Posted by Jonathan Batuello on January 21st, 2014
Maybe it is in fact time to wonder what is going on with Ohio State. Last week, this very B1G microsite said it wasn’t time to sound the alarm yet because the Buckeyes’ three losses were all to strong teams. After losing at Nebraska last night in a contest that gave the Cornhuskers their first win over a ranked opponent in two years and their Big Ten win of the season, the “good opponents” excuse necessarily flies out the window. The Buckeyes have now lost four straight games, and barring a perfect run for the rest of the conference season, they are likely out of the conference championship race. While the offense is still without question a struggle, Ohio State’s biggest concern is with its interior guys failing to contribute, specifically Amir Williams.
Amir Williams struggles in conference play have correlated with the Buckeyes’ losing streak (Kirk Irwin, Getty).
Ohio State is already thin on the front line with Williams as the only known and trusted commodity, but in six Big Ten games he has not been strong. It is natural to expect some dropoff in his numbers against better competition, but his production has dropped significantly. He is scoring nearly two fewer points and rebounds per game and has only tallied seven total blocks. For a team that has to rely on him almost exclusively inside, this is a huge issue. Interior defense is another problem. Purdue’s AJ Hammons and Michigan State’s Adreian Payne killed the Buckeyes inside, but the primary reason the Cornhuskers were able to turn a 31-point loss into an eight-point win in just over two weeks is because they took advantage inside. Nebraska used 26 points in the paint to jump in front of the Buckeyes early, and as a result, Thad Matta was forced to switch to a smaller lineup with Williams on the bench in order to make a comeback push. It’s not exactly a good sign when you have to bench the only center on your team to give yourself a chance to win.
For a team that prides itself on defense and needs all the offensive production it can find, the struggles of Williams and stark lack of any suitable backup to him is concerning for Ohio State. Matta doesn’t need him to be an offensive star inside, but he needs to at least contribute defensively and grab some rebounds — where he has shown proficiency — to keep Ohio State in the game. Without his contributions, the narrative surrounding the Buckeyes’ struggles will quickly change to whether Matta can patch up things well enough to save the season.