With six games to play before the Big Ten tournament, No. 25 Ohio State will head to Iowa on Thursday back to even in league play at 7-7. The Buckeyes have dug themselves out of a stretch of six losses in seven games with five wins in their last six games, and they’ve now played five games without freshman guard D.J. Carton.
In his absence, and particularly in the last two games, Ohio State’s rotations have solidified and a few themes have emerged.
Let’s take a look.
Fewer lineups used last week
As the Buckeyes took care of business at home with wins against Rutgers and Purdue last week, coach Chris Holtmann honed in on what figure to be his primary lineups and rotations for the remainder of the season.
In a 72-66 win against the Scarlet Knights on Feb. 12, the Buckeyes used a total of 14 different lineups that consisted solely of scholarship players and just one of them had never been used before this season. Three days later in a 68-52 win against the Boilermakers that amounted to the best overall defensive performance in a Big Ten game since a home win against Rutgers during the 2017-18 season, the Buckeyes used only 10 lineups, none of which were new.
That marks the fewest number of lineups in consecutive games for Ohio State all season. In Carton’s final three games — a loss at Penn State, a home loss to Minnesota and a win at Northwestern — Ohio State used 21, 19 and 20 lineup combinations, respectively.
That one new lineup in the last two games? CJ Walker, Luther Muhammad, Justin Ahrens, E.J. Liddell and Kyle Young played for 19 seconds against Rutgers and scored one point without allowing any.
Starters playing more
Coach Chris Holtmann has stuck with the same starting lineup for seven straight games: Walker and Muhammad in the backcourt, Andre Wesson at the 3, Kyle Young at the 4 and Kaleb Wesson at the 5. It’s the second-longest streak of starts for the same lineup, and it’s a lineup that also started four games earlier in the season starting with a road loss to Minnesota on Dec. 15.
Holtmann switched to this lineup after a disappointing 90-76 loss at Penn State on Jan. 18. That loss dropped the Buckeyes to 12-6 overall and 2-5 in the Big Ten, and what became the starting lineup the following game played for only nine seconds against the Nittany Lions.
In the next five games, the lineup played no more than 10:25 in a game and only played 6:38 in the win at Northwestern. It was also outscored by 10 points across those five games.
Last week, though, the starters shouldered a heavier load. They played for 10:41 in the Rutgers win, scoring 18 points and allowing 14. Then against Purdue, the starters were together for 17:35, the longest that a starting lineup has played in a game this season.
Ohio State’s starters went plus-15 (37 points scored, 22 allowed) in a 16-point win.
This lineup is Ohio State’s most used lineup for the season, logging 124:28 of playing time. It is plus-30 (182 points scored, 152 allowed) for the season. In Big Ten play, it’s also logged a team-high 87:24, scoring 135 points and allowing 122.
Muhammad’s personal rise
From an individual standpoint, Kaleb Wesson has the best plus-minus on the team for the season at plus-228. He’s tops in Big Ten play, too, at plus-53.
But recently, Muhammad has made a push unlike any seen this season. He has posted the team’s best plus-minus in each of the last three games, the longest streak for any player this season. In doing so, he has pulled into a tie with Wesson for the most times leading the team in individual plus-minus this season with six.
For the season, Muhammad is plus-150. In Big Ten play, he is plus-50.