It is time for Ohio State men’s basketball fans to scale back their expectations or invest in a defibrillator. Defibrillators can be found on eBay for around $500. Scaling back is better, then.
It is mid-February. Or, is it late February? Either way, we have a healthy sample of what the Buckeyes are all about at this point.
They are soft in the middle, and we are talking Pima Cotton soft. Lenzelle Smith Jr. can’t shoot. Sam Thompson can’t shoot. LaQuinton Ross can’t play defense — and when he throws a punch, it looks like one of Aaron Craft’s three-point attempts. If coach Thad Matta gives Shannon Scott another start this season, pass the defibrillator…
Take a deep breath and scale back.
The Buckeyes are not a bad team, in context.
College basketball is not amid one of its most glorious seasons. It has this feeling that conjures … what? It is something akin to the American automobile industry in the 1970s.
Syracuse is the best in the land, right? Last night, the Orange lost at home to a Boston College team that won six of its first 25 games. Last night, No. 2 Florida barely got past Auburn in Gainesville.
The so-called elite teams are not exactly machines for the ages. They are Mustang IIs. They look good because there are a lot of Chevy Vegas, Pontiac Astres and Plymouth Sapporos on the road. (You forgot about the Sapporo, didn’t you? That is the point.)
According to RPI rankings, the Big Ten is the second-toughest conference in the country, a hair behind the Big 12. How can this be? We watch the Big Ten night in and night out, and it’s supposed to be good?
Yes it is, relatively speaking. Think: American Motors. Everyone cracks on Pacers, Matadors and Gremlins, but when they were hammered from behind, they didn’t burst into flames like a Ford Pinto.
The Buckeyes are flawed, that is true. They are soft in the middle, no one can shoot, and so forth. But this is a season where there are flaws from coast to coast.
The Buckeyes are not a bad team, they play in one of the best conferences and they are capable of beating any other flawed team in the country.
Feeling better yet? Lower the bar. It does not mean the sky is falling.
“I never thought the sky was falling,” Smith said. “At one point, I felt we hit rock-bottom — the home loss against Penn State. We’re picking ourselves up. We’re not where we need to be, but we’re fighting to get better.”
Last night, Ohio State (21-6) blew Northwestern (12-15) off the floor at Value City Arena. The game had a smudge on it — Ross and a Northwestern reserve, Nikola Cerina, were ejected after a skirmish in the lane. Yet, it was another step forward for an improving team. The final was 76-60.
Suddenly, the Buckeyes have won five of six games. The things they do well are resurfacing. Their better attributes are showing.
“They’re athletic,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said of the Buckeyes. “They’re quick. They’re strong. … They’re all juniors and seniors out there. They’re a veteran team.”
Yes, they are soft in the middle. But they are deep with athletes, and have the kind of guard play that can carry a team some distance when the calendar turns to March.
“I like the direction we’re heading,” Matta said. “In February, I think we’ve lost one time. Historically, the trend is we start playing our best basketball. Syracuse lost at home tonight. Who knows what can happen every time you take the court?”
These Buckeyes are not going to win the NBA title, but, then, they don’t have to.
Michael Arace is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.