COLUMBUS — Chris Holtmann was asked which end of the floor he thinks Ohio State is struggling with most.
The fourth-year head coach of the Buckeyes just watched his team lose for the third-straight game, this time to No. 9 Iowa at home, a massive shift from the previous seven-game win streak they were on.
His answer showed the overall frustration the last week has brought to the program.
“In general, we’ve not been good on either end,” Holtmann said. “Offensively, we were really poor [on Sunday], just really poor. Defensively, we had pockets of good play — but not overall good enough.”
The Buckeyes had been rolling everywhere until about a week ago. After battling to the final minute last weekend with Michigan, one of the country’s best teams, Ohio State dropped a road game at Michigan State on Thursday night and lost at home to the Hawkeyes three days later.
Now with six days off to prepare for another Big Ten heavyweight in Illinois, Holtmann and his staff enter a crucial string of practices, training time and days of rest to gear up for the close of the regular season. And then the Big Ten Tournament.
Then the Big Dance.
“That’s certainly something that would be nice to see,” Holtmann said. “We’ve got some guys who are struggling a little bit, a little fatigued, maybe struggling with some confidence right now. Hopefully we can get that figured out.”
Just a little more than a week ago, the Buckeyes were the talk of college basketball, on a huge winning streak and in line for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Now losers of their last three games, they’re trying to find a balance between knowing they aren’t playing well right now and understanding the tough stretch of games they’ve played.
Ohio State’s last three games: No. 3 Michigan, at Michigan State, No. 9 Iowa. That might qualify as the toughest three-game stretch for any team in the country this season. Ohio State hasn’t faired well in the last week. Is it poor play or hard competition?
“It’s hard in the moment,” Holtmann said. “I think it’s hard for all of us. As much as you want to look at the closing stretch and talk about what it is with three top-10 team and a team that is tough to play at their place, what we can own is areas as coaches and players where we just have to get better. That’s what we’re going to try to do. Certainly, this is unlike any stretch I’ve ever been a part of. But what I’m hoping is it gets us better and it’ll be a measure of our ability to handle disappointment, adversity, challenges.
“This is certainly the first time this season we’ve had a stretch like this. Even though you look at it and and you can anticipate struggle, it’s certainly challenging in the moment. I think the balance between recognizing we’re playing a ridiculously hard closing stretch and then owning areas that we have to get better as coaches and players is the challenge for us moving forward. It’s a balance.”
Any way Holtmann cuts it, the Buckeyes are reeling after their mid-season success. Ohio State has gone through plenty of high highs and low lows throughout the year. This, a three-game losing skid just before tournament time is certainly the lowest low of this season. But the Buckeyes have a chance to correct that and find a way to gather themselves for a late-season turnaround.
And with another top-five team coming to Columbus this weekend, that chance is coming quickly. In the meantime, Holtmann and the Buckeyes will need to use the six days between games to find answers for their recent struggles.
“We’ve got to get better,” Holtmann said. “We’ve got to use this to help us get better.”
If they do get better in the next week, they’ll once again be in contention for a memorable March.