Saturday, December 28

Buckeye Basketball Preview

Like every year, I’ve been so preoccupied with Buckeye football that my basketball preview is a few months late. Sue me. The Ohio St hoopsters have dominated a weak non-conference schedule, and will head into the New Year and Big Ten play owning a 13-0 record and ranked #3 in the nation. I mentioned that the schedule wasn’t exactly a gauntlet, but I am surprised by how well this Buckeye team has played.

The highlight of the season thus far was clearly the thrilling victory over Notre Dame last weekend. It was a close, back-and-forth battle the whole way, until the OSU offense fell apart mid-way through the second half and the Irish appeared to be well on their way to handing Ohio St its first loss. But facing an eight-point deficit with 50 seconds left, the Buckeyes pulled off one of the craziest comebacks I’ve ever seen. There was a ten second period where OSU Reggie Miller’d it, scoring six points with a basket, steal, basket, steal, basket. It was wild. Lenzelle Smith, who was a large part of the scoring problem in the second half, led the charge by scoring seven points in the closing minute, including going 5/5 from the line.

Let’s look ahead to see what could help or may hinder a Final Four run.

Why they could go to the Final Four.
The biggest strength of this Buckeye team is certainly its tenacious defense. Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott, and Lenzelle Smith make up the nation’s best perimeter defense. Craft has been dubbed as the best on-ball defender in the nation for two years now, but I could argue Scott is every bit as good. Amir Williams isn’t a Dallas Lauderdale-type enforcer in the middle, but has really improved since last season and isn’t a liability on the defensive end.

Speaking of Scott and Williams, their progression from a year ago is another big reason this team is doing as well as it is. I absolutely love AC, but I really think Scott is just as important to the Buckeyes’ success. Williams was basically a piece of shit last year, but would be my vote for Most Improved Player in the country. I always got on him last year for being a little girl, so often being stripped of the ball on his way back up after and offensive board. On the rare occasion he actually got the ball to the rim, he inexplicably wouldn’t dunk it despite being 7’1 and often missed the gimme layup. This year is an entirely different story. He has been very effective around the rim, averaging 10 points and 7 boards a game.

Lastly, as is usually the case with Ohio St in the Thad Matta era, they can be a very good three-point shooting team and have great leadership. Zelle is basically automatic when he gets to his sweet spot in the corner, LaQuinton Ross can be streaky but is still shooting 40% from beyond the arc, and although his game isn’t developed enough to warrant a lot of minutes, Amedeo Della Valle can stroke it better than anyone when he is on the court. A lot of attention has been given to the fact that Craft was the starting quarterback and valedictorian of his high school and the senior’s leadership on the court is unparalleled. And of course, there’s always one of the top coaches in the country roaming the sideline.

Why they won’t win it all.
While this team has really impressed me this year, one glaring weakness has still been holding them back – the lack of a “go-to” scorer. Ever since Thad Matta came to Columbus and the hoops program has become relevant again, every team had that one guy that you would give the ball to with unwavering confidence in a clutch situation. Not just at the end of games, but anytime you needed a big score to stop a run or break a scoring drought. From Mike Conley/Ron Lewis to Jamar Butler to Evan Turner to William Buford to DeShaun Thomas – it was always there. Unless someone steps up big in the next couple of months, this team does not have that guy.

No disrespect to Aaron Craft, but he is surely known more for his defense then being a scorer. I’d say Zelle is the best option, but he needs to be open and can’t really create his own shot like the Willy Buckets and ETs of the past. Q was the front-runner to be that guy coming into the year but has not shown any signs of being able to fill that role in the first 13 games. It’s not that none of these guys are capable of making a big shot – all three of them are – it’s just that I don’t have a whole lot of confidence in them being able to do it on a consistent basis.

Whether someone develops into that guy or not, this season promises to be another exciting and successful one that shouldn’t end until late in March, hopefully April.


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