Season In Review: Ohio State BuckeyesPosted by jnowak on April 16th, 2013
For a while there, it was hard to know what to think about Ohio State. The Buckeyes had a pretty nice non-conference schedule that included a game against Marquette on a neutral floor (aircraft carrier), but it was canceled because of the condensation issue. They played at Duke in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and lost. They hosted Kansas, and lost. And then, suddenly, Big Ten play was here. The Buckeyes had no trouble beating up on the little guys, but then went to Illinois and lost. They went to Michigan State, and lost. Sensing a pattern? The Buckeyes looked good, but they never really looked great.
Until March. Then OSU looked like world-beaters. Ohio State went from a good team in a great conference to a great team in a great conference (one they were responsible for helping make great) when they rattled off 11 straight wins from February 20 to March 24. Along the way, they played their way back into the Big Ten title picture, a conference tournament championship, and an Elite Eight berth. For a while, they were the hottest team in the country. Let’s break it down:
- The Good: Let’s start with the obvious. Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas were as good a 1-2 punch and complementary duo in the conference, if not the country, as anybody. Thomas is a pure, versatile scorer whose game will translate well to the NBA when he makes the leap. And Craft, with all due respect, is the perfect kind of player you’d want to lead your college team but who won’t likely have much of a (if any) future in pro ball. He’s a terrific student-athlete, someone Ohio State fans and alumni can be proud of, and he’s a bulldog on the court. He ran the Buckeyes’ offense very well, provided leadership, brought some of the best on-ball defense in the country, and showed by the final months of the season that he can fill it up too. When Craft was at his best, the Buckeyes looked unbeatable. That included two huge games against Michigan State, both at the end of the regular season and in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, as well as in the Big Dance. Ohio State was nearly dead in the water after losing three of four games early in February, but they turned it around to become the hottest team out of the best conference in the land.
- The Bad: We all know the story about Ohio State’s lack of scoring depth behind Thomas. For much of the year, Thomas led the conference in scoring (he finished the year at the top, with 19.8 PPG), but none of his teammates joined him in the conference’s top 30. Even Nebraska had three players in the top 20. That’s hard to imagine, and it’s not easy to win that way, but the Buckeyes found ways. It was primarily through Thomas’ heavy lifting, and hoping that one of the team’s inconsistent scorers — Lenzelle Smith Jr., Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott, LaQuinton Ross, or even Craft — would turn it on. Strangely, the Buckeyes still found ways to win even when it didn’t happen. Craft, thanks to his late-season spurt, was the only other player on Thad Matta’s team who averaged double-digits in scoring (exactly 10.0 PPG) while Smith trailed him with 9.2 PPG. In the others’ defense, Matta went about eight deep this year, which is basically three more players than he’d typically incorporate in his rotation in past years. With minutes down, the scoring could be more spread out, but they’re going to have to figure out another source of offense next year without Thomas around.
- The Future: Like I was just saying… the Buckeyes are going to have to find scoring from other sources next year with Thomas fleeing for the NBA. Craft can score, sure, but he’s still not a natural offensive talent who can lead the team in points every night. His jumper is still too unreliable (expect him to put up quite a few over the summer in preparation for this role next season), so teams will play off him and make him shoot it. Smith was terrible in the NCAA Tournament (17 points combined in his last three games), but Ross showed the mettle it’ll take to be a top scorer next year. As a junior, he should be. The Buckeyes also desperately need Amir Williams to improve his production. He nearly tripled his minutes from last year (6.6 to 16.5 MPG) but only contributed 3.5 PPG and 3.9 RPG in that additional time. It’ll be his second season as a featured big man, and they’re going to need him. It’s a small recruiting class for Matta and the Buckeyes, with just forward Marc Loving (No. 63 overall, according to Rivals) and shooting guard Kameron Williams (No. 83) entering the mix. But you know you can never write off a Matta-coached team, so it’ll be interesting to see how the pieces improve in the offseason.