Ohio State Seniors Must Take on New Roles This Season

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 23rd, 2014

This will be the first Ohio State basketball team without Aaron Craft on the roster since 2010, despite the fact that it seems like he was the Buckeyes’ point guard since the turn of the century. He and Lenzelle Smith Jr. started on teams that reached the Final Four and Elite Eight in consecutive seasons and manned the backcourt in Columbus for the last three years. Combine this with the loss of leading scorer LaQuinton Ross and the Buckeyes have numerous question marks heading into this year’s campaign. Freshmen like D’angelo Russell and JaSean Tate will certainly help offensively and returnee Marc Loving showed signs last year that he could become a double-figure scorer at some point in his Buckeyes’ career. But this team will only go as far as its senior class — Shannon Scott, Amir Williams, Sam Thompson, Trey McDonald and Anthony Lee — will take them. After a disappointing 25-10 mark as a result of a questionable offense (10th in the B1Gin offensive efficiency), the seniors need to prove that they can continue to defend at an elite level without the services of the best on-ball defender in the country, and that they can actually find better ways to put some points on the board.

Shannon Scott will take over the primary ball-handling duties for Ohio State this season.  (Andy Manis, AP)

Shannon Scott will take over the primary ball-handling duties for Ohio State this season.
(Andy Manis, AP)

At this point it’s probably safe to say that Williams will never be a dominant force on the offensive end. He is, however, useful as a rim-protector, finishing fourth  in the league last season in blocks. McDonald made strides last season as a backup big man, showing that even though he too lacks offensive polish, he can contribute on the defensive end and on the glass. Both players foul far too often (a combined 11.1 fouls per 40 minutes),  but if the pair can stay on the court long enough to combine for about 15 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks per game, then they’ll have done their job as a tandem. Thompson saw his numbers drop across the board last season, and much like with Williams, it’s tempting to just assume that he is who he is at this point in his career. Even if he does nothing to improve his offensive numbers, Thompson can improve his team if he becomes a lockdown perimeter defender (which he has the athleticism to do) and if he increases his rebounding output. At 6’7″, only two conference players at the same size or taller (Will Sheehey and Joey King) had a lower defensive rebounding rate than Thompson last season. He did shoot 40.4 percent from deep as a sophomore, but he slipped back down to 35.5 percent last year. If he can knock down about 38 percent of his attempts from three and add to his rebounding totals, he should be on the floor for Thad Matta at crunch time.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten Tournament X-Factors for Round One

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 13th, 2014

Without going into full-fledged preview mode for all four games set to tip off on Thursday in Indianapolis, here are some under-the-radar players to keep an eye on in round one. Some are more obscure than others, but all the players I’m highlighting were not named to any of the All-Conference teams on Monday. They all have a specific skill set, however, that can be used to exploit a weak spot on the team they are playing against in the first round.

Tracy Abrams' ability to get steals will go a long way toward determining if Illinois can beat Indiana on Thursday. (Stephen Haas, Lee News Service)

Tracy Abrams’ ability to get steals will go a long way toward determining if Illinois can beat Indiana on Thursday. (Stephen Haas/Lee News Service)

Illinois: Tracy Abrams — Indiana turns the ball over 21.7% of the time, and Abrams averages 1.2 pilfers a game. Abrams had 5 steals in the two teams previous games, and if he can be the defensive catalyst that leads to 23 Indiana turnovers — like what happened on December 31 when the Illini beat the Hoosiers in overtime — Illinois will move on to the second round.

Indiana: Devin Davis The Illini are only mediocre at getting their own misses (165th nationally), and Davis has been productive with increased minutes recently. He’s gotten 20 MPG in his last two games, and has a robust 21.6% defensive rebound rate in limited minutes for the season. That would be good for 6th in the conference had he played enough minutes to qualify, and if Crean gives him the playing time in this game, he’ll prevent Illinois from getting any second chance buckets. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten M5: 02.12.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 12th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Michigan State point guard Keith Appling will miss another round of games this week due to his wrist injury. The Spartans play Northwestern and Nebraska at home, which are games that they should be able to win without him, even given the parity that the league has been defined by this season. Appling injured the wrist in December against North Carolina, and continued to play through the pain. Whether he should have kept playing, Appling showed a tremendous amount of leadership gutting it out while the Spartans were short-handed. If he and Branden Dawson can come back and regain healthy form when they return, the Spartans are a definite National Championship contender.
  2. Wisconsin needs a lot of things to break their way for them to win the Big Ten regular season crown. They sit at 6-5 right now, but they get a chance to avenge two earlier losses this week with games against Minnesota and at Michigan. The Badgers are back to shooting the ball better, and they withstood a horrible stretch of games defensively to make their way back into the AP top 25 after a one-week hiatus. These games could go a long way to cementing a first round bye in the Big Ten Tournament, along with helping their seeding in the NCAA Tournament.
  3. Many Illinois fans have been clamoring for a starting lineup change to get their improving freshmen more minutes. So when Coach John Groce finally pulled the trigger and put Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill into the starting unit, and this resulted in a win, it wasn’t a surprise that the coach decided to continue with this lineup at Nebraska tonight. Nunn especially has really come into to his own after struggling in the non-conference portion of the schedule. He’s gone from 2.9 PPG to 6.9 PPG, and it will be interesting to see if he continues to improve with the added minutes he’s playing.
  4. There’s a reason that Nebraska Coach Tim Miles is in the running for Big Ten Coach of the Year. Despite not having a bunch of top-100 recruits or a program with a great basketball history, he’s gotten his players to buy in and believe in his system. This can be seen in the fact that the Cornhuskers have come back from some rough defeats to win games that they weren’t supposed to win. One such game was at Northwestern on Saturday. The Wildcats do a tremendous job frustrating offenses, but Nebraska came back from 16-point first half to get their first road win of the season. Miles players haven’t quit, and could be in line for a postseason bid because of it.
  5. Amir Williams doesn’t look like or carry himself like Ohio State’s most important player, but the Buckeyes usually win when he plays well. What has to be maddening for Ohio State fans is the fact that they really don’t ever know which Williams will show up. The Buckeyes lost to Michigan Tuesday night and Williams did not have much of an impact. He got 7 rebounds in 29 minutes, but the Wolverines had 14 offensive rebounds. If Ohio State wants to do anything in March this season, Williams absolutely has have more of an impact and show more consistency.
Share this story

The “Save Your Season” Bowl: Key Questions for Ohio State-Wisconsin

Posted by Brendan Brody & Alex Moscoso on February 1st, 2014

The nosedive that Ohio State and Wisconsin have undergone in the last two weeks has been one of the biggest surprises in all of college basketball. Both teams have gone from the top five nationally to a combined 7-9 conference record. That’s part of what makes Saturday’s contest in Madison such a must-win for both squads. Forget the fact that this would have been a marquee NCAA seeding win two weeks ago. Now, both teams just need a win, period. Big Ten microsite columnists Brendan Brody and Alex Moscoso have decided to break down what these desperate teams need to do in order to start the process of getting things back on track Saturday.

Amir Williams needs to take advantage of Wisconsin's shaky post defense on Saturday. (Kirk Irwin, Getty).

Amir Williams needs to take advantage of Wisconsin’s shaky post defense on Saturday. (Kirk Irwin, Getty).

BB: Amir Williams has shot over 60 percent from the field for the majority of the season. Does Ohio State need to make a more concerted effort to get him the ball in the post and use his muscle against Frank Kaminsky?

AM: Absolutely. Wisconsin only has a block rate of 8.7 percent (268th in the nation) and they give up more shots at the rim than any other area of the court. The Badgers’ defense is more effective at denying looks on the perimeter where only 24.8 percent of their opponents’ shots are taken. Given this fact, going inside is the obvious and preferred choice for the Buckeyes. Williams is shooting 73.2 percent under the rim but is only sixth on the team in field goal attempts. He also has the highest eFG percentage on the team (61.9%) while Shannon Scott, Aaron Craft, and Sam Thompson — three players who all take more shots per game than the big man — have an eFG percentage below 50 percent. Thad Matta would be wise to figure out a way to get Williams involved even if it means diverting shots from players who are used to getting the ball. Lastly, getting Kaminsky to play more defense on the low block may rough him up a little and tire him out, which will take away from his offensive abilities.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Ohio State’s Weak Inside Play Hurting the Buckeyes

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on January 21st, 2014

Maybe it is in fact time to wonder what is going on with Ohio State. Last week, this very B1G microsite said it wasn’t time to sound the alarm yet because the Buckeyes’ three losses were all to strong teams. After losing at Nebraska last night in a contest that gave the Cornhuskers their first win over a ranked opponent in two years and their Big Ten win of the season, the “good opponents” excuse necessarily flies out the window. The Buckeyes have now lost four straight games, and barring a perfect run for the rest of the conference season, they are likely out of the conference championship race. While the offense is still without question a struggle, Ohio State’s biggest concern is with its interior guys failing to contribute, specifically Amir Williams.

Amir Williams struggles in conference play have correlated with the Buckeyes' losing streak (Kirk Irwin, Getty).

Amir Williams struggles in conference play have correlated with the Buckeyes’ losing streak (Kirk Irwin, Getty).

Ohio State is already thin on the front line with Williams as the only known and trusted commodity, but in six Big Ten games he has not been strong. It is natural to expect some dropoff in his numbers against better competition, but his production has dropped significantly. He is scoring nearly two fewer points and rebounds per game and has only tallied seven total blocks. For a team that has to rely on him almost exclusively inside, this is a huge issue. Interior defense is another problem. Purdue’s AJ Hammons and Michigan State’s Adreian Payne killed the Buckeyes inside, but the primary reason the Cornhuskers were able to turn a 31-point loss into an eight-point win in just over two weeks is because they took advantage inside. Nebraska used 26 points in the paint to jump in front of the Buckeyes early, and as a result, Thad Matta was forced to switch to a smaller lineup with Williams on the bench in order to make a comeback push. It’s not exactly a good sign when you have to bench the only center on your team to give yourself a chance to win.

For a team that prides itself on defense and needs all the offensive production it can find, the struggles of Williams and stark lack of any suitable backup to him is concerning for Ohio State. Matta doesn’t need him to be an offensive star inside, but he needs to at least contribute defensively and grab some rebounds — where he has shown proficiency — to keep Ohio State in the game. Without his contributions, the narrative surrounding the Buckeyes’ struggles will quickly change to whether Matta can patch up things well enough to save the season.

Share this story

Ohio State’s Slow Big Ten Start Nothing to Worry About

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 17th, 2014

As Ohio State has surely found out, when you are considered a top-10 team and proceed to go out and lose three straight games, eyebrows will be raised. Heck, if the two-time defending NBA champions are going to be questioned for losing three in a row within an 82-game regular season, it’s hardly a shock that pundits will sound the alarm over a three-game Big Ten losing streak. Nevermind that any one of those three losses, in isolation, would be nowhere near concern-prompting, or that the Buckeyes are still owners of the second most efficient defense in all the land. If you listen to anyone outside of Columbus, Thad Matta’s team suddenly has questions to answer. The bleeding does need to stop (and soon), and even the most ardent of Buckeyes’ supporters will admit this team is far from perfectly constructed, but resist overreaction on this one. Today’s Buckeyes are the same team that ran out to that 15-0 start — Big Ten title contenders, still.

Wins Haven't Come As Easily In The Early Part Of The Big Ten Season For Aaron Craft And Ohio State

Wins Haven’t Come As Easily In The Early Part Of The Big Ten Season For Aaron Craft And Ohio State

There is no sugarcoating this fact: Ohio State is not a good offensive basketball team. Besides an impressively low steal percentage-against (helpful mainly for setting up that lethally efficient halfcourt defense), there is no true strength within its offensive statistical profile. When DeShaun Thomas and his prodigious offensive production departed for the professional ranks last offseason, most suspected the Buckeyes would struggle to score points as a result. There was hope that junior LaQuinton Ross might be ready to assume a good chunk of Thomas’ production, but while Ross is the Bucks’ leading scorer at 14.1 points per game, he has proven not to be another Thomas. Ross has shot the ball well from three-point range (41%), but a higher-than-preferred turnover rate (12.5%), paired with middling percentages on two-point field goals (44%) and from the charity stripe (68%) has left, for Thad Matta and his offensively challenged team, a lot to be desired. While the optimist would suggest Ross has some room for growth here in the back end of the season (he does have the natural tools to make it happen), the realist here will remind you that we aren’t talking about a player five games into his freshman season. To a large extent, Ross likely is what he is; namely, not DeShaun Thomas. With a dearth of offensive options elsewhere on the roster, that reality also means that the Buckeyes won’t be redefining themselves anytime soon. This isn’t, and won’t become, an elite offensive unit.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Three Keys to Ohio State at Purdue Today

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on December 31st, 2013

Big Ten play is here and it gets started today with No. 3 Ohio State‘s trip to West Lafayette to take on Purdue at 1:00 PM ET. The Buckeyes are still undefeated and Purdue has had its struggles in the non-conference season, but the Boilermakers are coming off their most impressive win at West Virginia nine days ago. The match-up will be Ohio State’s second road game of the season, but the first since its trip to Marquette before Thanksgiving (although it should be noted that Purdue students will still be off campus on break, so the crowd may not be as raucous as normal). The Buckeyes need the win to stay near the top of the national rankings and make an early statement that it is the favorite to win the conference. Purdue needs any and all marquee wins to help boost its NCAA Tournament resume, which boasts an 11-3 record but no truly quality victories yet. Here are three keys to this year’s Big Ten season opener. Happy new year, everyone!

Shannon Scott and Ronnie Johnson open up Big Ten play this year against one another and the guards are both key to their team's success (Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports).

Shannon Scott and Ronnie Johnson open up Big Ten play this year against one another and the guards are both key to their team’s success (Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports).

  1. Can Purdue’s guards penetrate and score on Ohio State’s spectacular defense? The Buckeyes’ defense is one of the very best — if not the best — in the country. It leads the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, and is among the best in scoring defense and opponents’ field goal percentage. With Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott and Lenzelle Smith Jr. leading the charge, Purdue will have to manage to find some offense from its trio of slashing guards. The Johnsons and Bryson Scott need to get to the basket and take smart shots, not just go into the lane with reckless abandon to take a leaning, prayer of a floater that has no chance to drop in the basket. Such drives, if performed successfully, will open up lanes for dropoff passes to AJ Hammons, Jay Simpson and the other players cutting to the basket. Without good penetration opportunities today, Purdue’s offense will go stagnant and the Boilermakers will struggle to reach 50 points in the game (leaving almost no chance to win). Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Ohio State’s Keys to Beating Notre Dame Tonight

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 21st, 2013

One of four battles between Big Ten teams and probable NCAA Tournament teams from power conferences will take place in Brooklyn on Saturday when Ohio State (11-0) takes on Notre Dame (8-3). After a disappointing loss to North Dakota State, the Irish righted their ship by knocking off Indiana last Saturday at the Crossroads Classic. Meanwhile, Ohio State is ranked as the #3 team in the country, but hasn’t really played anyone of merit since they bested Maryland about three weeks ago. This one will be highlighted by guard play, but here are a few other things to look for if you’re tuning in this evening after a day of Christmas shopping (7:30 PM EST, ESPN2).

Shannon Scott will be tested by the Notre Dame guards on Saturday night.

Shannon Scott will be tested by the Notre Dame guards on Saturday night.

  • Guard Play will be a key: The best of the individual battles will be in the form of Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins taking on Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott. The Craft and Scott duo will look to do what they do against everyone — pressure and harass. Craft (2.5 SPG) and Scott (2.3 SPG) are first and second, respectively, among Big Ten players in steals per game, but Grant and Atkins are the keys to the Irish protecting the ball at the 18th best rate in the country (14.5 turnovers per 100 possessions). Experience playing under pressure like this might unhinge freshman and sophomore perimeter players, but the Notre Dame duo has been through it before. If Craft and Scott can force a steady diet of turnovers from these veterans — no easy task whatsoever — they can set the tone for an uglier game that eliminates some of the clean looks Notre Dame got against Indiana.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Otskey’s Observations: Episode VI

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on December 18th, 2013

Battle For Iowa Lived Up To Its Billing

For my money, the best game in recent days was Iowa State’s thrilling win over Iowa on Friday night at Hilton Coliseum. This game was the true essence of what college basketball is all about. It was a heated in-state rivalry between two quality teams in a crazy atmosphere, smack dab in the middle of a basketball-crazed state. It is simple: This was a fun game, period. Although Fred Hoiberg’s Cyclones came away victorious, you may be somewhat surprised to find out that my biggest impression taken from this game was just how good Iowa is. I actually thought the Hawkeyes were the better team for most of this contest. Don’t get me wrong, Iowa State played really well. After all, it beat a team I thought was very impressive so that should tell you something about the Cyclones as well. I thought Iowa had a terrific game plan and evidence of top-notch coaching and scouting was present throughout the game.

Devyn Marble

Devyn Marble and his mates were outstanding. But Iowa State was just a little bit better. (AP)

One specific example of great scouting came late in the first half when Roy Devyn Marble got in the middle of a dribble hand-off by Georges Niang and broke it up, leading to two Iowa points on the other end. Marble read the play perfectly and it paid off for his team. Fran McCaffery’s squad excelled in transition and got almost anything it wanted offensively on the low block with Aaron White leading the charge. Iowa ran some beautiful half-court sets that resulted in plenty of clean looks, especially for White and Marble. The Hawkeyes dominated the glass (but did not take full advantage of it) and answered the bell nearly every time Iowa State put together a charge, except for the final minute where it wound up costing them the game. Iowa simply didn’t make the plays it needed to win late, highlighted by Mike Gesell’s two missed free throws. McCaffery and his team can learn a lot from this game but in the end it is on the players to step up and lead down the stretch. Whether that’s Marble (most likely), White, Gesell, or someone else, Iowa needs someone to be “the man” in order to take the next step and contend at the very highest level in the Big Ten.

Michigan Back On Track?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

The Seven Most Surprising Big Ten Players So Far This Season

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 13th, 2013

With the season now a little over a month old, it’s time to take a look at how different players are performing in accordance with their preseason expectations. I’m always more of a good news first kind of guy, so I’ll start with the guys who are making a better-than-expected impact first, with the disappointments coming next week. Many of these players are transfers, although some are simply just producing more in additional minutes. The common thread with all seven of these Big Ten breakout players is that they are heavily contributing to wins in more than one way, and doing so at a high level.

Frank Kaminsky has played his way into B1G Player of the Year consideration (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky has played his way into B1G Player of the Year consideration (Getty)

  • Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin (14.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.1 BPG, 1.1 SPG, 42.9% 3FG, 55.4% FG). “Frank the Tank” is leading the Badgers in scoring, steals and blocks. People thought that he’d be able to have an impact with more minutes due to the graduation of Jared Berggren, but no one thought he’d be capable of dropping 43 points in a single game. Kaminsky leads a balanced attack on the offensive end that has five different players capable of scoring 20 on a given night, and he’s a defensive presence to the tune of blocking 7.06 percent of all opponents’ field goal attempts. Wisconsin in general has been a surprise, but Kaminsky has been an even bigger one.
  • Eliott Eliason, Minnesota (5.7 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 2.5 BPG). Eliason got lost in the shuffle last season with Trevor Mkakwe and Rodney Williams getting most of the frontcourt minutes in 2012-13. This year he has emerged as a major rebounding and shot-blocking threat for the Gophers. Eliason is currently third in the league in defensive rebounding rate (26.5%), sixth in offensive rebounding rate (12.6%), and third in block rate (11.74%). On a team that frequently features a three-guard attack, it is vital that someone can clear the glass and protect the rim, which Eliason is doing at an elite level in the early going.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Should Amir Williams Be More Involved in Ohio State’s Offense?

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 29th, 2013

After a frustrating first two years in Columbus where the word that might best describe his play would be inconsistency, Amir Williams has been much more of a factor in the first quarter of the year for the #7 Ohio State squad. Through the first five games of the year, Williams is averaging 10.0 PPG, 8.6 RPG, and 2.2 BPG on 65.4 percent shooting from the field. Coming into this season, he was a 50.9 percent free throw shooter, but is now knocking those down at a 76.2 percent clip. He’s also shown more engagement and aggressiveness than he has in his first two seasons. Last season he was a starter, but he still only averaged 16.5 MPG and was observed to kind of coast and float through games without making much of an impact other than occasionally blocking a shot or two. Now he is up to 24.2 MPG, and with this he’s been more productive and especially more active on the glass. So with this comes the question for a team that is struggling on offense despite their good start: Should Williams be getting the ball more inside?

Amir Williams has been a strong presence inside for Ohio State this season (Kirk Irwin, Getty).

Amir Williams has been a strong presence inside for Ohio State this season (Kirk Irwin, Getty).

In the Wyoming game, Williams got the ball on the block a whopping three times. If you look at his statistical line from the game, you might question my math. He went 5-of-9 from the field and scored 12 points combined with 16 rebounds. But the majority of all his points came from tips and putbacks on the offensive end. Throughout the course of a game where Ohio State probably has at least 60 to 70 possessions, he got the ball in post position three times. If this were a little kid parks and rec league, he might have quit or cried to his parents because the other guys on the team don’t give him the ball. I’m not saying he was hyper-aggressive in his post ups, but there were times they could have dumped it into him quite easily and the guards and wings simply moved the ball around on the outside.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten M5: 11.22.13 Edition

Posted by Max Jakubowski on November 22nd, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. Keith Appling has been off to a hot start this season for Michigan State, but make no mistake the heart of the Spartans’ offense is Gary Harris.  Tom Izzo wants him to take at least 15 shots a game.  If Harris is knocking down shots from the perimeter, it will open up more of the floor for Michigan State specifically Adreian Payne. Harris was voted the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year and will be under constant pressure to perform at a high level.
  2. A big question mark heading into this season for Ohio State was whether Amir Williams could finally step up and become an offensive threat on the post.  So far, Williams has performed well.  He is averaging 9.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks a game. Last year, the Buckeyes never really had a true post threat as Evan Ravenel saw time and even DeShaun Thomas would play some five.  It will be crucial to the Buckeyes’ success that Williams produces down low, especially against Big Ten foes.
  3. Losing 2014 point guard prospect Quentin Snider was a big blow to John Groce and his Illinois program.  Snider was deemed the point guard of the future once Tracy Abrams last.  However, Illinois may have found their future point guard internally already.  Jaylon Tate has played extremely well in backing up Abrams this season. Tate actually leads the conference in assist to turnover ratio.  The Chicago product may have gotten lost in the shuffle next year, with Oregon State transfer Ahmad Starks becoming eligible and Snider was also suppose to be on campus.  Now, Tate looks like the key guy to run Groce’s offense for future seasons.
  4. It’s a given that AJ Hammons is a valuable piece to Purdue.  So its understandable why Matt Painter wants his team to feed Hammons more on the post.  Purdue has been struggling with their three-point shooting, making Hammons low-post scoring even more crucial.  Purdue heads to Anaheim to take on Oklahoma State in the Old Spice classic next week.  Hammons will need to have one of his better scoring games to keep Purdue competitive in this one.
  5. Michigan handled Long Beach State easily in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in Thursday.  But the bigger news for Michigan may have been that their main competition in Puerto Rico lost. Both Georgetown and VCU fell in their first games, opening up the bracket significantly for the Wolverines.  Michigan will take on Florida State and a win would set up a date against either Charlotte or Northeastern. This may not have been the path Michigan envisioned, but the road to a tournament championship certainly seems brighter.
Share this story