Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports
With their 79-72 win over the No. 7 Maryland Terrapins, Ohio State is getting back to its early season form.
On Dec. 31, 2019, the Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball team was 11-2 and ranked fifth in the AP Poll.
One month later on Jan. 31, 2020, the exact same team was 13-7 and no longer ranked by the Associated Press.
With Sunday, Feb. 25’s 79-72 victory over the No. 7 Maryland Terrapins (12-4, 22-5), Chris Holtmann’s No. 25 Buckeyes are 18-9 (8-8 in the Big Ten) and have one final game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers (2-13, 7-19) remaining on Thursday to close out the month.
So, that means that Ohio State is currently 16-4 on the 2019-20 season in months that don’t end with “anuary.” Therefore, I would like to submit for approval to the esteemed members of Buckeye Nation that the Ohio State University should henceforth refuse to play intercollegiate men’s basketball contests during the first month of any given year.
On the final Sunday in February, the Buckeyes played one of their best games of the season, and broke a three-game losing streak against the Turtles. In a sold-out Schottenstein Center, the home team saw five players hit double-digits, as sophomore Luther Muhammad led all scorers with 22, thanks in no small part to going 4-for-8 from behind the arc. Kaleb Wesson went for 15 points and nine rebounds, while Andre Wesson and Duane Washington Jr. had a dozen apiece, and C.J. Walker had 13 of his own.
For the game, the Buckeye shot 42.6 percent from the field, including 40 percent from downtown. Interestingly, the Terps actually out-shot the Buckeyes, hitting 45.1 percent of their shots from the floor. However, OSU’s defense kept Maryland’s top two scorers Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith to a combined 18 points. Cowan fouled out on a technical with just under four minutes remaining in the contest.
The result was in stark contract with the first matchup that the two teams played in (you guessed it) the month of January, in which Ohio State lost 67-55. For that game in College, Park, Md., the Buckeyes shot 31.3 percent from the field and paltry 18.5 percent from beyond the arc.
The difference in results is even more impressive when considering that OSU’s starting forward Kyle Young left the game after rolling his ankle late in the first half and did not return. He was seen on the bench in the second half in a walking boot.
But, the Buckeyes’ turnaround in the month of February didn’t just begin against the Terps. Coming into Sunday’s contest, the Buckeyes had improved their scoring margin by +5 points over January thanks to an increased energy and focus on both ends of the floor.
However, the January doldrums aren’t new for Holtmann’s teams, at Ohio State or elsewhere. Last season, OSU went 1-6 in the first month of 2019 en route to still achieving a 20-win season and a victory in the NCAA tournament. Imagine what could have been had they not been forced to play games in January.
Our old friend Patrick Mayhorn broke down Holtmann’s January struggles at both Ohio State and Butler over at the Buckeye Sports Bulletin. So, after looking at those numbers, it is reasonable to believe that January 2018 — when Keita Bates-Diop led the Buckeyes to an 8-1 record on the month — is the outlier, and difficult Januarys are more of the norm for Holtmann coached teams.
So, it just makes sense that Gene Smith and Ohio State should use all of their considerable athletic capital (literal and figurative) to get the Big Ten Conference to not schedule any league games for the Buckeyes in January.
In recent years, to accommodate the 20-game B1G schedule and the conference’s new television deal, there have been a pair of league games played in December. So, since I understand that it is not logistically feasible for a college basketball team to just take an entire month off, what I am proposing is that Ohio State play its games that would otherwise take place in January in December, and vice versa.
That way, Ohio State would get the generally more over-matched competition in January, when Holtmann teams don’t historically play as well and won’t need their best performances to win, and then the tougher B1G games will be in December, when the Buckeyes are an impressive 16-3 under Holtmann.
Forgive me for patting myself on the back, but this seems like a near-flawless idea. I know that the TV networks like the inherently more important conference games to take place in January, since they need to attract eyeballs to their networks once the football season is over, but think about it.
If the basketball team for Ohio State — one of the most sports-obsessed fanbases in the country — was able to reel off a bunch of B1G wins in December (which obviously they would, since its been statistically proven to be their best month under Holtmann), then an even more highly ranked, rarely defeated Ohio State team would certainly draw ample interest in terms of rankings.
So, again, it’s a win-win for everyone except for the other Big Ten teams, but we’re not here to come up with ideas to help them.