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Ohio State Basketball: 5 Questions Buckeyes Face in B1G Stretch Run

Scott PolacekFeatured Columnist IVNovember 19, 2016

Ohio State Basketball: 5 Questions Buckeyes Face in B1G Stretch Run

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    Ohio State has won at least a share of three consecutive Big Ten championships, and a primary reason why is because stars like Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger came to play during the stretch run.

    While a conference crown is likely out of the picture at this point, this year’s Ohio State Buckeye team needs to rally around its current leaders—Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas—to emerge from a recent funk. There are still a number of potential accomplishments that are on the table for the Scarlet and Gray, but a strong performance during the stretch run is necessary.

    Read on to see five questions the Buckeyes face in the season’s final few weeks.

Is LaQuinton Ross the Second Scoring Option?

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    The question of who will be Ohio State’s second scorer behind Deshaun Thomas has been discussed ad nauseam since the beginning of the season. Unfortunately, for Ohio State Buckeye fans, that question still hasn’t been answered.

    However, if LaQuinton Ross continues to perform as he has the past two games, Thad Matta will finally have his solution. The swingman scored a combined 27 points on 12-of-20 shooting against the likes of Michigan and Indiana, and finally looked completely comfortable with the ball in his hands.

    He possesses a dangerous combination of athleticism, height and a lethal shot, and after sitting out the majority of his freshman season, he appears to be gradually putting it all together.

    If Ross wants to see more playing time, he will have to improve his defense, but the possibility of a bona fide second option has to be intriguing to Matta when he is determining his rotation.

Can This Team Close the Door in a Big Road Game?

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    The Ohio State Buckeyes have already played games at Duke, Michigan State and Michigan, and each contest had one thing in common—the Buckeyes had an opportunity to walk away with a victory down the stretch.

    Thad Matta’s squad controlled the majority of the game at Cameron Indoor before falling apart in the final minutes, and held an eight point lead in the second half against the Michigan Wolverines. What’s more, the trip to the Breslin Center was a back-and-forth affair that saw the Michigan State Spartans make the game’s final plays.

    The Buckeyes still have trips to Wisconsin and Indiana on the docket. Winning in Bloomington may be too tall of a task for this year’s team, but a win at the Kohl Center would be critical for seeding in the Big Ten tournament, and possibly even the NCAA tournament.

    If that is going to happen, Ohio State is going to have to learn to close the door down the stretch and make the big play when the moment arises.

Can the Buckeyes Pick Up Wins Against Ranked Teams?

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    Ohio State’s record against ranked teams (at the time of the game) is a rather ugly 1-6. Yes, the majority of those games have been close and a couple can even be classified as heartbreakers (Michigan, Michigan State and even Duke considering the second half lead), but the three-time defending Big Ten champions are not in the business of moral victories.

    Of the Ohio State Buckeyes’ final seven opponents, three are currently ranked and the Minnesota Golden Gophers have a chance to be in the Top 25 again by the time the Gophers travel to Columbus. The opportunities are there, and if the Scarlet and Gray want to get a decent seed on Selection Sunday, they need to take advantage of them.

    It is a lot to ask, but if Thad Matta can figure out a way to defend home court against Michigan State and Minnesota, and split the road games at Wisconsin and Indiana, Buckeye Nation would feel much better about this season.

Can Ohio State Finish in the Top 3 of the Big Ten?

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    Assuming Ohio State takes care of business tonight against an injury-plagued and outmatched Northwestern team, it will at least be tied with Michigan for fourth in the Big Ten. Wisconsin will also be part of that stalemate with a loss to Minnesota, meaning it would be for third place.

    Indiana and Michigan State are sitting pretty right now on top of the conference, but considering the overall strength of the league, a top three finish would be a nice card to play on Selection Sunday. It would also earn the Ohio State Buckeyes a first round bye in the conference tournament and more winnable contests in the later rounds.

    Ohio State has a home game against Michigan State and road contests at Wisconsin and Indiana coming up, so there are chances against the competition. Winning six of the final seven games will not be easy (assuming a loss comes in Bloomington), but it may be necessary if the Buckeyes want that top three finish.

Will Poor Rebounding Derail the Buckeyes?

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    Much of the glass half-empty discussions about Ohio State basketball this year have revolved around the lack of a second scoring option behind Deshaun Thomas or the stagnant half-court offense.

    While those concerns are certainly valid and could be the ultimate undoing for this team, there is another issue that likely has Thad Matta worrying—rebounding.

    The Ohio State Buckeyes rank a middling 102nd in the nation in total rebounds per game. That is a statistic that can be somewhat skewed by a slower pace of play, but it, nonetheless, is difficult to imagine a squad that doesn’t even rank in the top 100 in rebounds going far in the NCAA tournament or even the physical Big Ten tournament.

    For context, Indiana and Minnesota both rank in the top 25 in the same statistic and also play against the same slower Big Ten competition.

    With bruising Michigan State, Cody Zeller-led Indiana, athletic Minnesota and grinding Wisconsin still on the slate, Ohio State’s rebounding is going to be tested. Matta has to be concerned with the fact that the two starting guards (Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr.) are arguably better rebounders than the starting center.

    Stats never tell the whole story, but the Buckeyes sure would like this stat to be a little more forgiving.

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