“Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships,” the great Bear Bryant once said. Virginia — one of the best defensive teams in the country on a yearly basis under Tony Bennett — proved that last year when they won the national championship. Defense does, in fact, win championships, but the offense can also lose you plenty of games as well, even if the defense is dominant. A defense can only take you so far when the offense is struggling.
The Ohio State Buckeyes are finding that out the hard way over the last few weeks. After starting the season 9-0 while looking like the best team in the country and on the cusp of being the No. 1-ranked team in college basketball, the scarlet and gray have now lost four of their last seven games, including each of their last four games overall. Their defense has been fine. It’s Ohio State’s offense that has been the major problem.
During their 11 wins in the first month and a half of the season, including a win over Cincinnati, 25-point victories over Villanova and at North Carolina, a 32-point win over Penn State, and win against Kentucky (in Las Vegas), the Buckeyes showcased their dominance on both ends of the floor. The guards were efficient from three-point range, Kaleb Wesson was dominating in the post (and from beyond the arc), and the other role players were filling up the box score as well. Everything was going so well, so much that Ohio State was considered one of the best teams in the country.
Over the last couple of weeks, their offense has essentially been nonexistent, so bad that it really doesn’t matter how well they have played on the other end of the floor. They’ve not only had a problem putting points on the board, but they are too careless with the ball, which has turned into a bunch of turnovers and easy baskets for the opposition.
As far as the scoring goes, it’s been tough for the Buckeyes during their current four-game losing streak, to say the least. In their last four losses, Ohio State hasn’t scored more than 59 points.1 Their efficiency, or lack thereof, is to blame. The scarlet and gray are shooting a dismal 33.6% (72-of-214) from the field and 28.9% (28-of-97) from beyond the arc in their latest four losses. That’s not going to get the job done in many games, especially in Big Ten play, as they have already found out.
The Buckeyes were once ranked in the top 10 in the country in both effective field goal percentage and adjusted offensive efficiency. With their struggles over the last four games, those rankings have now fallen to 41st and 24th, respectively. In their last four losses, Ohio State is averaging just .833 points per possession. Of the 353 Division I men’s basketball teams in the country, the scarlet and gray would only be ahead Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Maryland Eastern Shore in that category.
Part of all of that is just not being able to knock down shots whatsoever, even when the shooter is open. Another part is the conundrum that head coach Chris Holtmann is currently having with his two sophomore guards. Duane Washington is one of the team’s best scorers but struggles defensively; Luther Muhammad is solid on defense but struggles to create for himself on the offensive side of the floor. That showcased itself during Saturday’s loss to Indiana. After scoring just two points in the losses to the Badgers and Terrapins, Muhammad notched just three against the Hoosiers. Yet, due to Washington’s lapses defensively, the latter only played eight minutes due to a “coach’s decision.” With the offense struggling and continuing to find ways to put the ball in the basket, the Buckeyes were without their second-leading scorer so far this season because he was struggling defensively, which Indiana was taking advantage of.
Not to rag on Washington too much here, but not only has he been struggling defensively, but the guard has had a tough time finding his shot since returning from a rib injury. In his nine games prior to the injury, the sharpshooter shot 52.1% from the field and 53.7% from three-point range. In the five games since his return, Washington is shooting just 28.9% from the field and 28% from beyond the arc.
“Some of it was concerns we had going into the season about were we going to take the next step in terms of our efficiency offensively, in particular, our perimeters,” Holtmann said following the loss to Indiana. “So it’s not a complete surprise to me. I thought we had made some improvements. Obviously we’ve got to do a better job coaching them to make sure we are making improvements. At the end of the day, listen, it’s not going to change until we make some of these real changes, and that’s the bottom line.”
When you pair the team’s shooting struggles with the fact that Ohio State is turning the ball over way too much, it’s quite a problem. Turnovers have been a problem throughout much of the season, it was just that the team’s offense and the defense did enough to still win games. Lately, that hasn’t been the case. Over the last four games, the Buckeyes have 66 turnovers (16.5 per game). One of the team’s top playmakers, true freshman D.J. Carton turned the ball over seven times Saturday afternoon in Bloomington alone.
Ohio State this season: 13.9 turnovers per game (ranks 190th out of 353 team)
Ohio State in the past four losses: 16.5 turnovers per game (would rank 326th out of 353 teams)
— Colin Hass-Hill (@chasshill) January 11, 2020
Obviously, when you’re already having a time scoring the ball, turning the ball over makes things much more difficult. That his showcased itself each of the last four games:
The execution, the inefficiency, the turnovers. It’s a recipe for disaster offensively. There’s only so much the Buckeyes can do defensively when the offense continues to struggle like it currently is. Both Eleven Warriors’ Colin Hass-Hill and The Athletic’s Bill Landis have done a great job in explaining Ohio State’s struggles on the hardwood over the last couple weeks.
“Listen, it won’t change until we change some of these things,” Holtmann said. “That’s on all of us. It’s not going to change until we play smarter and tougher and sounder in a lot of ways.”
Kaleb Wesson — who has clearly been Ohio State’s best player on both ends of the floor — can only do so much. Defenses will continue to focus on him and until the Buckeyes find a way to put the ball in the basket another way, they will continue to struggle on that end of the floor. When you’re in a tough conference like the Big Ten, it makes these types of things so much tougher.
It’s only January so the Holtmann and the Buckeyes have some time to figure things out, but currently 1-4 in the Big Ten, Ohio State is currently in last place in the conference. This coming just a few short weeks after they were almost the top-ranked team in college basketball. Life on the hardwood has certainly hit the Buckeyes quite fast this season, it’s now just important to get the offense at least somewhat back to normal and get a W in the win column to get out of this funk. The only way they can do that though is by being more efficient offensively and cutting down on the turnovers. Until then, this skid could very well continue.