Buckeyes searching for answers heading into Big Ten tourney
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — When Ohio State’s star freshman guard D’Angelo Russell showed up on campus last summer, his first couple of choices for a uniform number were taken.
Since he likes single digits, he ended up wearing No. 0.
He even has a guess as to why it’s the perfect fit for him.
"Zero people can guard me, that’s probably what it was," he joked.
Coach Thad Matta sure hopes that’s true in upcoming games.
Coming off a lopsided home loss in their last game, the Buckeyes realize that Russell has to continue his remarkable play and that everyone else must play much better if they want to be a factor in this week’s Big Ten tournament and in the NCAA dance that follows.
The Buckeyes cannot afford to linger on Sunday’s 72-48 loss at the hands of No. 6 Wisconsin.
"It’s one of those deals that at this point of the season you’d better be resilient or you’re going to be done," coach Thad Matta said.
The sixth-seeded Buckeyes (22-9, 11-7) open conference tournament action in Chicago on Thursday night against the first-round winner of 14th-seeded Rutgers and 11th-seeded Minnesota.
Matta’s teams have a history of playing well in the league showcase. In his 15 years as a head coach, he won his only conference tournament while at his alma mater, Butler, in 2001. He twice won Atlantic-10 titles in his three years at Xavier (2001-04). In his first 10 seasons at Ohio State he’s won the conference tournament four times and taken teams to the title game three other times.
But even he adds that doesn’t mean a whole lot with a different set of players and different set of circumstances this season.
"The one thing I know about kids, they really don’t care about history," Matta said. "So what I’ve done doesn’t really resonate with them, from Butler to Xavier to here. I look forward to tomorrow night at 8 o’clock to see who shows up, how they show up and the mindset that they have."
First, the good stuff. Russell has been brilliant — averaging 19.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game. He is considered a top-five NBA draft pick by most experts should he, as expected, give up the remainder of his Ohio State eligibility after this season.
The Buckeyes have also proven to be an adequate defensive team which can translate steals into points in transition.
But a couple of major flaws have also been revealed. Center Amir Williams and his backups have not provided much of an inside presence all season. Also, in too many games with the shot clock winding down, Russell seems to be the only offensive option.
Only one other Buckeye is averaging in double figures, high-flying senior Sam Thompson at 10.2 points a game. But he’s totaled just 10 points in the last two games, putting added pressure on the first-year player from Louisville, Kentucky.
Russell said it’s easier on him when everybody gets involved. But at the same time he’s willing to do whatever he has to if means the Buckeyes advance.
"It’s just something that clicks in me that takes over, like, `It’s time,’" he said. "My coaches give me a head nod, like, `Let’s go!’ and that’s when I take the ball in my hands."
Don’t be surprised if Matta is nodding his head a lot over the next two weeks.