What Did We Learn From Ohio State’s Weekend Loss To Kansas?Posted by Deepak Jayanti on December 26th, 2012
Except for a tough road game against Duke, the Ohio State Buckeyes had not been tested during their non-conference schedule until their date with Kansas last Saturday afternoon in Columbus. Losing to the top ranked team in the country in their building did not set off any alarms about Thad Matta’s squad, but the 74-66 loss to the Jayhawks has raised a few questions about the players’ overall toughness against good competition. Filling the void left behind by the departures of Jared Sullinger and William Buford was the primary concern coming into the season for these Buckeyes. It is very clear that Matta has a deep and athletic roster but regardless of their talent, they will need to be mentally tougher if they want to compete for a Big Ten title and beyond. It is understood that the younger players will take some time to gel with each other and get used to extended playing time, but after 11 games this season, two aspects of their game clearly needs to improve – patience and fortitude. Let’s examine why they appeared to be soft on both ends of the floor against Kansas.
- Poor Shot Selection: Deshaun Thomas has a quick release on his jumper and is one of the main reasons why he is the primary scoring option for Thad Matta. But he relies on the jumper too much during crunch time and smart defensive teams can lock up his mid-range game which tends to frustrate him. This was a glaring issue during the second half against KU when Travis Releford and Elijah Johnson crowded him immediately once he caught the ball in the high post or in the corner around the perimeter. Any time he came off a ball screen, he found a defender right next to him because the Jayhawks wanted him to put the ball on the floor. But rather than making the necessary adjustments and using his quickness to cut to the hoop, Thomas shied away from contact and instead forced up multiple bad shots. As the Buckeyes looked to make a run while down eight points around the four-minute mark, Thomas took an ill-advised 24-footer just a few seconds into the shot clock, thereby setting a horrible example to the rest of his team that had already been too content settling for jumpers throughout the second half. Thomas even admitted as much after the game when he said, “I don’t think they did anything special, they just played hard.” To make matters worse, Aaron Craft, the other experienced Buckeye, took way too many three-point attempts. Craft has never been a great shooter (career: 33% 3FG) but he has been trying to improve his shot selection this season. If he isn’t able to hit consecutive shots from long-range (2-of-6 from beyond the arc), then he should attempt to either drive the ball or defer to his teammates for scoring. Sophomore guard Shannon Scott was on a roll in the first half (15 points), but he did not look for his shot when Thomas and Craft were struggling. Both of the veterans need to be smarter and more patient with their shot selection and make the necessary adjustments when it is clear that opposing defenders are forcing them into taking poor shots.
- Interior Defense: Sophomore forward Amir Williams was not expected to score 16 PPG to fill Sullinger’s shoes on the offensive end because Deshaun Thomas is expected to pick up his offensive slack. Williams, however, needs to hold his own against opposing big men in the paint. The Buckeyes were only outrebounded inside by four boards but they could not prevent Jeff Withey and Kevin Young from getting to the free throw line. Neither Kansas big man is particularly known from his post moves but they were defended poorly by Williams and Evan Ravenel by letting the Jayhawks muscle them around too easily. Withey and Young combined for 8-of-15 from the line but Withey’s 12 shot attempts were not effectively challenged. Both Williams and Ravenel regularly got lost on pick-and-rolls which led Withey wide open as he cut down the lane for easy layups. When the Jayhawks pulled away during the last five minutes of the game, they had two consecutive possessions during which they beat Williams off backdoor cuts resulting in a dunk by Ben McLemore and a missed layup by Withey. Williams is still getting used to his extended playing time (15.2 MPG) and may need some more minutes to understand all of his defensive assignments. Nonetheless, he has the size at 6’11” and 250 pounds to be an effective, and more importantly, a tough defensive presence for the Buckeyes.
The younger players – Williams, Scott, Laquinton Ross, and Sam Thompson – will have growing pains this season but they need more help from Thomas and Craft. When one of them (such as Scott) has the opportunity to exploit a clear mismatch, the juniors should take advantage of that opportunity. The Jayhawks were clearly the tougher team on Saturday and it was obvious during the second half when the Buckeyes were thoroughly confused and did not make the necessary adjustments on both ends of the floor. Overall, Matta still has the talent on his roster to finish in the top half of the Big Ten but they cannot afford to hurt themselves by playing a soft brand of basketball.