads lightly about seeking more physicality.

"As much as possible. we're trying to compete through the end of the game,"
 he said. "I would certainly like to see us do that at a higher level, without having some of the things maybe that you saw in that (Kansas) game. There's a fine line there."

The schedule seems an ally, given OSU has two of its next three games at home, with a trip to lowly Northwestern on Saturday and then a week off before getting Indiana at home.

So the next 10 days affords a chance to get back to .500 in the league.

I never assume anything with the schedule," Holtmann said. "The league is too good....Our focus really is just on today. We're not projecting anything beyond that. We never have. It's really, how do we fix some of these things that are ailing us."