The week that was
Ohio State turned the page on January with a Feb. 1 win at Wisconsin, but the one-point victory over the higher-ranked Badgers wasn’t impressive enough to keep the Buckeyes from falling out of the Associated Press Top 25 last Monday for the first time in four years. They should be back in today when a new poll comes out. They handed Iowa its second home loss of the season with a 45-point second half and then used their defense to ignite a game-ending 19-4 run in defeating Purdue for the second time this season.
The week ahead
The Buckeyes have two straight victories over ranked teams, and three for the season. They will have a chance at a fourth against Michigan in the only regular-season meeting between the teams. Thad Matta hasn’t lost to the Wolverines at Value City Arena (9-0) and is 17-4 overall as Ohio State’s coach. Michigan, tied for first place in the Big Ten, has lost its past two conference road games (Indiana and Iowa) after winning its first four. Meanwhile, Illinois had lost eight games in a row before winning yesterday at Penn State. It was the Fighting Illini’s longest losing streak since they lost 11 straight games 40 years ago.
How good are they?
The Buckeyes are back to playing selflessly and with accountability at both ends, the type of basketball that should give them a chance in any game if they can hit some perimeter shots. With three more home games among their next four, they could put themselves in position to challenge for another Big Ten title, but they must make up three games on Michigan and Michigan State. A five-loss team has won at least a share of the championship once since the Big Ten went to an 18-game schedule in 2008: Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan shared it at 13-5 two years ago.
The offense had its most efficient performances in a month against Iowa and Purdue, averaging better than 1.1 points per possession and shooting at least 50 percent in the second half of each game. Their 15 three-pointers in the two games — six by Lenzelle Smith Jr. — were their most in back-to-back games since December. They have shot better than 42 percent from behind the arc in each of their past three games after doing it only twice in the first eight conference games. Purdue’s point total was its lowest of the season, nearly 20 below its Big Ten average coming into the game, and the fewest points scored against the Buckeyes by a Big Ten opponent this season. LaQuinton Ross has scored in double figures in 17 of the past 19 games and has had at least six rebounds in three of the past four. At Iowa, Aaron Craft was the first Big Ten player since 2001 (Charlie Bell of Michigan State) to have at least 17 points, six assists and six steals in a game.
Beyond Scott, Matta might have to use his bench more judiciously in the stretch run if last week is an indication of what the future holds. Freshman Marc Loving’s streak of games without a field goal reached five, Amedeo Della Valle didn’t make a shot in two games, and he risks turnovers whenever he drives through traffic. Backup center Trey McDonald is an active defender and rebounder but undersized, and he had seven fouls in 17 minutes.
Outside the lines
Ohio State freshman linebacker Mike Mitchell, who redshirted last season, will transfer after this semester to be closer to his ailing father in Texas, ElevenWarriors.com reported yesterday. That raises the question of what becomes of Mitchell’s younger brother, Mickey, a 6-foot-8, 240-pound high-school junior who made a commitment to Ohio State in August. Mickey Mitchell was a top-25 recruit nationally before he suffered a knee injury playing football in 2012, which forced him to miss the AAU circuit last year. He did not respond to a text message from The Dispatch asking about the status of his commitment.
“They’re a good team. You’re going to go through some tough times in this league. They’ll be there at the end. They’ll be good in the NCAA tournament.” — Purdue coach Matt Painter, on Ohio State.