Monday, January 14

Buckeyes at the midpoint

The Ohio St hoopsters are approximately halfway through their regular season schedule, so I thought this would be a good time to share my thoughts on their performance thus far. The Buckeyes currently stand at 13-3 with a 3-1 mark early in conference play and are ranked #11 in the nation.

I'll go into more detail in a bit, but basically to sum up the Scarlet and Gray's season to date I'd say they've played about as closely to what you would have expected coming into the season as possible. OSU has looked good, but not great. They have beaten the teams that they should beat, and pretty handily (12-0 against unranked opponents, winning by an average margin of 25 points), but faltered in their toughest tests (a 73-68 loss at #3 Duke, a 74-66 loss against #4 Kansas, and a 74-55 loss at #23 Illinois). That was, of course, until yesterday when the Buckeyes got their signature win of the year, handing their rivals from the north their first loss of the season with a three-point win in Value City. Now let us take a closer look at our Buckeyes by breaking these games down a bit.

The Buckeyes began the season in an odd way, when their game against Marquette was scheduled to be played on an air(on) craft carrier but was cancelled due to condensation on the court. Because, you know, who would have guessed that when the sun goes down on the east coast in November it might get a little cold outside? I think the idea of these games is cool, but let's stick to ships in the Pacific Ocean during the day, no? Anyway, Ohio St opened with a 22-point thrashing of Albany instead, before picking up W's over Rhode Island and Washington to win the Hall of Fame Tournament. Until the michigan victory yesterday, the win over the 11-5 Huskies was probably OSU's best of the season, which doesn't say too much. Following that was a bunch of blow-outs over nobodies sandwiched between the Duke and Kansas losses, before entering Big Ten play where the Bucks started off by throttling Nebraska in Columbus. After the embarrassment in Champaign, OSU bounced back with a quality win at Purdue and the aforementioned ousting of that school up north.

The 12-0 mark against unranked opponents might not tell you much, other than Ohio St just took care of business where they were supposed to. But if you actually watched these games, you had to be impressed with the level of ease at which the Bucks won these contests. I mean, a 25-point average margin of victory? I know these were mostly mid-majors, but that it a big number.

Taking a look at the losses might give us a better feel for this Buckeye team and what we can expect moving forward. I felt that the Duke game was actually a big positive for Ohio St, even if it did end with an L. They went toe-to-toe with the best team in the nation in Cameron Indoor. OSU actually held an eight-point lead at halftime, and was within two with 29 seconds left. Keep in mind that this was only the fifth game of the year for a relatively young and inexperienced team, so although the outcome wasn't ideal I was pleased with their overall performance.

The next loss came a month later, and this one was a little bit tougher to take. It was very similar to the loss to the Blue Devils in that the game was close throughout and Ohio St played right with a very talented Kansas team, but I wasn't as positive after this one for multiple reasons. This one was in Columbus, Kansas is good but not 'Duke-good', and 11 games into the season we're no longer "young and inexperienced" and beyond moral victories. It also magnified the Buckeyes' inability to score during long periods of time, something that could be a crippling weakness come March. When Deshaun Thomas and company are on, this team can put up some points, but they can also go significant stretches where they look completely inept offensively. Case in point, shooting an abysmal 25% from the field in the second half of this game, including a stretch of over 10 minutes without a field goal.

The trend of the losing efforts getting progressively worse culminated last week at Assembly Hall, when the Buckeyes were spanked by Illinois, 74-55. Thankfully, I was watching Jamie Foxx get his slave-revenge on and didn't get to witness this abortion. The Illini led by 12 at halftime, then kicked off the second half on a 13-2 run to take a 50-27 lead and all but run Ohio St out of the building. The offensive woes were there again, as the Bucks shot 30% from the field and no one could help out Thomas' 24-point effort (11 from Aaron Craft, 8 from Lenzelle Smith). The lack of offensive support for Tank has been a worry for Ohio St supporters ever since Jared Sullinger and Willy Buckets walked off the NCAA court for the final time last March against the Jayhawks in the Final Four.

But on to the positives, boy was yesterday's game fun! The wolverines came into Value City sporting the nation's last unblemished record and a shot at claiming the #1 spot in the polls. But that was not to be, as the Buckeyes jumped on michigan early, then fought off their second half rally to a 56-53 victory. trey burke hit a three to open the game, then Ohio St went off for the game's next 16 points. scum went on a little run to close the half, but OSU still held a 12-point advantage at the break. Both teams played pretty even for the next 10 minutes, with the Buckeye edge staying between 8-12, until a couple of OSU turnovers led to michigan baskets and a glen robinson three-pointer tied the game at 46 with just under six minutes to play. But Ohio St would never relinquish the lead, as Shannon Scott fed Evan Ravenel for a thunderous dunk on the following possession. The Bucks got the lead back up to six, but a robinson steal and dunk cut it back to two with 1:16 left. When micigan got the ball back, burke launched a step-back three with Craft right in his face that just rimmed out, and Ohio St held on. Now for your enjoyment, some Ohio St-michigan fun facts!

- Thad Matta is 17-3 against these assholes

- This was Ohio St's 9th straight victory over scum in Columbus

- OSU has won 8 of the last 9 in this series overall

- Speaking of winning 8 of 9, that is also the mark on the gridiron

- ann arbor is STILL a whore

See, wasn't that fun?!

Moving on from the team aspect, let's look at some individual numbers. I nailed the rotation Matta has used in my preview, with Craft, Lenzelle, Sam Thompson, and Tank getting all the starts along with Ravenel and Amir Williams splitting time at center and Scott and LaQuinton Ross first off the bench. It's usually just those eight, with a few appearances by Trey McDonald and Amedo Della Valle sprinkled in.

Tank continues to be an absolute scoring machine, leading the Big Ten with 20.3 points per game and should be on his way to Conference POY (eat my dick, trey burke). He still loves to shoot (why wouldn't you when you have the knack for scoring that he does?), but his shot-selection has improved infinitely from his younger days, something I outlined as being key for his and the Buckeyes' success this season. Other than big men Rav and Amir who basically strictly dunk, Thomas' 47% from the field leads the team. While his 79% from the foul line is good-but-not-great, he's shooting at a very impressive 40% clip from beyond the arc.

We all know Tank can put the ball in the basket, but as I stated earlier, the biggest question for Ohio St down the stretch will be if anyone else can help him. Zelle (10.3 ppg), Craft (8.9) and Ross (8.2) are the next best options, but they need to be more consistent. This can be difficult, as Zelle and AC are often putting most of their concentration on the defensive side of the ball (where they make up the best perimeter defensive duo in America) and Q can sometimes have trouble getting into a rhythm due to his often erratic playing time (just three minutes vs. michigan).

With Scott playing more of a facilitator role and Rav being utilized as a defender/rebounder/grade-A bad ass, that leaves two guys that I believe will have to develop into consistent scorers over the next couple of months in order for Ohio St to make some noise in the big dance - Sam Thompson and Amir Williams.

Moon Shoes (oh yea, I'm calling Thompson 'Moon Shoes' now) is the most exciting player in the nation. He is good for at least 2-3 "Holy Shit!" moments each game. His latest came in the michigan game off a Scott alley-oop (top video). But he needs to get to the rim on a more regular basis instead of just finishing fast breaks with a rim-rocker. Amir has shown flashes of offensive capability this season, but needs to put it all together in a more complete game.

Defensively, Ohio St is one of the toughest teams in the country. They haven't played up to their abilities every game this season, but their performance against the wolverines yesterday shows what they can do. michigan came into the contest averaging over 80 points a game and shooting over 50%, but was held to a mere 53 in this one while shooting 38% from the field.

So back to my original point, the Buckeyes haven't done much to surprise me this season. I expected some bumps early on and certainly didn't anticipate an undefeated season or anything close, but they've played pretty solidly for the most part and of course beat michigan, which is less surprising than the sun going down each night.

Looking ahead, Ohio St will have to keep up the tenacious defense and get some more consistent scoring as things don't get any easier - traveling to East Lansing to face Tom Izzo and the Spartans this weekend before another date with michigan and Illinois as well as one with #9 Minnesota and two more vs. #2 Indiana.


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