About a year ago, in fact, almost to the week I did an opinion piece about Ohio State basketball. At that point last season, the Buckeyes were also wandering around the basketball landscape. I thought I’d take a look at what I thought then, and compare it to what I think now. Interestingly, there are some common issues from one year to the next, which may not be all that surprising, since it is essentially the same group of players and essentially the same coaching staff. For sake of comparison, I’ll leave last year’s narrative in regular font, and italicize this year’s comments. Stats are courtesy of OSU’s Athletic Site. Here we go. I’m not the only one who’s concerned.
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.
We’re pretty much at the same point with a 15-4, 2-4 record, sort of, maybe. Our losses last year were “reasonable”, putting up good games against Duke and Kentucky, but getting seared by Illinois. This year, the loss at Breslin probably surprised no one, but double digit losses to Iowa and Minnesota were “bad” losses, and the Nebraska loss was a horror show.
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.
The Buckeyes are shooting exactly the same aggregate as last season (46.2%) but in our three losses, OSU’s FG% was 41%, so not that bad. The recent issue is their offense being flummoxed by an opponent in a zone defense. Against Iowa, although our game FG% was a respectable 44.6%, they struggled against the zone; our money was made when Iowa was in their man-to-man defense. Against Minnesota’s zone, we shot 35%; not good at all. Against Nebraska, the team shot 39% from the field, compared to Huskers’ 50%. Same baskets, same gym. Just to show that their 24 point 2nd half against Minnesota wasn’t a fluke, they came out and scored 25 in the 1st half of the Nebraska game.
To me, the concern is that Ohio State will be see a lot of zone defense going forward, since we’ve clearly demonstrated an inability to consistently score against a zone. Frankly, we don’t have a Jon Diebler-like shooter that can enable us to “shoot” our way out of a zone. That the zone defense also takes away the offensive strength of our team by closing down driving lanes to the basket. Get Craft, Thompson and Ross slashing to the basket and good things happen. Otherwise, we get what we’ve seen recently.
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?
For the first paragraph, that might apply this year to the pre-conference play. For the second paragraph, I’ll go with my first two sentences. Thad has settled on his starting lineup as well as his bench rotation, so there should be a rhythm out there. There are some issues right now. In the LiveChat in the 1st half of the Nebraska game, Eric mentioned that something went akilter at about the MSU or Iowa games, the team hasn’t been the same since. Confidence? Maybe, I don’t know, but OSU is not in a good place mentally right now.
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.
This hasn’t changed any, it is a glaring weakness offensively and crippling defensively. Amir’s play has improved, but our lineup is basically 3 guards, 1 guard/forward and 1 forward. Iowa absolutely hammered the paint with their front line, and against Minnesota, we just had no answer. In these two losses, we were outscored in the paint 78-54, which would pretty much account for the margin of loss. The disheartening thing in the Minnesota game was the Gophers’ Maurice Walker planting himself in the paint (evidently the refs were reluctant to call lane violation) with Williams/McDonald (can’t remember which one) on his hip. Walker got easy feed passes and had easy baskets. (Hint: Try ‘fronting’ your opponent. It works. Really).
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.
Actually, I do enjoy watching this team play. They play with enthusiasm, they play whistle-to-whistle and they play as a team. As a fan, I can’t ask for much more than that. Well, actually I can. See the other points.
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.
* Represents Assist Per Game stats.
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.
Frankly, I didn’t feel like getting into the weeds with statistics on this one. If you’re that interested, go here. If not, let’s continue..
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.
Funny that I should mention Chris Jent. In one of tBBC’s LiveBlogs (it might have been the Minnesota game) Eric asked an interesting question: ”Do we miss Chris Jent?”. I would say that we’re missing something with player development, and quite possibly it is Jent. Aside from that, since I’m not at their practices, I have no idea “who” has responsibility for “what” in terms of player development. Here’s an example: Amir Williams, and to a certain degree LaQuinton Ross have a habit of, when getting an offensive rebound (more on that later) or receiving a pass deep in the lane, rather than keep the ball at shoulder/head height, they’ll bring the ball down to their waist (or worse yet, dribble) to “gather” themselves before attempting the shot. This is about the last thing that you want to see. This presents opportunities for defenders to now contest a previously uncontested shot, or the ball gets slapped away/stolen. I see this game after game from my living room. How is the coaching staff missing this? Don’t they see it from the floor? Don’t they have game films to review?
Over the weekend, I was talking with my uncle, and of course Ohio State men’s basketball came up. He started out with “When I was in 7th grade, the 1st thing the coach taught me was to ‘block out’. I mentioned that #2 was that ‘a missed shot generally bounced to the opposite side of the court from the shooter’. So, if a shooter is on right wing, the miss will rebound to his left. Block out accordingly. My uncle agreed, but added the caveat that “It doesn’t make any difference for Ohio State, because as soon as the shot is taken, everybody runs to the other end of the court; nobody wants to rebound”.
He might be on to something. An interesting case is DeShaun Thomas (who do we miss more; Jent, Thomas or both?) in his development. His junior year, DeShaun was a fierce offensive rebounder. Why? He wanted to score points, and knew that an offensive rebound is about as easy way to score as there is. (God, I miss him). Especially right now, when the Buckeyes are in a period of being scoring challenged because of, um, spotty shooting, offensive rebound put-backs are a nice opportunity to ease the pain of bad field goal shooting. And since pur shooting isn’t that hot, there are ample opportunities to get offensive rebounds. Oh, here’s a good read for you, courtesy of courtvisionanalytics.com. And the fun part is, it is interactive. you can move your “shooter” around to get an indication of where the rebounding “hotspots” are. You’re welcome.
Right now, the Buckeyes are 15-3. 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.
That 14-2 season seems like a distant memory. The 16-0 is deep in the mists of time.
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.