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By Matt McCoy
When the Buckeyes lost at Michigan in overtime February 5, most fans came away feeling like the team had turned a corner and was headed in the right direction. What a difference two weeks make.
Internet message board comments, and Bucksline phone calls, e-mails and tweets after Sunday's loss to Wisconsin are as negative as I can remember.
One e-mailer suggested Thad Matta should lose his job because he "only delivers when he brings in talented players. None of his players ever develop." Yeah right...that Evan Turner guy didn't get any better.
I think it's time for everyone to take a deep breath. Yes--Sunday was extremely alarming. All of the shortcomings of this Ohio State team were exposed. Their margin for error is paper thin and when the Buckeyes don't bring it defensively, they have no chance.
But in the big picture, the 2012-13 Buckeyes came into the season having lost a two-time All-American center in Jared Sullinger and the school's third all-time leading scorer in William Buford. If you had told me in October that on February 19, Ohio State would be 18-7 overall and 8-5 in the Big Ten, I'd have said that's about right.
On Bucksline, we talked about the state of the Buckeyes and former Buckeye captain and 610 WTVN's Tony White said he doesn't think the clunker at Wisconsin is overly surprising.
"Ohio State has to win the most difficult way possible...defensively," Tony said. "They're playing games where they have to be mentally focused and tough every single game and every single possession. If they're not, they lose because they don't have any margin for error and when you talk about the month of February and how tough it is to maintain your concentration, it's not incredibly surprising for Ohio State to have this low of a low."
So what happens now? Ohio State can change the mood completely by winning two home games this week. Minnesota is coming off its own humiliating loss, by 21, at Iowa Sunday. The Gophers will be in town Wednesday. Then Sunday No. 4 Michigan State visits.
"This is a huge week. They could easily go 0-2 because Minnesota and Michigan State are two tough teams and Ohio State right now is not showing great toughness," Tony said. "They're going to have to change that mentality because if they don't come out and play tough against these teams, they'll get beat by both of them and that would be disastrous. You'd be talking about questioning whether Ohio State is an NCAA tournament team. If you go 0-2 this week that means you've gone 1-5 in your last six and you'd have to start wondering."
WTVN's and SportsRappUp.com's Jeff Rapp joined the show as well. His read on the Buckeyes recent struggles is that the starters counted on to develop to compliment Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft, have not progressed as much as expected.
"Those three in the starting line-up right now are hitting some sort of a wall," Jeff said. "I like Lenzelle Smith as a player...but I think he's in some sort of defensive slump. Amir Williams, you don't know what you're getting and Sam Thompson, I'm not seeing anywhere near a developed player at this point. Those guys have got to pick it up or they're going to have to be more cerebral at least and right now it's not happening."
If you want to hear Jeff, Tony and me on Bucksline, you can check it out, commercial free, by clicking HERE:
My latest Top 25 ballot
The Buckeyes fell to 18th in the latest AP and coaches polls. I have them three spots lower at No. 21.
I'm puzzled that Wisconsin, No. 19, is still lower in the overall poll than Ohio State. Both teams have 18 wins, Wisconsin is ahead of the Buckeyes in the Big 10 and just hammered OSU Sunday. In my mind, there's no way to justify the Buckeyes being ahead of the Badgers....but they are.
There are two teams I have ranked that are not in the overall AP top 25. Illinois has righted the ship and makes my ballot at No. 23 but the Illini are 29th according to voters. I also gave Akron a vote this week, but I'm in the minority. They only got 16 and are 32nd. Here's how I voted.
4) Michigan State
13) Kansas State
14) Oklahoma State
15) New Mexico
21) Ohio State
22) Colorado State