Ohio State basketball has already faced several brutal challenges in the Big Ten this season, and the Buckeyes still have a grueling schedule in front of them.
The Big Ten is easily the best conference in basketball this season, as it is having an up season while other traditional power conferences such as the ACC and the SEC are having down seasons.
Ohio State still has to play Indiana, Northwestern and Wisconsin twice and Michigan, Michigan State, Illinois, Nebraska and Minnesota one more time.
With nearly all of these teams in the B1G vying for a potential NCAA tournament bid, there are simply no given wins for the rest of the season.
Ohio State’s biggest asset, the strength of its conference, could also be its undoing. Playing in a conference such as the B1G can prepare a team for the hardship of the NCAA tournament, but it can also run a team into the ground before the first round of action.
Consider the following. Only eight players see the court for more than 15 minutes each game.
Head coach Thad Matta is known for keeping a tight rotation, but this season, he does not have the personnel to back up key players in the starting five. Consequently, Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft have ended up playing over 30 MPG.
This amount of play would be difficult for players in a non-power six conference to maintain, but to do this in as physical a league as the Big Ten is next to impossible. That being said, if any two players are up to this challenge, it is certainly Thomas and Craft.
The two are leading this Ohio State team, but you have to wonder how they are going to hold up down the stretch.
Deshaun Thomas is the most overworked player in all of college basketball. Without a Robin to his Batman, Thomas has had to put this team on his back. His numbers have reflected this as he is scoring 20.5 PPG and pulling down 6.7 RPG this season.
Aaron Craft is the same scrappy defender that does not give up on a play or loose ball ever. His energizer bunny performances have helped seal victories for the Buckeyes. A key example of this was the way he utterly stopped the seemingly unstoppable Trey Burke in Ohio State’s signature win over the Wolverines.
As long as Thomas is forced to carry the load offensively, and as long as Aaron Craft is Aaron Craft, Thad Matta would do well to give more minutes to players such as LaQuinton Ross, an improved scorer, and Shannon Scott, a budding point guard.
This is when Ohio State’s tough schedule comes back to the forefront, though. As the Buckeyes have little room for error as far as winning games goes, Matta is less likely to take his stars off the floor.
It is truly up to Ohio State’s key reserves such as Ross and Scott to prove that they can carry part of the load for their teammates.
This is the only way to ensure a fit, healthy and fresh squad as Ohio State enters the perils of March this season.