Analyzing the Buckeyes’ Interior Presence: Amir WilliamsPosted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on November 8th, 2013
Ohio State’s offense has gone through several major transformations over the past few seasons. Despite considerable turnover among the players, Thad Matta has managed to turn the Buckeyes into a perennial contender for the Big Ten title and also the Final Four. Whether the offense ran through Greg Oden, Evan Turner or Jared Sullinger, the Buckeyes have always had a strong presence in the paint. Last season, however, was a bit of an exception because there was no dominant post player who could hold his own consistently during Big Ten competition. As a result, the Buckeyes ranked ninth in offensive rebounding (29.4%) in the Big Ten. This statistic shouldn’t be surprising considering that Matta lost the lottery pick Sullinger to the NBA, but they will need to pull up their rebounding this season if they want to compete with Michigan State and Michigan for the league title. The key player that needs to step up is Amir Williams.
Williams didn’t play much during his freshman season because Sullinger was the big man on campus, but he was expected to be a strong presence a year later. At 6’11, 250 pounds, Williams clearly has the size to have an impact in the paint but he had trouble staying on the floor because of sloppy defense. There were too many times last season when he went for the big block but picked up a silly foul instead. He wasn’t expected to score in the paint last year, but he was supposed to provide a strong rebounding presence as well. Because of his limited minutes, Matta relied on senior forward Evan Ravenel instead. Ravenel never looked for his shot much but played a key role in setting effective screens and cleaning the defensive glass during March when the Buckeyes made a run to the Elite Eight.
Despite Williams’ subpar sophomore season, the Buckeyes finished with a 13-5 conference record because their guards were able to snatch key boards during important games. Aaron Craft, Sam Thompson and Lenzelle Smith Jr. combined for 12 boards per game which is respectable from a trio of guards. But because they were worried about the defensive glass, the guards were not able to pick up the transition game. Ideally, Williams would grab most of the defensive boards while Thompson and Smith would be off to the races. The change of pace last year was evident in the tempo statistics, as the Buckeyes averaged just 62.3 possessions per game – ninth in the B1G season. During Sullinger’s sophomore season, the Buckeyes averaged 65.4 possessions per game because he was able to dominate the glass. It is very likely that Williams will be the only true big man in the rotation this season and therefore it is essential that he averages at least 25 MPG and more than seven rebounds per game.
If Williams struggles again, Matta doesn’t have the luxury of going to a senior big man such as Ravenel this year. Forward Mark Loving and Trey McDonald could be serviceable but neither may be effective against superior competition such as Mitch McGary, Adreian Payne or A.J.Hammons. The guards can still scrape for some boards, but Matta really needs them to focus on picking up a few easy buckets in the transition. As such, the offense will be in flux until LaQuinton Ross can prove that he can consistently score, and without an effective transition game, it could be tougher to manufacture points in the half-court sets. Matta has proven that he will rally his team to play its hallmark tough defense, but the first few weeks of the season could be rough as Williams’ performance remains an open question.