(Photo courtesy AP)

The Ohio State University Men’s basketball team has dropped back-to-back games for the first time this season with four of its next six games NOT at home.

Last season in January a “moment” of reflection, if not “mayday”, proved to be a rough stretch for the Buckeyes that ultimately resulted in five straight losses to start the calendar year. The positive of that, from last season that is, was the level of talent in its opponents exposed some of that roster’s issues. But the Buckeyes, thus far in this young season show a better level of talent of their own – so what’s up with back to back losses against teams they should have beaten?

The plus, thus far this season, is the Buckeyes did not wait until January to play high-level teams. The Buckeyes have shown “high-if-not-elite-talent so far in their first 11 games of the season. But, a mirror-looking-moment-here, they have demonstrated obtrusive problems in each of their losses.

Too many unforced turnovers

Ohio State is averaging 13.8 turnovers through 14 games, but opponents are averaging only five steals, or less. Despite not playing many teams able to force turnovers, the Buckeyes continue to struggle protecting the ball. It’s why they lost to West Virginia (22 turnovers, 15 unforced). It played a hand in losses to Minnesota (six unforced) and Wisconsin (seven unforced), where they had 14 turnovers in each game.

“Guys have to play to their strengths more than what they’re doing,” head coach Chris Holtmann said.

Not everyone has been able to capitalize on the Buckeyes’ lack of ball security, but Wisconsin did by scoring 16 points off turnovers.

Finding options in the clutch other than Kaleb Wesson

The Buckeyes’ wins have been by an average of 20.5 points. Their only single-digit wins are Cincinnati and Kentucky. Meanwhile, their three losses have come by an average of 8.3 points. Ohio State has been tested in many ways, but finding ways to be successful in clutch moments isn’t one of them.

“That’s been the one difference,” Holtmann said. “We have not had a whole lot of one, two-possession (situations) late in games where that question has had to be answered.”

That opportunity did occur against the Badgers Friday night, and the Buckeyes came up “way” short, – just two players — Kaleb Wesson and Duane Washington Jr. — making a basket in the last 17 minutes of the game. In three losses this season, Wesson is averaging 17 points and 9.3 rebounds. He’s more than held up his end of the bargain in production.

The challenge has been finding others to do so. Which Coach Holtmann stated is much easier to do when teams are allowed to be physical in the paint, a long-time tradition in the Big Ten.

“The way the game is played today and called today, absolutely,” Holtmann said. “It’s why the NBA’s gone completely went away from it. But still, he’s our best player. We have to find a way to get him the ball in those situations.”

The Buckeyes relied too heavily on Wesson last season. This is a more talented team, but it’s also a younger team, which means there will still be growing pains.
Managing “those” Freshman growing pains

Ohio State played a seven-man rotation against Wisconsin with the only bench players getting minutes — outside of a 1:52 Justin Ahrens sighting at the end of the first half — being freshmen D.J. Carton and E.J. Liddell.

The two combined for two points, one rebound, two assists, four fouls and four turnovers. Not quite the type of night you’d hope from two regulars in the rotation. While both have shown flashes of how good they can be, each has offered reminders that they are still just first-year players.

“With freshmen, (they’re) used to having a lot of success,” Wesson said. “(They) might be down on (themselves), but you have to tell (them) ‘We brought you here for a reason, you can play.’”

Both are going to continue to get extended opportunities. Carton (scoreless against the Badgers with an assist and four turnovers) is the only backup option at point guard, while the absence of Young should allow for Liddell to get more comfortable in an extended role.

Young-less – missed indeed!

Ohio State is without Young on a “game to game” basis after having his appendix removed on Sunday. Against Wisconsin, the absence of the junior forward and his 6.8 rebounds per game was felt. The Badgers were able to rack up 12 offensive rebounds, nine split between Brad Davidson and Tyler Wahl.

“Given the fact that (Wahl) had five offensive rebounds and we had trouble matching up with him, I’m sure (Young) would’ve helped,” Holtmann said. “But we have good enough players to limit that and we have to coach them to be better and play better.”

Young does all of the “goon” work for this team. Without him, it allowed Wisconsin to hold a 34-32 rebounding advantage and have nine more shots than the Buckeyes. Those offensive rebounds sealed the game – plain and simple – down the stretch.

Holtmann would not say if Young is available for Tuesday’s road game against Maryland. But Maryland can match Wisconsin’s success on the boards with a starting frontcourt that’s led by 6-foot-10 sophomore Jalen Smith, who is averaging 13.1 points and 10.1 rebounds per game.

This team seems to do well against the upper-class teams, and overlook the lesser-class teams. So, well, Maryland, I feel the Buckeyes will handle. I also feel that TTUN and *ichigan State will be Scarlet and Grayed …. It’s Nebraska, Rutgers, Illinois, and even a returning Penn State, that worry’s me.