Ohio State Buckeyes
Good Wins: @ Miami (Fla.), @Notre Dame, Butler, @Michigan, Michigan, Purdue, Minnesota, Penn State
Bad Losses: None.
Youth. For some teams, youthfulness brings out hesitation and nervousness on the court. At Ohio State, where Thad Matta has seemingly lost his entire roster to the NBA for the past few seasons, youth on the court is nothing new. And, because of that, the players play without reins. Take freshman guard William Buford as an example. I wouldn’t exactly call Buford a “ball hog” – though 1.1 assists per game would back this point – but Buford is one of those guys that thinks he’s in range whenever he crosses mid-court. In some cases, the decision-making can be costly and ill-advised. But when Buford catches fire, those 27-foot triples go down like a baby hook. It is this type of style that allows Matta to bring out the best in his team.
Length. The Buckeyes don’t intimidate opponents with height; rather, Ohio State uses length at nearly every position to strengthen its vaunted zone defense. The typical starting lineup consists of guys with the following heights: 6-foot-2, 6-5, 6-6, 6-7, 6-8. While the center position is a little small (Dallas Lauderdale is more of a tight end build, using his bulk rather than his height), the Buckeyes do use 7-foot frosh B.J. Mullens off the bench for even more length. The key to those numbers is in the shooting guard and forward positions. When your 2-guard stands at 6-5, you have not only an offensive advantage in terms of strength and height, but defensively, three inches can make a world of difference, especially in a zone where Buckeye defenders typically have their hands waving from side to side as if at a Naughty by Nature concert (think the song Hip-Hop Hooray).
The post. Gone are the days when Ohio State’s basket was guarded by Greg Oden, Othello Hunter and Terrence Dials. I thought Lauderdale would step into that Terence Dials role (Dials, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated big men in Big Ten history) and be an absolute monster on defense. Instead, Lauderdale has become an entertainment fixture. Rumor has it that there are betting games in Columbus where students guess the number of minutes it will take Lauderdale to pick up his second foul. The number typically ends up somewhere near the midpoint of the first half – or sooner. Mullens doesn’t have great shot-blocking ability, but his immaturity to the college game takes him out of position and doesn’t allow him to dominate the game as he should. The post problem could also be attributed to Matta’s zone scheme. Obviously playing a man-to-man defense would allow Mullens to do his best Hasheem Thabeet impersonation. But the more likely answer is that Matta knows leaving his post defenders in one-on-one matchups would be defensive suicide.
3-point shooting. When Jon Diebler is on, his 3-pointers barely touch the net. However, Diebler is kind of the temperature gauge for this team’s 3-point prowess. That means when Diebler is struggling, it tends to rub off on teammates. The Buckeyes average 21 triple attempts per game but sink about seven per contest. Couple that with the team’s lack of a great offensive post player and the pressure turns to the long-range shooters to score the rock. Make a 3-pointer and the Buckeyes can quickly get into their half-court trap and set up the zone defense. Miss a triple and surrender a long rebound and the Buckeyes are in trouble. That latter has been happening more often than not in recent weeks.
Scheduling: Sometimes, playing big-name teams is a way to spice up the resume. But big-name teams with different styles of play tend to make a team better prepared to deal with potential NCAA Tournament matchups. I really admire Ohio State’s nonconference schedule this season, taking on big boys such as Miami (led by scoring machine Jack McClinton), Notre Dame (headed by sharp shooter Kyle McAlarney and inside beat Luke Harangody), West Virginia (physicality) and Butler (top-notch mid-major). Those four schools give the Buckeyes experience playing against a one-man team, a two-man team, a team that will beat you up and an undersized team with past tournament success. That, coupled with the Big Ten schedule, will let the Buckeyes know the strengths and weaknesses it needs to address for a deep March run.
Injuries: Junior David Lighty doesn’t put up gaudy numbers (9.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.9 apg) but he is the unquestioned leader of this team. Problem is, Lightly hasn’t played since December 17. The captain broke a bone in his left foot and, as of Dec. 20, was slated to miss six to 12 weeks. While he could return in time for the Tournament, it is questionable as to what impact he would have. Without any seniors on the team, Lighty, a captain, is the guy Ohio State needs on the floor in a big game.
One-and-done. Ohio State’s weakness has been fully exposed: Teams that rough up the Buckeyes will win. Michigan State beat the Buckeyes twice; West Virginia throttled Ohio State; Illinois held the Buckeyes to 49 points in Champaign. If Ohio State is punched, this group just doesn’t have the experience or strength to punch back. The Buckeyes have the talent to win one game, but its most likely that Ohio State will match up against a more physical team in the first round and the inevitable result will be one-and-done.