Ohio State is off to its worst start in Thad Matta's tenure

Ohio State is off to its worst start in Thad Matta's tenure

In 15 seasons as a head coach at three different schools, Thad Matta has been to the NCAA tournament 13 times and has won at least 20 games every year.

That run will end this season unless Matta's team improves in a hurry.

Ohio State's nightmarish start to the season continued on Saturday when the Buckeyes fell at UConn 75-55 in a game in which they were already down 21 points by halftime. They shot poorly from the perimeter, they finished with more turnovers than assists and they allowed an anemic offensive showing to detract from their focus defensively.

A one-sided road loss against a talented, hungry UConn team isn't disastrous in a vacuum for Ohio State, but it's already the Buckeyes' fifth loss of the season and they still have a game against Kentucky before Christmas. They're now 4-5 to start the season with with home or neutral-court losses to Texas Arlington, Louisiana Tech, Memphis and Virginia. 

Ohio State's early struggles are a mild surprise despite the loss of No. 2 overall draft pick D'Angelo Russell and five seniors from a 24-win NCAA tournament team. The Buckeyes knew they wouldn't have any seniors on this roster, yet they anticipated having enough young talent to remain an upper-echelon Big Ten team and an NCAA tournament contender.

There's a chance Ohio State can still live up to those expectations, but right now the Buckeyes' guard play isn't nearly good enough. Whereas last year's team put the ball in the hands of either senior point guard Shannon Scott or the dynamic Russell, this year's team lacks a trustworthy guard who can make plays for himself or others.

Ohio State had hoped that 6-foot-5 combo guard JaQuan Lyle could replicate much of Russell's production, but the highly touted freshman has found the transition bumpy.

On Saturday, Lyle missed all seven of his shots against UConn and had three turnovers compared to just one assist. He certainly has produced better performances than that in previous games, but in general, his shot selection has been poor, his outside shot is erratic and his excellent court vision has resulted in nearly as many head-scratching turnovers as breathtaking assists.

It would help if there were other guards around Lyle to ease the pressure on him, but Ohio State is lacking in that area. 

Sophomore Kam Williams hasn't shown much progress either as a distributor or a defender in his second year in the program. And speedy freshman A.J. Harris hasn't been efficient enough in limited minutes to earn extended playing time.

Ohio State's backcourt youth has contributed to the Buckeyes turning the ball over in more than 20 percent of their possessions, a rate that puts them in the bottom 20 percent nationally. Forwards Marc Loving and Keita Bates-Diop have both made strides offensively this season, but they both need more consistency and more help to orchestrate a turnaround.

One slight silver lining for Ohio State is the Big Ten doesn't appear to be as deep as usual this season. Michigan State, Maryland and Purdue have each emerged as elite teams, but Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois have all been early disappointments.

So there are wins to be had for Ohio State if its guard play and attention to detail defensively both improve. But 20 wins and a return to the NCAA tournament? Even only one month into the season, that looks like a major long shot.

- - - - - - -

Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!