It’s Super Bowl Saturday, Spartans! So let’s talk a little basketball. After stopping a two-game road skid, MSU won one at home this past week. Now the Green&White get back on the road to visit our neighbors to the south, The Ohio State Buckeyes. The Buckeyes are in the midst of what could be their first losing season since 2003-04. That is pretty remarkable considering they were 10-3 at one point. To take a closer look at tomorrow’s foe, we sat down with Matt Tamanini from the Buckeyes’ SB Nation page for a Q&A.
The Only Colors: Let’s get right to it. Ohio State got off to a decent start this year, including a win over then-ranked Texas Tech and now-ranked Rutgers. But you have currently lost 9 of 10. What has caused this downswing? Is it coaching or just a case of going up against teams who are better than you?
Matt Tamanini: I think it’s been a mix of a lot of things. The fact that this is essentially a completely rebuilt team from last year I think has played a pretty large role in their issues this season. Zed Key is really the only contributor from last year in the rotation this year. Gene Brown missed the first half of the season and has played sparingly since, but other than that, everybody else is a true freshman or transfer.
The lack of cohesion and identity has been evident since they got into the Big Ten slate. Now, you can say that’s the players not gelling, or the coaches not tailoring the gameplans to their talent, but it’s probably a bit of both. But whatever it is, the construction of this team, which looked pretty solid six weeks ago, has essentially crumbled under the pressure of the Big Ten schedule.
TOC: What would it take to turn your season around at this point? Can this team get hot before the end of the season?
MT: What would it take? A miracle, honestly. The problem is not that the Buckeyes are not talented, they absolutely are. In fact, in their 10 losses since the calendar turned to 2023, they have lost by an average of 6.3 points per game, and nine of those defeats by single digits. So, whether it’s leadership, coaching, toughness, etc., they just haven’t shown any signs that they will be able to turn the corner in a substantive way down the stretch. Could they play spoiler once or twice? Absolutely, but I don’t see it in the cards for this team to suddenly take a dramatic step toward competence over the final three weeks of the regular season.
TOC: I noticed there are 9 players on the Buckeyes roster who play over 13 minutes a game, and no one plays more than 29. Do you think this team could do better if some players got more time while others got less or if fewer total played?
MT: Because Ohio State relies so much on true freshmen — all four members of their 2022 recruiting class are playing 13 MPG — I think that they kind of have to be careful about playing time. We often hear about the freshman wall and this is the time when rookies start to run into it. Of course, there’s nothing really for Chris Holtmann to save his players’ legs for at this point, but I do think that trying to keep guys fresh in game and not run the freshmen into the ground probably does make sense with this crew.
TOC: What does Ohio State have to do to beat MSU? What must MSU do to beat Ohio State?
MT: I’ll take the second question first, MSU probably just needs to force Ohio State to run its halfcourt offense. OSU is at its best when it can run the floor and let individual athletes make plays; thus working around their inherent lack of cohesion.
As for the Buckeyes, they need to start hitting shots from distance. In their 69-63 loss to Northwestern on Thursday, they were 1-14 from behind the arc, despite shooting 50% overall for the game. When Sensebaugh, Bruce Thornton, and Sean McNeil are not hitting threes, that allows defenses to pack the inside and make things increasingly difficult for Key and anyone looking to drive the lane. If you can do that, it essentially eliminates any opportunity that the Buckeyes have to score.
TOC: Your leading scorer is freshman Brice Sensabaugh. He has scored double digits in all but one game in his Buckeye career, and is shooting his 3-pointers at a high rate (46.6%). Does it feel like he is coming back for a 2nd season or is he a one-and-done? If he comes back, and with a highly rated recruiting class coming in next year (#6 in the 247 Composite rankings), is there some optimism for the near future of this program?
MT: I think that Sensabaugh will be a projected first round NBA Draft pick, so he absolutely should be a one-and-done guy, the second surprising one of those for the Buckeyes in as many years following Malaki Branham. If I were him, I certainly wouldn’t blame him for getting away from the mess that was this team as quickly as I possibly could.
Next year’s class — assuming Holtmann doesn’t get fired — does appear to be a second-straight elite group, but for the incredibly fickle Ohio State fanbase, that doesn’t inspire much optimism. If you haven’t noticed, Buckeye fans are very much a “what have you done for me lately” kind of group, so the only thing that matters is how the team is doing in the moment. When you combine that with Holtmann’s lack of success in the NCAA Tournament, you get an outlook from the fans’ perspective that is mostly doom and gloom.
I personally have been saying that I do not think that Holtmann will get fired unless they essentially lose out the rest of the way, but, given how many Ls they’ve amassed since I started saying that, essentially losing out is very much in play.
TOC: Ohio State is very much a “football school” and is always a contender to make the CFP. That being the case, how upset does the fanbase get when the basketball team doesn’t have a good year?
MT: It’s funny, because OSU fans don’t really know how to follow their teams any way other than passionately. The problem is, that usually manifests as over-the-top obnoxious arrogance or over-the-top obnoxious anger. Right now, they are over-the-top obnoxiously angry about all things Ohio State men’s basketball.
Of course, with a season like this, I think all fans have the right to be angry, and the over-the-top ones are just the most vocal ones in our Twitter mentions. But, hell hath no fury like a Buckeye fan who doesn’t think that their favorite team is living up to their unrealistically high expectations.
TOC: Bonus Question: Please predict the score of Sunday’s game.
MT: Just because I’ve been way too deferential, but at heart, I’m just a blogger with no real journalistic integrity, I will go with Ohio State 71-Michigan State 68.
TOC would like to thank Matt Tamanini for his contribution to this article, and we hope he is “over-the-top obnoxiously angry” when it is over.