COLUMBUS â€” Ohio State picked the perfect night to play a complete basketball game.
The Buckeyes went on the road to Iowa and took down the No. 8 team in the country on Thursday night, making their claim as the class of the Big Ten this hoops season, sticking their name firmly in the conversation for a top-five ranking and possibly positioning themselves as a No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed.
Chris Holtmann’s team isn’t doing anything different than usual. The Buckeyes are just playing their style of basketball, and it’s working. Winners of four straight and seven of their last eight, the Buckeyes are among the hottest teams in college basketball right now. For them, though, the work is just beginning.
“We are who we are,” Ohio State guard Duane Washington Jr. said. “I think that’s the message that I can say to the public. We’re not going to stop being us. The best part about it is we just celebrated and first thing coach said is: ‘We have a big one on Monday.’
“We strive for perfection. We understand that it’s a long season, very, very tough teams on our schedule, and for us, we’re all bought in. We’re in a really good spot here and we’re going to keep this energy going.Â We’re going to shock all the guys who thought we were whatever we were going to be in the Big Ten. We’re going to just keep doing what we’re doing, every single day get better. That’s been our approach. Trusting the process has been in our favor.”
That process has led Ohio State to just four losses this season. Led by sophomore sensation E.J. Liddell, Washington, Justice Sueing and a deep supporting cast, the Buckeyes are becoming the talk of college basketball, and they’re putting themselves in the conversation among the best teams in the country.
They aren’t going to listen to the outside noise, now. They haven’t all season.
“People around the country are going to take this however they want to take this,” Washington said. “From Day One, we haven’t listened to what’s said about us, talked about us. We’re really locked in right now.”
What is making the Buckeyes one of the Big Ten’s best? Who has been stepping up lately to have Ohio State in position to capture a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament next month? Lettermen Row is breaking down five stats that are the keys to the recent success — and potential tournament run.
Only 10.3 turnovers per game
The Buckeyes were able to defeat Iowa because they shot well and didn’t turn the ball over, giving it to the Hawkeyes just six times in the 40-minute game. Ohio State is averaging just 10.3 turnovers per game; it currently has a 1.23 assist-to-turnover ratio, good enough to land the Buckeyes in the top 20 percent in all of college basketball. That effort is led by senior guard C.J. Walker, who leads the team with 4.2 assists per game and only 2.1 turnovers per night. If he handles the ball well and the Buckeyes don’t turn it over, they could play deep into March as one of the Big Ten’s best.
Ohio State is capable 3-point shooting team
As a team, the Buckeyes are shooting 35 percent from 3-point range, good for No. 115 nationally. But the Buckeyes certainly have some sharp-shooters on the roster that make this team tough to defend. Guard Justin Ahrens is one of the top shooters in America. Ahrens has connected on 49 percent of his 3-pointers attempted this season. But he’s not alone in that ability. Fellow guard Duane Washington is a 37-percent shooter. The duo make the Buckeyes a better team by stretching the floor and hitting tough, crucial shots down the stretch of games. If they can continue to shoot well for Holtmann, the Buckeyes will make a run in March.
Buckeyes are winning rebounding battle
Chris Holtmann doesn’t have the biggest team in the Big Ten — or the country — by any means. But the Buckeyes find ways to out-rebound nearly every opponent they face. Currently at plus-four in the rebounding battle, Ohio State has cleaned up on the glass in large part due to the trio of E.J. Liddell, Kyle Young and Justice Sueing, who are all averaging more than five rebounds per game. With the way the Buckeyes are shooting and defending right now at this stage in the season, rebounding and creating opportunities for more possessions is huge. Ohio State is doing just that on the glass.
Buckeyes are efficient on offensive end
Ohio State is an elite offensive team. The Buckeyes were able to outscore and outlast a terrific Iowa team on the road Thursday night despite giving up 85 points. Four Buckeyes were in double-figures in that win, and it provided yet another reminder of how dangerous Ohio State can be in the Big Ten — and to the rest of the country — when it is shooting the basketball well. The Buckeyes are currently No. 4 nationally in KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency, behind only Baylor, Gonzaga and the aforementioned Hawkeyes. They already have a win over one of the teams in front of them. If they have the chance to play Baylor or Gonzaga eventually, don’t count out the high-scoring Buckeyes.
Ohio State is 5-1 against ranked opponents this season
Ohio State is currently third in the Big Ten standings, behind only Illinois — who the Buckeyes have already beaten — and Michigan. The Buckeyes haven’t just been winning games this season; they are beating the best teams on their schedule. With two wins over Rutgers, a win over the Illini and victories on the road at Wisconsin and Iowa, this Ohio State team is taking care of ranked opponents on its schedule. The Buckeyes also have an early-season win over a quality UCLA team that shouldn’t be overlooked. Ohio State will still face three more ranked opponents before the regular season ends, but the record against top-25 teams to date is certainly impressive.