Many have said that the team is missing the extra facet of Diebler’s shooting, and that this team simply doesn’t shoot as well. Others have said that we’re missing Lighty’s leadership on the floor, and that last year’s team benefitted greatly from his experience and calm. And who knows what kind of impact Dallas Lauderdale really had on the team. He could have been an incredibly charismatic guy behind the scenes and in practice – helping the team keep focus for the long-haul.
Leadership on the basketball court is a hard quality to define and pinpoint. It’s the trait of an individual for which others look up to them and follow their example. But it doesn’t easily appear in the stat-sheet. If only there was a column for “leadership points”! That would make analyzing a leader’s effects nice and easy!
C’est la vie.
There are other ways we can analyze the effect leaders have on their team. We should first ask ourselves though, how exactly leaders effect their teams in the first place.
The very first thing that jumps to mind is in close games. Leaders often have a calming influence in the huddle, or make key plays to put their team in a position to win the game. Sometimes leaders won’t be the best scorer, but will do the other things that allow a team to function.
Leaders also make a big difference in games away from home. Often they can keep a team’s focus off the crowd and on the events on the floor. This allows the team to continue to play their game despite the distractions of a crowd actively rooting against them. This is especially true for times when the crowd is amped up after a run or huge shot from the home team. Leaders will gather their squad and tell them to dig deep and focus on what they do in practice.
The last big key is that leaders will automatically make everyone else on the floor better with their presence. They can accomplish this either by having better “floor awareness” of where people are and should be, and therefore being able to deliver the ball, or by knowing what a particular teammate should be (but isn’t) doing. There’s nothing quite like a leader getting in your face and telling you you’re screwing it up for the rest of the team to motivate you to play better.Looking at last season and analyzing the big games (games expected prior to play to be notable, or against Big Ten NCAA teams) and road games the Buckeyes ended up in pretty good shape. NCAA tournament games are considered “road games” for this analysis.
Big Games: 16-3
- Margin of Victory: 11.4 points per game
Away Games: 14-3
- Margin of Victory: 9.7 points per game
It’s hard to do a one-to-one comparison, since we don’t know which teams are going to make the NCAA tournament this year, but we can do our best.
Big Games: 3-3
- Margin of Victory: 4.3 points per game
Away Games: 2-3
- Margin of Victory: 3.4 points per game
Some of the margin of victory numbers are a little skewed. The big home wins over Duke and Indiana obviously help the Big Game numbers, while the large spread at Iowa basically kept the margin of victory numbers for away games in OSU’s favor.
It’s very clear that these teams have very different leadership capabilities. How they play on the road and how they perform in “big” games are a key sign. The Buckeyes don’t score nearly as well against their competition in either category like they did last season, and they don’t secure victories at a similar rate.
Clearly no-one has stepped up to fill the leadership role on this basketball team. For good reason people look to William Buford, the senior, the most experienced ball-player, and the guy that I can’t seem to stop writing articles about, to be that leader. Seniors are often looked at for that job because of the experience they have in the program. Younger guys will look to them for inspiration, and they fill the role more easily than any other class.
Unfortunately, a leader can’t be fabricated out of thin air. A player has to have the psyche, ability, and charisma to be a good leader. If people look up to a senior, and the senior shies away, fails to speak up, or doesn’t command attention he won’t make for a very good leader and the team will struggle.
This is the position I believe William Buford has found himself in. He’s the only senior on the team, the only player with more than 2 year’s of experience in Matta’s program. Everybody else is looking to him to take command, but it’s not who he is as a person. Buford is very quiet and shy in the press-conferences, a very soft-spoken individual who clearly prefers to be in the limelight with his play, rather than with his words.
Buford is not a leader type player. He is a very emotional player, one who lets his feelings dictate his play. This is part of the reason that his shooting is so inconsistent. When he feels it, he’ll hit it. If he’s not feeling it, he won’t.
Buford is a support player. He’s the guy you put on the court to hit buckets, to get open, to drive the lane, to get rebounds and draw fouls. He’s not the guy you put on the court to get the others to sit up and listen. That’s not Buford’s fault, that’s just his personality.There are players on the team who I think will make much better leaders in the future. Jared Sullinger has a chance to be that, and I think Aaron Craft is a more likely candidate with his play and personality, but they fail in one requirement – they’re both sophomores. It is extremely difficult for a sophomore to command the attention of other sophomores. It’s only slightly less difficult to command the attention of the freshmen.
We’re seeing both of these players start to mold themselves into the leader type roles. Their comments after the Illinois game regarding player effort, or lack thereof, were a clear step towards that direction. Perhaps we’ll see Craft and Sullinger take a greater leadership role later this season, but for now that doesn’t yet seem to have happened.
This situation is also not necessarily of Matta’s making. Matta could not very well force William Buford to be a leader – he’d be crazy to try. Buford simply doesn’t have the mentality or personality for the job, and you can bet Matta knows it. You may recall last season that Matta told Lighty that the 2010-2011 squad was Lighty’s team. Matta never once has said that to Buford about this year’s team, and I’m certain that Matta knew full well it would be too much for the emotionally charged guard.
Matta has likely been allowing leadership to develop on the floor, possibly hoping that one of the younger guys, like Craft or Sullinger, will step up and assume the job. As the Big Ten season wears on we may get a chance to see one of the young guns grow into a leader before our eyes. If not, we may witness another unglorified early exit in post-season play.