Hooley: Buckeye hoops takes another gut punch

posted by Bruce Hooley -

Next season is shaping up as a painful, prolonged march to nowhere for the Ohio State men's basketball team.

Maybe it won't be, but if it isn't, it will be a surprise.

Prospects were bleak enough, coming off a season in which the Buckeyes didn't make either the NCAA Tournament or NIT, but the news has been nothing but discouraging since.

The latest gut punch came this weekend with word out of Evansville, Indiana, of point guard JaQuan Lyle's arrest on three misdemeanor charges related to an incident at a bar.

Police reports said Lyle was asked to leave for being intoxicated, punched a door on his way out, then went to a police cruiser and punched the hood.

If only he'd shown a modicum of that energy regularly this past season.

The Columbus Dispatch reported that a team spokesman said Lyle quit the team on April 11. That had not previously been reported by OSU, which no doubt wanted to avoid the embarrassment of Lyle's exit meaning all five members of Thad Matta's 2015 recruiting class has now left the university and are no longer on the roster.

Lyle follows A.J. Harris, Austin Grandstaff, Daniel Giddens and Mikey Mitchell out of the door.

It's crazy now, thinking about those players abilities, that the class ranked No. 5 nationally.

Remember that the next time you obsess about recruiting rankings.

Even with Ohio player-of-the-year Kaleb Wesson joining the team this season, along with point guard Braxton Beverly, the expectations are measured, to be charitable.

It sets up as a season of struggles, which will only amp up the dissatisfaction with head coach Thad Matta.

I hate that it will land on him, but there's no place else for it to land.

Matta has done the best job of any Ohio State basketball coach in history. He created the expectations that weigh upon him now.

The seven straight NCAA Tournament berths, the national runner-up finish, the additional Final Four berth, all the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles, that is what fans expect annually because that is the bar Matta established.

People don't want to hear that recruiting has changed amid the morass of growing AAU influence. They don't want to hear anything that sounds like an excuse, because anything short of winning big and contending for the top prize is, ultimately, an excuse.

Maybe the doom and gloom that looms for next season won't envelop the program as expected. Maybe, without Lyle and Marc Loving -- the two players who needed to lead and didn't -- the Buckeyes will find their pulse and prove a surprise.

I sure hope so, because I don't want to see happen what I fear is going to happen.

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