Posted: 3:27 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24, 2014
By Chris Kopech
The Buckeyes snapped out of a four-game skid against Illinois, but after four consecutive losses, and more questions than answers, are these Buckeyes worth watching?
"Community" said a heartfelt and wonderful goodbye to Donald Glover last night, in a high concept episode of the oft-great sitcom that might just make it to the show's fabled #SixSeasonsAndAMovie. It was a great episode of television, buttressed by over-the-top great performances by the shows main cast, and culminating with a LeVar Burton cameo, all put together in one of the show's now-patented high concept arcs that the critics and viewers adore.
Against that, the Columbus Blue Jackets played in the 1,000th game in franchise history, a 5-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers that put the hometown hockey team into a playoff spot with 30 or so games left in the season. The Jackets have won eight straight games, a franchise record, and are the hottest team in the NHL. This is the winner that the city of Columbus has been clamoring for since the team's inception over a decade ago, and continued play like this could lead to the team's first playoff win, should the cards continue to fall the way they look like they will continue to fall.
Oh, also, the Buckeye basketball team played a game and won, the first such win since January 4th, snapping a morale-crushing four-game losing streak that has seen the Buckeyes drop from a #3 national ranking into the category of national also-ran and, gasp, potential NCAA Tournament bubble team.
Three choices presented: high-concept sitcom television, professional hockey, and mediocre basketball. Where were your eyes last night?
A similar question was posed this week on local sports radio, and it certainly bears reiterating now. When the Buckeyes were running off a season starting 15-game winning streak, all seemed right with the world. LaQuinton Ross, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Aaron Craft and company were an important team, no just in the country's best conference*, but also in the upper echelon of teams in the nation. True, the Buckeyes hadn't beaten anyone of note in their first 15 games, but the team seemed to pass the all important "eye test", and looked poised to begin Big Ten play on a hot streak, including a a nine-point win at Purdue, and a 31-point win at home over Nebraska to open Big Ten Play only served to increase the high hopes for the team.
And then the four-point loss at Michigan State happened. Then a 10-point loss at home to ranked Iowa. Then another 10-point loss, this time in Minnesota. If those three losses weren't bad enough, a season that started with very high hopes turned into a mythical "season on the brink" when the return trip to play against Nebraska, a team that had lost by 31 to the Buckeyes just weeks before, beat Ohio State in Lincoln. All of the sudden, any good will built during the first 15 games took a backseat to the longest slide in five years, with the second Nebraska game emerging as one of Thad Matta's worst losses as the head coach.
So it all boils down to this: after ending the losing streak, and looking at the rest of the Buckeye basketball schedule, is this a Buckeye team worth putting your eyes on each time they take the court?
First, a few mitigating factors about the losing streak. The loss at Michigan State is nothing to shake a stick at or hang a head from; it was an overtime game against a very, very good Spartan team in a building where Michigan State is 11-1 this season and is historically difficult to beat. Even getting to overtime in East Lansing is sort of a feather in the cap. The next loss, at home against Iowa, will end up as a very quality loss (if such a thing exists), according to the Ken Pom rankings (see sidebar). Minnesota is a bit tougher to swallow, but it was another road game, and road wins in the Big Ten can be tough to come by.
But it all comes back to the Nebraska game last Monday. How could a team be 37 points worse just by traveling from Columbus to Lincoln? The first three losses at least have some "yeah, but" factors, but this one clearly does not. It was the kind of low point that pops up on the ESPN "Bottom Line" and you wonder if the graphics guys in Bristol got it wrong. It just made no sense.
The win over Illinois was not pretty, but it was pretty necessary to get this team back on the winning track. Can a sloppy, seven-point home win over the mediocre Illini save the season? Probably not. And the road doesn't get much easier for the Buckeyes, who have to go on the road to ranked Wisconsin and ranked Iowa in consecutive games. The best these Buckeyes can hope for is that the Illinois game brought on some confidence that had been sorely lacking since January 4th.
And, hopefully, the win will also return some eyeballs to a team that needs support to turn a very important corner to make any kind of run in March.