Up to this point, this basketball season may have not met the fans and players expectations, based on a combination of their record and the way they’ve played. I realize that it seems I’m being unreasonable when the team is at 13-3, but is there really a glimmer of hope at this point that this team will go deep in the NCAA’s? I see several issues with this team at this point. I’ll address my thoughts to each of these five points, below.
1. This is not that good of a shooting team
The Buckeyes have shot decently in aggregate for the season (46.2%, 49th in nation), but in the three losses (Duke, Kansas, Illinois) the combined was just south of 32%. Meanwhile their opponents were right around 48%. This season shooting is fairly consistent with historical numbers, not nearly as good as the past 2-3 years. They’ve also demonstrated a tendency to not shoot well against quality teams, even when quality teams weren’t blanketing OSU shooters.
2. This is an inconsistent team
This team is similar to Forrest Gump’s proverbial ‘Box of Chocolates’; we’re never quite sure what we’re going to find when we open it. Or, tip off, as the case may be. There are periods where the Buckeyes play at a very high level; very efficient on offense, tenacious on defense, and showing good Basketball I.Q.
Other times, they play as bad as any team at a pick-up game at the local YMCA. Poor shot selection, indifferent defense, turnovers, poor positioning, you get the idea. Why is this? It appears to be a veteran squad in the sense that most of the starters (Craft, Smith, Thomas) are Juniors, the sixth man (Ravenel) is a Senior, and all have played at a high level. Could it be the need to define a starting lineup by mixing in talented underclassmen such as Thompson, Scott, Williams and LQR have thrown something off?
3. This is a team with no legitimate post presence
I’ve commented on this in various tBBC articles, that this team struggles against opponents that have strong Center/Power Forwards. The prototype Center on this team, Amir Williams, is still learning to play at this level, I feel. The other player who serves as a post presence, Evan Ravenal, is often over-matched in those assignments.
This edition of the Buckeyes is essentially comprised of a handful of guards and a lot of swing-men/small forwards. To their credit, I doubt that you’ll find any more rebounding energy than shown by Thomas and Ravenal. The younger ‘swing’ players (I’m thinking LQR, Thompson, McDonald) need to and appear to be growing into serviceable front line players.
4. This team is not fun to watch
… or at least not as much fun as the teams from the past several years. I’m not sure the players are having as much fun on the court as well. If you remember, it seemed like Craft, Sullinger, Buford, Diebler and Lighty seemed to enjoy each other’s company and the on-court results showed; play was fast and there was an exuberance and spontaneity where the seemed to feed off one another.
Could this be a result of the juggled lineup as Thad Matta is experimenting with various lineup combinations? I think so. This is likely one of the offshoots of the need to create a team fabric that needed to be rewoven with player departures.
5. Coaching impact
OK, now I’ve come to the part where “I come not to bury Matta, but to praise him”, [Ed: apologies to The Bard] because I’m going to touch briefly upon recruiting and player development.
To be honest, I don’t really have issues with Thad’s recruiting; I think it’s a lot tougher and more complicated than we may think, identifying players who are interested in OSU, the pool of talent that is available, etc. And my long view is that these things like recruiting success, however defined, run in cycles.
In terms of player development, I’m not sure where to go with this. By ‘player development’, I mean learning or improvement of basket skills year on year. I looked at a couple metrics for Aaron Craft, DeShaun Thomas And Lenzelle Smith, Jr.
A quick glance shows that Thomas and Smith showed significant increase in playing time beginning their sophomore years (2011) and their ‘per-game’ contributions increased as expected. The metric that wasn’t necessarily playing-time dependent I feel, is shooting percentage. Thomas and Smith are about the same as their freshman years; Craft has shown a deterioration.
One question that I have regarding player development are the roles of the coaching staff. I ask that question, because I honestly don’t know the roles and responsibilities of the assistant coaches. For example, what is Chris Jents’ responsibility? I understand that he has a solid background as a ‘shooting’ coach and player development. If so, I’d love to see Gene Smith authorize some overtime pay for Jent so that he can do his thing.
Right now, the Buckeyes are 13-3. At this point last year, they were 14-2, and two years ago we were spoiled at 16-0. All is not lost, fans. We’ve been spoiled by success lately, and some of us, myself included, need to be patient.
And just to level set, I tend to be an optimist in life. The glass is always half full rather than half empty. The Buckeyes just may need more water in their glass.