Down the Gopher hole: Bucks reeling after third straight loss

thompsonminny

thompsonminnyThe Michigan State loss was an understandable loss because of the hostile Breslin Center environment against an experienced top five squad. Buckeye fans were comforted by the valiant comeback and forcing overtime, nearly pulling off the stunner. Then, there was the Iowa game Sunday. In the first major home game of the conference season, Iowa was no slouch to be certain with a large starting lineup and the fourth best offense1. The Buckeyes just don’t lose at home that often, and after sustaining early scorching of the nets by the Hawkeyes, it looked like they were poised to win the game after taking a 9-point lead about halfway through the second half. However, they unraveled due to turnovers and lost their second straight contest. With that rough week behind them, the Buckeyes headed to The Barn last night to take on the Golden Gophers. What ensued was one of the worst efforts from a Thad Matta squad in years. LaQuinton Ross was the only Buckeye consistently capable of offense, and the team’s defense and rebounding failed them due to smaller lineups and poor coaching decisions. Minnesota stunned the Bucks with a 63-53 home win, and the Buckeyes have now lost three straight for the first time in nearly five years and eviscerated any realistic chance at the conference title just five games into the gauntlet of Big Ten basketball.

It is time to slam the panic button.

We had heard that the Buckeyes were working on some new zone offense looks as they’ll be facing primarily zone in the conference season. This isn’t anything new as teams have always leaned towards zoning Matta’s bunch whether it’s due to their big men, athleticism on the perimeter, or their ability to run the pick and roll. So, the new look came, and early returns were fairly promising. Instead of just chucking the ball from top of the key to wing and back to the top of the key and repeat, they overloaded one side (the key to beating a zone) and had two players run the baseline, screening for each other. Most of the time, they had Ross or Sam Thompson, two of the more confident scorers on the team inside the arc, run that action. They also worked harder to get the ball into the elbow with mostly Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Ross playing those roles.

This game really had no flow early as the officiating was incredibly tight with the refs calling ticky-tack hand checks and blocks at both ends. Both Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott picked up fouls in the first minute-plus of the game. Minnesota was getting great looks inside, but that was when they got to shoot it. At the six minute mark in the first half, the Buckeyes were just 6-of-22 from the field, but they were still in the game because they had not turned the ball over once and had forced nine Minnesota miscues. The Buckeyes got to the break tied at 29 despite losing Aaron Craft for the final four minutes of the half on a bogus charge call that resulted in his second personal foul. As Craft split two big men, the one that drew less contact completely flopped and got the call. All things considered, with Minnesota shooting a scorching 57% and the Bucks committing eight team fouls, they had to feel pretty good about being tied after that first half effort. Then, the second half happened.

In the last three games, the Buckeyes have now turned the ball over 51 times, which is terrifyingly above their average of 10.3 turnovers per game prior to the Spartans game. In this one, Ohio State had 10 second half turnovers, including a string early in the second half where they turned it over on FIVE straight possessions, capped by a Shannon Scott offensive foul. Speaking of Scott, he didn’t score a field goal in this game, missing three shots and committing four turnovers on his way to a 1 point, 1 assist game in 23 minutes. Scott has been outright dreadful in the past two games with 3 points on just 1-of-8 shooting. While he’s the team’s second elite defender on the perimeter, nobody respects his shot, and against a zone, he’s practically worthless out there as much as he’s been turning it over without converting. Lenzelle Smith Jr. had another single point performance with 8 on 3-of-9 shooting as well. The senior guard has really struggled of late with his outside shot, and he needs to get it together in order for the Buckeyes to compete and provide some sort of backcourt scoring. Sixteen points from Craft, Smith Jr., and Scott put together isn’t going to cut it.

While the offense has its warts, boils, and scabs, we all know that the Buckeyes hang their hat on their defensive play. It’s how they’re built to stay in and eventually win contests. That wasn’t up to par last night either as the Gophers shot 51%. Most frustrating was the looks they got inside coupled with the and-one fouls the Buckeyes committed as Minnesota rebounded the basketball on the offensive glass. Big men Oto Osenieks and Elliott Eliason combined for 20 points and 17 rebounds despite averaging just under 14 and 12 combined this season. What compounded this big men scoring and rebounding was Thad Matta’s attempt to play small for most of the second half, sending Amir Williams to the bench in favor of Marc Loving and Sam Thompson. With 12:28 left, Loving subbed in for Trey McDonald with the Buckeyes down just one. When Amir finally checked back in with 5:01 to play, the Bucks were down five and had given away complete control of the glass. Offensive rebound fouls chained together with offensive rebounds off missed free throws and more fouls. It just got really out of hand.

For four minutes of crunch time basketball, from 5:44 to 1:10 in the game, the Buckeyes did not score a field goal and managed just TWO points at the line. They tried to run Craft and Ross pick-and-rolls, but they turned it over a couple of times, and Ross, fatigued obviously from carrying the offensive burden all game, starting short-arming his contested shots in the paint. Ross did manage 22 points on 8-of-17 shooting, but other than Sam Thompson’s 12 points and 4-of-7 shooting, the rest of the team was just 6-of-27 from the field for 19 points! That’s just not a winning formula.

Momentum (aka: Uncle Mo) played a big role in this one. After a heated early second half sequence where Osenieks grabbed Craft around the neck for an off-ball foul, Ross and Osenieks got tangled up at the other end. A double foul was issued as Osenieks did an Oscar-worthy job of flopping on the contact, and Gopher coach Richard Pitino was hit with a technical for throwing his jacket and running his mouth. The scene, which included a cup of ice being thrown on the court, seemed to ignite the Minnesota team and crowd, and they carried it home for the victory.

The Buckeyes face Nebraska on the road on Monday night. In the meantime, they’ll fall even farther in the polls from No. 11, and they’ll sink out of conversation for the Big Ten regular season crown with Michigan State and Michigan still undefeated in conference play. But, the Buckeyes have bigger problems than that, because they have an offense that can’t get out of its own way with turnovers. It’s so toxic that it’s now just not making things difficulty, it’s choking out the elite-level defense and making it irrelevant.

(Photo: Scott Takushi/Pioneer Press)

 

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Footnotes:

  1. That is in terms of adjusted efficiency according to KemPom.com []
  • FearTheRoo

    I’m playing the world’s smallest violin.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Send them Anthony Bennett!

  • @TheDeePagel

    Don’t panic yet…although it is not good right now….but…

    1. It’s January, not March

    2. If they can beat Nebraska, Illinois, and Penn St., then they have momentum going into Wiscy and Iowa.

    3. Then they have a long stretch of winnable games before ending against Mich St.

    So while they look bad, real bad, their schedule gives the, a chance to regain their confidence before being tested again….basketball, like pretty much all sports is based on confidence and momentum and theirs is shot right now.

    But the chances are there to get back on the right curve.

    Problem is the shooting from outside….there is none besides Q and even relying on him is a problem. Missing Kam Williams is hurting us bad in my opinion, and Loving and De La Valle are going to be needed to hit shots if they ever want to be successful driving again….if not, we will see defenses continue to pack in the paint and give Craft, Scott, Thompson, and Smith all the outside space they want.