The Ohio State Buckeyes started off the season on a roll with big wins over the Villanova Wildcats and Kentucky Wildcats (that North Carolina Tar Heels win isn’t looking so good these days). Since then, they suffered their first loss of the season back in December at Minnesota, and have now dropped four straight games including three in conference play. The Buckeyes, despite being ranked last week in the AP at #11, find themselves tied for last place in the Big Ten with Northwestern.
To break down this cryptic team and give you all some better insight into THE [Not actually trademarked] Ohio State, we had a virtual sit-down with Connor Lemons over at Land-Grant Holy Land as he graciously answered a few questions for us.
Kevin (AKA SpartyOnHuskers): Could you describe the best thing you like about The Schottenstein Center/Value City Arena in one sentence? Now the worst thing about the arena? And would you prefer to still be playing in St. John Arena instead?
Connor: The best part about the Schottenstein Center is definitely the placement of the student section. Some schools do behind the benches, some do behind the basket, and some do both. Ohio State has their student section stretch the length of the floor behind the benches and scorers’ table. Sitting right behind the opposing team’s bench, literally within arm’s length of the other team was always really fun when I was a student. I’ve had some really interesting interactions with players and coaches, and I even have some favorite non-OSU coaches now because of it (Tim Miles was one of my favorites, for example). The part that sucks about the Schott is that it’s a multi-use arena used for hockey, basketball, and concerts. It seats about 19,000 people, so it’s pretty cavernous. It’s tough to get it really loud in there, especially during games that are lopsided one way or the other where people just aren’t motivated to get loud. Compared to other Big Ten venues, Ohio State probably has one of the least impactful “home court advantages” in the conference. St. John Arena is more of the old “field house” setup. It gets really hot and really loud in there, and all around is a better basketball venue I think.
Kevin: OSU has dropped four straight games now, including three in conference play. Is panic starting to set in a bit among the fan base and team, or are cool heads looking at who the losses were to and remembering those big wins over Kentucky and Villanova not so long ago? What has been happening exactly that has seen these losses happen after the seemingly invincibility of the Buckeyes prior?
Connor: I think a reasonable amount of concern is starting to set in on the fanbase. I can’t speak for the coaches or the team, but just from talking to people around the city and University, a lot of people are starting to scratch their heads a bit. The Buckeyes are definitely one of the three or four most talented teams in the B1G, and we’ve seen what they can do against elite opponents like Villanova and Kentucky. The potential to be a top-tier team is obviously there, but they’ve really ran into a perfect storm of issues all at once. They’ve got some injury issues with Kyle Young having his appendix out, Duane Washington Jr. hurting his ribs, Justin Ahrens hurting his back, and Musa Jallow probably redshirting after ankle surgery in October. They’ve also turned the ball over at an alarming rate lately, and their three-point shooting percentage has plummeted after being great early in the season. All that together is creating problems for the Buckeyes, but I think they’ll get it together soon and end with at least a respectable conference record.
Kevin: I’m going to sneak a football question in here because this is a Nebraska site. Do you feel confident you can define a completed forward pass, or is the incompetence of NCAA officiating have you questioning your sanity like all the years the NFL refs made me question mine as a Lions fan watching Calvin Johnson play?
Connor: I’m originally from Toledo [Editor’s Note: This is in fact part of Michigan as I do not personally recognize the bogus state border line rigged by crooked Andrew Jackson back in the day], so I grew up surrounded by a lot of Lions fans and all I can say is... I’m sorry. Detroit sports are in a rough spot right now, but things will get better……..eventually. As for the Clemson game, I actually thought it was going to be called back when the play happened live, but during the replay it definitely looked like a catch and fumble. It’s basketball season though, so no need to reopen old wounds.
Kevin: This one is also a just for fun question you can ignore if you want/or if I’m off base assuming you are at least a casual Cavaliers fan. Do you enjoy the tin foil hat conspiracies of that school up north about how an Ohio sports franchise owned by a Michigan State alum hired away their head basketball coach?
Connor: I’m actually not an NBA fan at all, I watch a lot of college hoops but am not a huge fan of the NBA. I think John Beilein is an awesome coach, and I loved watching Michigan when he was there, but I’m not really sure how great his coaching style is going to translate to the NBA. So far it’s not looking too great.
Kevin: Back to the serious stuff now. Kaleb Wesson leads in scoring, rebounds, and blocks. Duane Washington Jr. and DJ Carton are obviously hot on his heels in scoring. Who is the unheralded player on the roster that you think we should be aware of after those three players that is a valuable asset on the court but who might not show it in strictly the stats sheet?
Connor: Definitely Andre Wesson. He’s Kaleb’s older brother, and actually wasn’t offered a scholarship to Ohio State until after Kaleb was offered. He really struggled his first couple years in Columbus, but he has steadily gotten better the last few years and has become a very valuable part of this team, especially being the only scholarship senior on the team. He leads Ohio State in 3-point shooting at 44%, is averaging almost 9 points per game, and just always seems to be on the ground diving for a loose ball, falling into the stands trying to save one, or banging on the glass for rebounds. He lost a few teeth last year in a collision in a game and he fractured his eye socket this year in a game, so he’s a pretty tough cookie. Most teams won’t circle him as a guy to watch for, but you really can’t ignore him or he’ll make you pay.
Kevin: As I pull these numbers up Sunday night to write the questions, Ohio State still finds itself sitting at number eight in KenPom despite their recent struggles. They’re ranked 26th in adjusted offense, 9th in adjusted defense, and played the 17th toughest schedule.
Nebraska on the other hand sits at 131st, offense is 148th, and defense is 149th. Let’s be realistic here, what kind of miracle do we Nebraska fans need to have happen with our small line-up of guys in order for us to get a win?
Connor: The way Ohio State has been playing lately, you probably have a better chance than you think. However, I think the Buckeyes have the upper hand here simply because Nebraska rolls out quite a few guards and is lacking a little bit in their frontcourt. My guess is that Chris Holtmann will want to get the ball to Kaleb Wesson and Kyle Young early and expose that if he can.
The one thing that Ohio State always has trouble with are tall, athletic guards who can create scoring opportunities for themselves. This year it was Marcus Carr for Minnesota. A couple years back it was Tony Carr from Penn State (no relation). The Buckeyes just tend to struggle guarding those tall guards who can make things happen by themselves. Nebraska has that type of guy this year in Haanif Cheatham. If Nebraska wins, it’ll be because he has a huge game.
Kevin: Final question, let’s hear your score prediction?
Connor: Ohio State 66, Nebraska 59
Kevin: Thanks again for taking the time to answer our questions. And regardless of the outcome Tuesday night, you have my heartfelt wishes of nothing but luck come February 4th on your schedule.
Thanks again to Connor for answering our questions. Be sure to check out Land-Grant Holy Land before tip-off tomorrow night to read some of their basketball coverage. And as always, Go Big Red!