Ohio State Buckeyes looking to rebound after 4-game slide to end regular season

Ohio State men’s basketball hit mid-February on fire.

The Buckeyes have gone cold with the recent rise in temperatures outside, though.

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Here are seven things to know about Ohio State men’s basketball as the regular season gives way to the postseason:

1. The Buckeyes have lost four in a row and dropped to No. 9 in the Associated Press poll.

Ohio State went from unranked in early January to No. 4 in the first poll in February.

Since winning 92-82 at Penn State on Feb. 18 to run their winning streak to seven games, the Buckeyes (18-8, 12-8 Big Ten) haven’t tasted victory.

They lost a back-and-forth thriller at home to Michigan on Feb. 21 (92-87) then faded down the stretch at Michigan State four days later and dropped a 71-67 decision.

After being routed by Iowa 73-57 on the last day of February, the Buckeyes lost another close game to close out the regular season Sunday.

Ohio State led Illinois 68-64 after a 3-pointer by E.J. Liddell with 3:48 to play, but the visitors scored the last nine points to claim a 73-68 win.

2. The competition has been nothing to sneeze at.

The fourth-ranked Fighting Illini were the third top 10 team Ohio State played in the last four games.

Michigan was ranked No. 3 while Iowa was No. 9, and that trio is all in the top five this week.

Michigan State was unranked when they knocked off the Buckeyes, but the Spartans have won four of their last six and received a vote in the poll this week so they could be poised to live up to their typically-high preseason expectations.

Ohio State has the No. 7 strength of schedule in the country per KenPom.com.

3. The slide cost Ohio State a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament.

The Buckeyes ended up fifth in the final conference standings and seeded No. 5 in the conference tournament, which begins Wednesday in Indianapolis.

The top four teams get byes in the first two rounds, honors that go to regular season champion Michigan, No. 2 Illinois, No. 3 Iowa and No. 4 Purdue.

In contrast to Ohio State, the Illini finished the season on a four-game winning streak while the Hawkeyes won their last three and the Boilermakers won their last five to jump up to fourth

4. Ohio State will begin the postseason Thursday afternoon against either No. 13 Minnesota or No. 12 Northwestern.

If the Buckeyes win, they will get a rematch with Purdue, who swept the regular season series against Ohio State.

The Buckeyes lost their only regular season matchup with Minnesota and split with Northwestern.

Ohio State could end up with a rematch against Michigan in the tournament semifinals on Saturday if the Buckeyes make it that far.

They seem likely to end up with a No 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament after being projected as a No. 1 in the middle of February.

5. Defense could doom the Buckeyes this March.

Ohio State has the No. 4 offense in the country according to KenPom.com, but the Buckeyes’ defense has slipped to No. 80.

Three weeks ago, the former ranking was the same while the latter was 19 points higher.

In Ohio State’s losing streak, the Buckeyes scored 69.8 points per game, down about seven from their season average, and allowed 77.3. The latter figure is up almost eight points from their season average.

While owning a modest rebounding margin advantage overall in Big Ten play — plus-3, good for fifth in the league — the Buckeyes were outrebounded in each of their last four games by an average of four per contest.

They also allowed their opponents to shoot 55.5 percent from the floor and 39 percent from behind the 3-point line during the losing streak.

In all Big Ten games, Ohio State allowed opponents to shoot 43.8 percent from the floor (ninth in the conference) and 33.1 percent from 3-point land (ranking fifth).

6. They are probably going to need more from role players to have a successful postseason.

The top four scorers on the season — Liddell, Duane Washington Jr., Justice Sueing and C.J. Walker — saw their scoring output dip slightly over the past four games but not as much as Kyle Young and Justin Ahrens, the next two on the scoring list for the season.

While the top four average 50.1 points per game on the year, they contributed 47.8 to the cause the past four games.

At the same time, Ahrens and Young (who was unavailable for the Michigan State game because of injury) saw their combined scoring average drop from 14.6 points per game to 5.6.

Ahrens, a junior wing from Versailles, was a big part of Ohio State’s seven-game winning streak as his presence and ability to shoot the 3 stretched the floor, but he was just 3-for-11 from 3-point range over the last four games.

7. Through the ups and downs, coach Chris Holtmann seems to still view his team as a work-in-progress.

After the Buckeyes disappointing finish against Illinois, Holtmann said he was not focusing on what his team has done over the past four games versus the previous seven — or any other particular stretch of the season.

“We needed to show some more poise late, but there were some really good things that came out of the game, some really good moments,” Holtmann said. “I thought our effort in certain areas was much better. We looked fresher, but we’ll evaluate all those things and have a great film session and get back to work.”