It was December 14, everything was going right for the Ohio State Buckeyes on the hardwood. At 9-0, including wins over Cincinnati, Villanova (by 25), at North Carolina (by 25), and against Penn State (by 32), the scarlet and gray looked like the best team in college basketball. So much that given how many No. 1 teams had lost in the first five or so weeks of the season, the Buckeyes were about to be the top-ranked team in the country due to their dominant undefeated record that already included some signature wins.
All that came to a halt when Ohio State suffered their first loss of the season at Minnesota. While it was just their first loss of the season, the game against the Gophers seemed to bring a somewhat bad vibe to the scarlet and gray. After winning their first nine games of the season, the Buckeyes then won their next two, including a big-time win over Kentucky in Las Vegas. Yet, at 11-1, they then lost six of their last seven games. Just over one month after they were on the verge of being the No. 1-ranked team in the country, the scarlet and gray fell out of the AP Poll on January 20 for the first time all season and have yet to find their way back into the top 25.
With a season full of high expectations, the Buckeyes found themselves back in the same place they were last season. In 2019-20, they started the season 12-1 before losing five straight games and then finishing the season 19-14 before making it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. While this season’s start featured a number of key wins over ranked opponents, the similarities between the two seasons are still there. The only problem is that the 2019-20 season wasn’t filled with too many expectations; head coach Chris Holtmann’s third season Columbus is.
It was almost like the Bob Huggins-led West Virginia Mountaineers showed the rest of college basketball how to beat the Buckeyes after Ohio State was held to a season-low 59 points in their first loss of the season. After losing to Wisconsin on January 3, which was their second straight loss and third of the season, Holtmann downplayed the similarities between this season and last.
“I don’t really, right now, look at it in that sense,” he said after losing to the Badgers. “We played two good teams. We have to play better down the stretch, and that’s all we’re looking at.”
Then, when Ohio State lost its fourth game in a row, the head coach was hardpressed to admit the similarities because it was obvious that they were there. It was just something that he hoped he wouldn’t have to discuss.
“I think, sure, there are some similarities,” Holtmann said. “Young guys struggling through January. A little bit of injury issues. I’m sure there are some similarities. I’ve not spent a whole lot of time kind of looking at the two. But, yeah, I’m sure there are some similarities.”
The start of the season was almost like the first hill on a rollercoaster. It began as a sharp rise that was filled with plenty of winning but quickly turned into a very fast drop that no one could stop or even control. Holtmann had to find a way to stop the bleeding before it became too big of a wound.
While Ohio State has won back-to-back games after losing six of seven, it’s clear that the team that was once considered a Final Four team now face plenty of questions going forward. Whether it’s who will step up as a legitimate second scoring option behind Kaleb Wesson, cutting down on the turnovers, or just being more consistent offensively, Holtmann has had his work cut out for him over the past few weeks.
To make matters even worse, the Buckeyes are now with point guard D.J. Carton, who has taken a leave of absence from the team to deal with some mental health issues. The freshman point guard not only played a significant role on the team, but was the third-leading scorer, averaging 10.4 points, three assists, and 2.8 rebounds a game while shooting 47.7% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc.
Love my team and Ohio❤️ pic.twitter.com/Sjb3C9sZbJ
— DJ Carton (@DJCarton) January 31, 2020
Honestly though, kudos to him. There are far more important things in life than college basketball. It’s vitally important to keep your mind right, first and foremost. Holtmann agrees with that, and the head coach made it a point to show his support for one of his players.
“I want to begin here by thanking our fans for their support of DJ in his pursuit of mental health, overall health,” Holtmann said. “The wide, vast majority of our fans I know are so unbelievably supportive of him in that, and I just want to thank our fan base for that. For the rare few that tweeted at me this is somehow the reflection of our program, reflection on me personally: Guilty, guilty. So be it. You can take your antiquated thinking somewhere else.
“There is nothing, nothing more important in our program than our players’ physical, mental health and overall growth. Nothing. And that will always be the case. There’s not a game, there’s nothing. And if it’s somehow a reflection, I think we all know that’s wrong. I really appreciate the overall kind of overwhelming support for a young man in his pursuit of this, and I know he does too.”
“Our staff here, our medical staff, this university is comprehensive in its care of our players physically and mentally. Comprehensive. I’ve never seen anything like it. I think we’re on the cutting edge in a lot of ways in terms of our staffing, our willingness to deal with our players’ issues. And it’s a day and age where we see this more and more, particularly in this age group and particularly with student-athletes.”
Dealing with mental health issues of his own, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love showed his support of Carton as well. It really is cool that so many people realize that basketball is just a game.
D.J.’s mom, Jennifer, has already reassured to Buckeye Nation that Carton will “be back stronger than ever in a Buckeye uniform.”
Thank you to DJ’s many supporters❤️ pic.twitter.com/pOnsRAJX0v
— Jennifer Carton (@meeker1015) February 2, 2020
While D.J.’s leave of absence is absolutely understandable and the right thing for him to do, it just adds to what has been a strange season for the Buckeyes. Luckily, it’s only early February and there’s still plenty of time to prove that they are in fact one of the top teams in the country and can compete for a championship this season. It’s just important that Holtmann gets the best out of his team while continuing to develop and improve.
Now 14-7 and just 4-6 in the Big Ten, Ohio State has their work cut out for them in the next month. Not only to continue to gain momentum heading into March, but to finish in the top half of the Big Ten, a conference that is loaded, which certainly gives the Buckeyes plenty of experience ahead of March but also makes it so that these types of rough patches happen as well.
It all starts Tuesday night when Ohio State travels to Ann Arbor to take on a Michigan team that has also had plenty of struggles recently after starting the season playing very well. Maybe the rivalry game will be all the Buckeyes need to continue to get back on track, at least Buckeye Nation hopes so.