As the Ohio State men’s basketball team enters the heart of Big Ten play, the Buckeyes find themselves on a slippery slope.
Seemingly unable to execute on offense, turning the ball over with regularity and in the midst of a four-game losing streak, OSU (15-4, 2-4) has some questions to answer.
Perhaps the biggest of all of these is how the offense can be fixed.
During OSU’s 15 game winning streak to start the season, the Buckeyes put up more than 70 points in 11 of their first 15 games.
But in their four-game losing streak, the Buckeyes have only reached that mark one time — during an 84-74 loss against Iowa Jan. 12 — and fans at the Schottenstein are starting to miss their free fries as part of a promotion through McDonald’s. Schottenstein Center ushers hand out coupons after a Buckeye win when the team tallies at least 70 points.
“It’s like there’s a black cloud over us right now,” senior guard Aaron Craft said after OSU’s 68-62 loss to Nebraska. “We have to find a way to get it off. We’re running out of time. Nothing’s guaranteed. We’ve just got to do it.”
The way it seems OSU coach Thad Matta has decided to help the anemic offense is playing what is known as “small ball.”
“Small ball,” is the use of a shorter group of players than the traditional basketball lineup. Typically, this involves a center or power forward being swapped out for another guard or small forward who can shoot the ball well.
In terms of OSU, this has meant less playing time for junior centers Amir Williams and Trey McDonald, and an increase for junior forward Sam Thompson.
Since playing 35 minutes in a 72-68 loss to Michigan State, Williams hasn’t played more than 22 minutes in a game, while Thompson, coming off the bench, has played no fewer than 26.
“It’s a lineup that’s been effective for us in the past couple of seasons. We went to it last year toward the end of the year when we were on our win streak, and it worked out well for us,” Thompson said Wednesday. “We’ve gone to it sometimes early on this season and it’s been successful for us. Again, I think it’s just a matter of the opponent, who we’re playing, what they like to do and who is playing well that game.”
Before the OSU loss to Minnesota, Thompson said despite the success with “small ball,” the team has suffered some major drawbacks.
“We tried to go the ‘small ball’ lineup versus Michigan State and we couldn’t rebound,” Thompson said. “We didn’t have some success we had in the past, so we went back to Amir (Williams) and he really produced for us in that lineup.”
Although “small ball” does allow for more shooters and ball handlers to play together, the downside is a lack of a post presence, making it easier for opposing teams to dominate inside.
In their last three games, in which Matta has started to switch the lineups, the Buckeyes have been outscored in the paint by 13.3 points per game, letting each team score at least 38.
Matta said after the game against Nebraska, things weren’t going well for OSU inside so he wanted to try and provide more outside shooting to try and salvage a win.
“(Nebraska) did a good job of putting their heads down and driving the basketball, and they finished well. They made a couple step-backs, some floaters,” Matta said. “It was that type of night. We open up on a broken play at the jump and don’t finish at the rim. Those are the ones. We got the ball at the rim and they didn’t go in for us. That’s why we went with that (smaller) lineup, just trying to catch some juice.”
Next up, the Buckeyes are scheduled to take on Illinois, with tipoff set for Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.