The Curious Case of Lenzelle Smith’s Offense

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on March 2nd, 2014

Have you ever seen glimpses of talent from an underclassman and begin to extrapolate his talent over the next two or three years? Of course you have. The freshman may only play a supporting role at the time, but he shows enough in those flashes that you expect him to take off once the upperclassmen in front of him move on. Ohio State senior Lenzelle Smith, Jr., reminds me of one such player, who, for some reason or another, has never been able to take that next step. Over the last several years, Ohio State has lost one of its best offensive players and expected Smith to step up in his wake, but it just hasn’t happened. It was first Jared Sullinger, followed by Deshaun Thomas, but Smith wasn’t able to become that necessary second best scoring option on the Buckeyes. This discussion is not about whether Smith has underachieved to this point in his career — after all, averaging 11.8 PPG for a Top 25 squad is not a bad thing — but given his obvious talent and athleticism, we’re left wanting more from him. Let’s try to understand if there were other structural reasons why he hasn’t yet become the player that we all thought he could become.

Lenzelle Smith's (right) offense never really took off as expected.

Lenzelle Smith’s (right) offense never really took off as expected.

It is no secret that since Sullinger left Columbus, the Buckeyes have struggled to consistently score points. Averaging 1.03 points per possession during conference play isn’t too shabby, but there really isn’t a go-to player in Thad Matta’s offense. When Sullinger was still around, the guards always had the option to dump the ball inside and expect a kick-out pass for a wide open shot from the perimeter, but since his departure, they have been forced to find shots without the luxury of a low post presence. It took a while last season for Thomas to figure out that he could score in the paint, so most of Smith’s junior year was spent throwing up long-range shots (he made a solid 37 percent of those attempts). This year, the Buckeyes average 34.0 percent from beyond the arc (32.6 percent against B1G teams), and Smith in particular is shooting a career-low 35.3 percent.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review: A Champion is Crowned?

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 24th, 2014

I’m not privy to what the exact numbers were in terms of Vegas odds of Michigan winning the Big Ten once Mitch McGary went down with a back injury, but they probably weren’t very favorable. With their 79-70 win on Sunday afternoon over Michigan State, however, the Wolverines are now looking like they have things close to wrapped up with four games left against teams with a combined conference record of 20-36. Meanwhile, Michigan State still has tough games to come against Iowa and at Ohio State. Michigan would have to lose twice to teams it should beat, while Michigan State would have to win out to notch the outright regular season crown. So now the drama shifts to spots #3-#6 in the standings, with the emphasis on getting into the top four positions and wrapping up a bye for the first round of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis. Wisconsin got another RPI-enhancing win at Iowa Saturday, while Ohio State and Nebraska took care of their home court with wins over Minnesota and Purdue, respectively. There is now exactly one game separating each of these spots in the standings. Here’s the rest of what happened in the weekend slate.

Nik Stauskas returned to his earlier form as Michigan dispatched Michigan State on Sunday. (Gregory Shamus, Getty)

Nik Stauskas returned to his earlier form as Michigan dispatched Michigan State on Sunday. (Gregory Shamus, Getty)

Player of the Weekend: Nik Stauskas: This was the Nik Stauskas who had played himself into consideration for Big Ten Player of the Year earlier in the season. After struggling some in recent games, he came out and made another strong statement on Sunday. He ended up dropping 25 points on Sparty, and also added five assists for good measure. Stauskas didn’t float around the perimeter and let himself be easily guarded; instead he aggressively moved without the ball and was able to unleash a barrage of points from all over the floor. After a slow start in the first half, he scored 21 of his 25 points in the second by getting to the basket, finding space in the mid-range, and from his customary spot behind the arc. He made some phenomenal passes out of the pick-and-roll, including a late-game back-breaker on a lob to Glenn Robinson III in the closing minutes. If this was a one-on-one battle between the Canadian sharpshooter and Michigan State’s Gary Harris for B1G Player of the Year, Stauskas may have wrapped it up with his performance over the weekend.

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Big Ten Weekend in Review: The Plot Thickens

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 17th, 2014

After Michigan got beaten pretty badly at home against Wisconsin early Sunday afternoon, Michigan State knew that all they had to do was beat Nebraska at home to take over sole possession of first place in the league. The broadcasters even said that the Spartans were watching the Michigan game in the locker room before their game. So of course Sparty got upset by the Cornhuskers because nothing is normal in the 2013-14 Big Ten season. With Wisconsin and Iowa winning over the weekend, there are now four teams within two games of the top spot. With all of these teams playing against each other next weekend (Michigan State at Michigan, Wisconsin at Iowa), absolutely nothing has been settled with three weekends left in the conference schedule. Minnesota got an important win at Northwestern to keep their tourney hopes alive, Purdue annihilated Indiana, and Ohio State and Illinois combined for a whopping 87 points. Here’s the rest of the weekend rundown.

Frank Kaminsky posted his third double-double of the season by scoring 25 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in Wisconsin's weekend win at Michigan. (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky posted his third double-double of the season by scoring 25 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in Wisconsin’s weekend win at Michigan. (Getty)

Player of the Weekend: Frank Kaminsky: This was probably the closest contest so far in the seven weeks of doling out this prestigious award. Sterling Carter and Melsaan Basabe were also worthy candidates, but Kaminsky gets the nod. He destroyed the Wolverines all day, and surprisingly did the majority of his damage inside the paint. In his other games this season where he’s gone for over 20 points, he did so by taking a good number of threes. Specifically, in his 43-point monsoon against North Dakota, Kaminsky went 6-for-6 from three and 4-for-7 on two’s. Sunday afternoon, he only took 2 shots from behind the arc. He was 10-for 14 on two’s and did a good deal of damage on the boards (4 offensive rebounds, 11 total). Kaminsky was as aggressive as he’s been all season trying to corral rebounds, and he attacked the basket the whole game. If he and Nigel Hayes can provide consistent paint points for the Badgers to go along with the ever-present outside attack, then Wisconsin just got a lot more dangerous.

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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.

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Want to Win in the Big Ten? You’d Better Get Your Offense Right

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on January 23rd, 2014

This isn’t your father’s offensively challenged but physical Big Ten. This year the league houses three of the top five efficient offenses in the nation (Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin). In fact, certain teams’ offenses, or obvious lack of offense, have challenged our preconceived notions of how the league might shake out over the next two months. Two weeks ago, I wrote that Ohio State, after its overtime to loss to Michigan State, still had a great shot to win the Big Ten title because of its soft conference schedule. On Monday night, the Buckeyes lost to perpetual bottom-dweller Nebraska, extending their losing streak to four games. Four weeks ago, Michigan looked dead in the water when news broke that center Mitch McGary would have season-ending back surgery. Last night, the Wolverines put on an offensive show in their defeat of Iowa by eight points in Ann Arbor. They now find themselves tied for first place with a 6-0 record in league play. Each team’s change of fortune can be explained through the evolution (or devolution) of their offense.

Shannon Scott hasn't been the offensive weapon the Buckeyes have hoped. And it may be costing them losses in the conference. (Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports).

Shannon Scott hasn’t been an offensive option off the bench. And it may be costing them losses in the conference. (Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports).

While physical play and strong defenses are still league constants, some teams are now surging due to their offensive prowess while others are sinking because of their offensive fecklessness. Take the case of Michigan, a team that has surprised the Big Ten with its undefeated record through the first third of conference play. The Wolverines racked up four losses in non-conference play, but their offense has hit another gear since. In the last five games, Michigan has not had an eFG rate below 58 percent and has averaged approximately 1.2 points per possession. Sophomores Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III have led the way by averaging 34.8 PPG combined in those five games. Robinson has been especially surprising after his mediocre start to the season. On the flip side is the case of Ohio State. The Buckeyes have the best defense in the league by a significant margin, but at best a middle-of-the-road offense. The Buckeyes were hoping Shannon Scott would contribute in the scoring department off the bench, but that has not come to fruition. In their four consecutive losses, Scott is averaging a measly 4.0 PPG and Ohio State as a team has shot below 45 percent from the field in each of those games.

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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.

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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 »
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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.

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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?

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Morning Five: 12.13.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 13th, 2013

morning5

  1. It should not come as a surprise, but yesterday Greg Whittington announced that he intended to transfer to another school. Whittington, who was dismissed from the Georgetown team last month, might be the most sought-after transfer on the market as he averaged 12.1 points and seven rebounds in his first 13 games last season before  before being ruled ineligible for the remainder of the season due to academics. Over the summer, Whittington tore his ACL and was still recovering before being kicked off the team. Whittington has reportedly set a visit at Rutgers this weekend and has been in contact with  Memphis, Nebraska, and South Carolina. As Jeff Goodman notes, there is some question regarding how much eligibility Whittington has remaining since he missed half of last season due to injury and was sitting out this season recovering before being dismissed from the team.
  2. Perhaps he was waiting for an adequate sample size, but in this week’s edition of his Power Rankings Luke Winn brought back the famed Aaron Craft Turnometer and appears to have replaced Russ Smith with Craft’s Ohio State teammate Shannon Scott as the other Turnometer. Surprisingly, Scott is actually outperforming Craft in this metric. Of course, the more impressive thing regardless of whether Scott is actually outdoing Craft on the defensive end is that Ohio State now appears to have two guards playing that level of defense. The other stat that could our eye was the ridiculous three-point shooting from Connectictut. Based on their regular shooting we would expect them to come crashing back to earth pretty soon.
  3. We have heard of many coaches and sports figures donating money to various causes, but we have never heard of one donating money to their employer. Apparently that is what Josh Pastner as he donated $250,000 to the Memphis athletic department. Pastner’s donation will go towards the school’s $40 million fundraising goal, which is aimed at upgrading the school’s athletic facilities. As the school’s athletic director notes it is largest donation ever made by a Memphis coach and frankly we do not understand why he would do it. We could understand a former coach doing it, but for a fifth-year coach who at times has been mentioned as being on the hot seat it seems kind of ridiculous.
  4. With the much-discussed rule changes one of the biggest points of debate is how they are affecting games. The best way to do this is by looking at the numbers and the NCAA has done just that releasing its data as of December 8, 2013. According to the NCAA’s analysis the effects are encouraging with scoring up, shooting percentage up, and turnovers down. As the NCAA admits it might be too early in the season to read too much into these numbers. Perhaps the most surprising number is that team fouls are only up by less than two fouls per game. So while the popular narrative is that foul calls are out of control the data does not appear to back that up.
  5. The NCAA might take a cursory overview of the statistics, but if you want an in-depth analysis you have to go to Ken Pomeroy who broke down the turnover issue into steal turnovers and non-steal turnovers. For some reason, Pomeroy decided to use this post to try to figure out if charges are coming back into the game as the year goes on even though he does not even try to measure them directly. We won’t bother with that because it seems like a flawed assumption. What the post is good for is actually looking at the numbers that he measured. As you would expect steals have dropped with fouls being called more tightly (or at least that is the way it is perceived). On the other hand although non-steal turnovers have also decreased they are approaching prior years.
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Three Ways For Ohio State to Beat Marquette

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 15th, 2013

After starting off the season 2-0, Ohio State will get its first big test on Saturday afternoon when it travels to Milwaukee to take on #17 Marquette. The Buckeyes struggled at home against Ohio University on Tuesday night, and will be in for a tough contest in taking on the preseason Big East favorites in their gym. The game is winnable, though, and here’s the three ways in which they can come away with a victory that should look really good in March:

Aaron Craft will need to have a big day defensively if Ohio State wants to steal a road win at Marquette.  (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Aaron Craft will need to have a big day defensively if Ohio State wants to steal a road win at Marquette. (Joe Robbins/Getty)

  1. Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott need to be absolute pests on the defensive end: With the Buckeyes employing a dual point guard starting lineup early with Scott stepping in for Sam Thompson, Thad Matta has chosen to go with a lineup he used quite a bit last year at the end of games. What this does is allow for two of the best perimeter defenders in all of a college basketball a chance to harass the opposing team’s point guard into turnovers. This is especially important Saturday because Derrick Wilson is stepping in for the graduated Junior Cadoughan. Wilson has been a 10-minute per game bench player, and this will be his first real test in dealing with elite ball pressure. I haven’t really acquainted myself with the guards of Southern or Grambling but I can safely assume they aren’t as good as what Wilson will see Saturday in Craft and Scott. If Ohio State can turn Wilson over, the Buckeyes will be able to get easy buckets in transition and eliminate a potential mismatch on the inside trying to handle Marquette’s post players. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Openers: Time to Judge the One-Game Judgements

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on November 11th, 2013

Opening weekend has come and gone, and every Big Ten team has played at least one game, with Illinois and Iowa suiting  up for two. After the weekend, the Big Ten sits at 14-0. Of course, such a short examination period isn’t the best time to make judgments, but they certainly were out in force for some teams and players. With this post, we will examine some of the potential overreactions involving Big Ten teams. We’ll also try to gauge if that overreaction could be warranted as something to worry about as the season progresses or if really it was a one-game situation that will be forgotten by next week.

Iowa

Iowa is 2-0 and That’s About All That Matters at This Point

Illinois

It was an impressive opening two games for Rayvonte Rice, shooting 55 percent from the floor while putting up 35 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Thinking the redshirt junior (he transfered from Drake and sat out last season) will sustain close to these numbers against better teams is foolhardy, though. A big question mark coming into the season was how accurate Rice would be (he shot 43.6 percent in his last season at Drake) and it’s unlikely his strong opening weekend shooting will continue. He’ll be good, but not this good all season.

Indiana

It was quite the debut for heralded freshman Noah Vonleh, finishing with a double-double of 11 points and 14 rebounds. Some people even started comparing him to Cody Zeller after one game. Well, Vonleh certainly was spectacular in his debut, but let’s not put him down as an All-American already. This rebounding pace won’t continue at such a high rate and his offense still needs a lot of work. It’s likely he makes an All-B1G of some sort and could be Indiana’s best player, but one game against inferior competition isn’t All-American status just yet.

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