The Holt Man cometh.
Originally picked to finish sixth in the Big Ten, Ohio State is now needing a three game conference winning streak to get back to .500 in the conference.
Chris Holtmann has had losing streaks of four games or more in three of his five seasons at Ohio State, but this year’s has apparently come early, beginning with a two point home loss to Purdue on January 5.
The Buckeyes still have a talented roster and it’s never fun to catch an underperforming team in the midst of a slump. Ohio State will be coming to Assembly Hall with something to prove, so it’ll be up to Indiana to respond and prolong its current winning streak.
Both Kenpom and Bart Torvik still have the Buckeyes ahead of Indiana in their national rankings, but give the edge to Indiana tomorrow, presumably due to the fact that the game is on a Saturday night in Bloomington. Hopefully the men’s team can come out and capitalize on the crowd energy the way the women did last night to complete the program sweep, as the Hoosiers have done against Wisconsin and Illinois.
Here’s what you need to know about Ohio State:
For a team that’s retained a respectable computer ranking over a span of five losses in six games, you would probably expect to see some more impressive wins on the schedule. As of right now though, Ohio State’s best win according to Kenpom was a one point home victory over Rutgers in early December.
In conference, the Ohio State’s other two wins came against Iowa in Columbus and on the road at Northwestern. At 3-6 in the Big Ten, the Buckeyes are only ahead of Nebraska and Minnesota in the conference.
Outside the conference, Chris Holtmann’s best wins this year came against Cincinnati and a freefalling Texas Tech on a neutral court in the Maui invitational. The rest of Ohio State’s 11 wins came against teams in the Kenpom 250+ range, like Charleston Southern and Eastern Illinois.
This is not a knock on Ohio State’s scheduling - every team can and should take all the warmup games they can afford in the early goings, especially with the new structure of conference play. On the other hand, the lack of quality wins to this point without a reliable performance in the conference makes their computer rankings seem a bit suspect.
Ohio State has dropped nine games already this year, giving us plenty to talk about. Its best loss so far, to the extent that a loss can be good, was a two point home loss to a Purdue team that’s currently number one in the AP Poll.
Also in the “not that bad” category, are a neutral site loss to San Diego State, a road loss to Duke and an overtime loss to Rutgers on the road. Had the Buckeyes not been in such a free fall and Illinois had lived up to season expectations, the nine point loss in Champaign this past Tuesday probably would have looked a little better too.
If the losses stopped there, I would probably have an easier time understanding Ohio State’s current spot in the computer rankings. But there are some real stinkers on the schedule at this point.
Ohio State is the only major conference team to suffer a loss to Minnesota this year, in Columbus no less. The Buckeyes are also one of the three teams that Fred Hoiberg’s beaten this year, meaning OSU has losses to both schools it’s ahead of in the conference standings.
Even the loss to North Carolina looks bad in the context of the season as a whole, considering the Heels entered the game on a four game losing streak to high major opponents.
Whatever the record says about the team, Ohio State has some talented players. Likely NBA-bound freshman Brice Sensabaugh leads the way on offense, averaging 17.4 points and 5.5 boards per game from the wing.
Like Indiana, the Buckeyes are a team that shoots well from beyond the arc but doesn’t take a ton of shots. Ohio State is ninth nationally in 3-point percentage, but gets only 28.3% of its offense from deep. For context, Indiana gets about 25% of its offense from 3-point range.
Forwards Justin Sueing and Zed Key are Ohio State’s other main scorers, averaging 13 and 11.8 points per game, respectively. Of their three main scorers, Sensabaugh is the biggest threat from deep, hitting 46.7% of his 90 attempts so far this year.
The other perimeter threat that Indiana will need to account for is transfer guard Sean McNeil, who’s averaging 9.8 points per game on 40.7% from 3-point range. He was brought in from West Virginia to be a shooter, currently leading the team with 91 attempts from deep.
Defensively, Ohio State hasn’t forced many turnovers this year. Minnesota was a similar team in that regard, but it didn’t stop Indiana from committing 10 turnovers due to sloppy and inattentive play.
Taking care of the ball and getting good perimeter defense from Miller Kopp and some combination of Race Thompson, Jordan Geronimo, and Malik Reneau will likely be the keys for Indiana tomorrow. The rest of the roster plays into Indiana’s strength, relying on good 2-point shooting for most of its offense.