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Is Ohio State Still A National Title Threat?

Ohio State's 2013 season began extremely hot when the Buckeyes won 15 games, beating Marquette
Aaron Craft
and Notre Dame along the way and rising to No. 3 in the nation. Three straight losses have followed that hot start, losing in overtime to Michigan State, double-digits to Iowa and an upset loss on the road to Minnesota. Are the Buckeyes still threats to win it all, which they were just 1 week ago, or are they just an average Big Ten team?

Last year, the Buckeyes had one of the most dependable scorers in the nation in forward Deshaun Thomas. With Thomas in the post it opened up the floor for Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith and the rest of Ohio State's playmakers. Ohio State has not had a player like him this year and their offense has really suffered. They still have senior guard Craft, one of the nation's best on-ball defenders and the heart and soul of the Buckeyes the last four years. High-flying forward Sam Thompson is always ready for a highlight-reel play and junior forward LaQuinton Ross has the potential to be one of the best players in the nation. Their loss to Minnesota really exposed Ohio State's offensive issues. Richard Pitino's Gophers play aggressive, fast-paced basketball and can force a lot of turnovers. The Buckeyes had just 53 points despite the Gophers turning the ball over early and often. Everybody loves Ohio State's fantastic defensive backcourt that is led by Craft and Shannon Scott, another great on-ball defender. But, neither are much of scorers, they get most of their points in transition. As great as their defensive backcourt is, their defense near the rim is not as shutdown. The Buckeyes were dominated by Michigan State's Adreian Payne, Iowa's Aaron White and Minnesota's Elliot Eliason in the low post. The Big Ten is a psychical league with a ton of athleticism and the frontcourt has not proven that they have the toughness to deal with some of the best Big Ten forwards. Offense looks like it may be an issue but this is still confusing. Thad Matta is a head coach and their is no denying the pure talent on this roster. But, finishing games has been a huge issue. The Buckeyes did great to manage to get the Michigan State in overtime but struggled in it and they had opportunities to take over the Minnesota game in the second half.

It is scary to think that this is Ohio State's first time since 2009 that they have lost three-straight games, in the Big Ten or out. Things will get easier for the Buckeyes as they get a stretch against Nebraska, Illinois and struggling Penn State. Winning games that they should win will be important to pick up a good seed in the Big Dance. Ohio State is too talented to lose to some of the weaker teams inside the conference and both Penn State and Nebraska are weak teams. It is clear that the Buckeyes need a reliable scorer late in games. Who that will be is a question, as I'm still waiting for Ross to breakout, which seemed likely when the season began. If Ohio State can find that, don't count them out as a Final Four or national title threat. But, that may be a big "if".

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