The Ohio State Buckeyes are still figuring out their identity.
In just a two week span, the team was run off the floor by Gonzaga, blew a late 15 point lead to fall to Butler, stomped Wisconsin on the Badgers’ home floor, and overcame a 20 point deficit to take down rival Michigan in front of an uncharacteristically unruly home crowd.
In some moments, the Buckeyes assume the identity of athletic dynamism, tearing to the rim with length and explosion. In others, they are lost, a true embodiment of a squad that employs three raw freshmen in an already shallow rotation.
“This is a continual learning process for me and for our coaches with this group,” Coach Chris Holtmann said after the victory over Michigan. “We learned a lot from some of these games in the past two weeks, where we didn’t play with enough poise down the stretch.”
As expected, Ohio State’s success can be traced to the play of its high profile players in junior forward Keita Bates-Diop and senior forward/guard Jae’Sean Tate. When the rim shrinks and points dry up, the duo is called upon to quell opposing runs. When they do not succeed, however, problems arise.
In Ohio State’s three losses, Bates-Diop shot just 39 percent from the floor. In the team’s seven victories, that total jumps to 56 percent. Tate, too, has followed this trend. An overall 55 percent shooter this season, the forward/guard saw that drop to 40 percent in Buckeye losses.
Holtmann countered this issue with lineup and rotational adjustments, and so far the results speak for themselves. Heading into the Wisconsin game, junior guard C.J. Jackson found himself on the bench at tipoff for the first time this season, replaced by the sharpshooting senior guard Kam Williams.
The move ensured that rest to Tate and Bates-Diop would not crater the offense, while also taking a bit of the pressure off Jackson. After logging 12 combined turnovers in losses Butler and Clemson, the point guard registered just three during the Buckeye’s two game winning streak. Jackson is still playing premier minutes, but early returns suggest his scoring injection into the second unit will continue to curb the bench drop off during early substitutions.
Another difference can be found in the growing trust Holtmann has extended to freshman forward Kyle Young. With sophomore forward Micah Potter out due to a left ankle sprain, Young has made the most of his boost in minutes, providing a frenetic spark in an otherwise thin front court. Over the last four games, his minutes have gone from five, to 10, to 19, to 21.
With Micah out we’ve had to move [Young] into kind of a different role and he’s been very good,” Holtmann said. “I thought his defense, when we were switching on some of those drivers, was critical. Obviously he is an athletic kid - I think we all saw that with a couple of his rebounds. He pursues the ball and he made a couple of finishes that were good. We don’t win the game without him tonight.”
The Buckeyes continue with the second in a six game homestand against William & Mary on Saturday.