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Buckeyes lack big win before Big Ten play

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- In Ohio State's nine wins this season, the Buckeyes have looked dominant. OSU has sealed its nine victories by an average margin of 24.3 points per game, with a shooting percentage of 48.7 percent.

The Buckeyes' two losses, however, tell a different story.

In a Nov. 28 defeat at the hands of Duke and Saturdays home loss to Kansas, Ohio State scored an average of 67 points, but has posted a more telling 32.3 field goal percentage. The two losses also came in the Buckeyes' only games against teams that play in major BCS conferences, with both the Blue Devils and Jayhawks holding top-10 rankings at the times they played OSU.

Perhaps more concerning for Thad Matta's squad is the fact that the heart of its schedule, and more games against potentially top-10 ranked teams remain on its schedule. The Buckeyes have just one game remaining between the start of Big Ten play, in a conference that is widely regarded as the best in the country.

That slate will include home-and-home series against nationally-ranked No. 2 Michigan, No. 6 Indiana, No. 10 Illinois, and No. 20 Michigan State. Combine the fact that last year's OSU squad that went to the Final Four split its series with each of those teams last year and that a date with No. 13 Minnesota looms on February 20, and an already underachieving Buckeyes team's season could look even less promising.

Despite Ohio State's struggles in its two biggest games of the year, Matta maintains that the Buckeyes have made progress from the start of the season, but is also aware that the road is only going to get tougher from here.

"This team showed us something in terms of the preparation we had going into the game," Matta said. "In both games you had a nine-point lead at Duke at halftime. In this game, you're in a position to win the basketball game. I think looking at the little things that we have to get better at, that's obviously offensive execution."

To say that OSU's offensive execution was lacking in its two losses would be an understatement. After the aforementioned halftime lead at Duke, the Buckeyes made just 12 of their 35 shot attempts, good for a shooting percentage of 35.3 percent. Second half struggles also plagued OSU on Saturday against Kansas, where the Buckeyes made just nine shots total, and tallied a shooting percentage of 35 percent.

But while the Buckeyes will head into Big Ten play in less than two weeks without a win over a major opponent, OSU point guard Aaron Craft is confident that this his team's two losses won't compound themselves into a bigger issue.

"We have two losses on the year. Kansas and Duke are two of the best teams in the country and that's not an excuse, we're not backing down. We want to play teams like this," Craft said. "Going into Big Ten season, we have to know that game in and game out, it's going to be like this. We're going to play great teams every night."

Given that the OSU roster contains Craft, preseason All-American Deshaun Thomas, and emerging young players like Shannon Scott and LaQuinton Ross, it's not far-fetched to think that the Buckeyes could turn things around once league plays begins. OSU had plenty of open looks against both the Blue Devils and Jayhawks, but the shots simply didn't go down. While their out of conference results weren't ideal, the Buckeyes are just a couple made shots away from remaining undefeated with wins over two top-10 teams.

But with a team that features few shooters in its rotation outside of Thomas, it's also not safe to assume that the shots will eventually fall, especially against the country's top teams. Matta admitted that his roster is not an ideal one, and may require the Buckeyes to find other ways to win this season.

"We have to continue to build on that. This team has shown that it can shoot the basketball," Matta said. "Some how, some way, we've got to figure out how we're going to play our best on game night, but knowing it may not go down, so let's find an alternative way."