Thinking Out Loud About Recent Struggles on the Hardwood
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was a tough weekend for Thad Matta and his Buckeyes, who dropped their second game in a week to a school from the state of Michigan.
That is not going to sit well in Columbus, where I could not help thinking out loud about some of Ohio State’s recent struggles on the hardwood.
1. Ohio State lost two games in the last week it should have won. Take nothing away from the job Michigan State and Michigan did to close out those games, but these Buckeyes should never, and I mean never, lose a game when they allow fewer than 60 points. They gave up 58 to the Spartans and lost by 10, at home. The gave up 56 to the Wolverines and never once took the lead in Ann Arbor.
2. Give Michigan credit for some of the big plays made down the stretch to win that ballgame. They didn’t play a great game either, but they came up with the 3-4 plays they desperately needed when the game was on the line. Freshman PG Trey Burke made the two biggest baskets, but John Beilein is thankful to have two seniors like Stu Douglass and Zack Novak to knock down clutch shots at the end of the shot clock. That was the difference in the game.
3. Burke is quickly become one of the best guards in the Big Ten, regardless of age. The turnovers have to come down if the Wolverines are going to take the next step as a program, but what’s not to like about the youngster from Columbus at this point? After scoring three points in his first career game at Michigan, Burke has been in double figures 24 of the last 26 games, including 17 and five against the Buckeyes. He is a high-volume shooter right now (14 shots to score 17 points), but he is also the kind of creative force that Ohio State is lacking on offense. His ability to take defenders off the dribble creates chaos and forces defenses out of position the way Mike Conley Jr. used to do for the Buckeyes. It’s what I expected Shannon Scott to bring to Ohio State this season, and who knows, maybe he still will in the future.
4. Things are stagnant for Ohio State on offense. People are more than willing to put Ohio State’s recent failures at the feet of senior William Buford, but the reality is that nobody on the team is moving around or getting good looks on anything except the pull-up three. That doesn’t bode well for a team that cannot shoot the threeball consistently. There was a time not to long ago when the Buckeyes were among the best in the country at sharing the basketball. It was incredible to watch the way they made the extra pass and moved the ball around to find the open shooter. There was none of that Saturday in Ann Arbor. Instead, it was a lot of one-on-one basketball, and it’s difficult to play one-on-one in the Big Ten because the referees don’t know when to call a charge or a block.
5. Sullinger is having a great statistical season, but this is really starting to effect him. Everything for Sullinger is now backing down a guy or trying to roll off a defender and hit a fall away shot. Remember when Sullinger would dominate the offensive glass with putbacks? It’s a lot harder to putback your own shot, although Sullinger still manages to do it. They have nobody else who can get to the basket other than Buford, and his game is a mess right now.
6. Deshaun Thomas is turning the corner in a big way. The one enjoyable aspect of this team right now, other than Craft’s defense, is the play of sophomore Deshaun Thomas. If nothing else, Deshaun is living proof that an ugly freshman season can turn into a solid sophomore campaign. He has always been a natural scorer, but last year his game was all over the place. He is still going to have a few games where he just doesn’t have it, but Thomas is averaging almost 15 points and five rebounds per game this season. He has scored double-figures in 10 of his last 12 games and he is coming off the first double-double of his career.
7. Expect to see a lot more of those as Thomas matures. The kid is one of the most natural offensive rebounders I have ever seen, but Thomas said Saturday that Thad Matta challenged him about his defensive rebounding. Of his 126 rebounds this season, 64 have come on the offensive end while only 62 have been defensive. Compare that to Sullinger, who leads the team with 69 offensive rebounds and 160 defensive rebounds. Only Amir Williams (24 and 29) even approaches the ratio Thomas has on the boards. If he commits himself to rebounding at the defensive end, he could lead the conference in scoring and rebounding next season, assuming he’s back.
8. Maybe it is time to give LaQuinton Ross a chance. I have never been aboard this bandwagon and I hesitate to even write these words, but after what we have see this past week, what could it hurt? Maybe Ross is not ready to play big-time defense. So what? They have defenders. Maybe he isn’t much of a rebounder. They have that too. Maybe he is just an immature kid who needs time on the bench before he’s ready to step out there, but how can they know for sure without at least giving him chance?
9. The same goes for Jordan Sibert. Yes, we have all seen Sibert in action, and no, it wasn’t pretty. He was supposed to be the team’s spot-up shooter from behind the arc, but instead is shooting less than 27 percent from long-range. That is not going to get it done, but I think it’s a mistake to write him off completely. This is a kid who knocked down four threes when they played Northwestern back in December. He is just 1-for-12 from outside since then and has played one minute or less in eight of the last 10 games. Matta and his staff get to see Sibert in practice every day, so they may have a better idea of what is going on, but this team is desperate for someone to start hitting shots.
10. Next year’s team could be very interesting. I’m not ready to start thinking ahead to next year just yet, but the Buckeyes could have an interesting team next year. It seems almost impossible that Sullinger would decide to return for a third season in Columbus, although I don’t doubt his desire to win a title or his need for another year of rounding out his game. But the NBA drafts on potential and Sullinger has been a lock for the top-10 for two years now. The same cannot be said for Thomas, who would probably fall to the middle or later part of the first round if he left. Assuming he stays, it will be interesting to watch what players emerge to surround Thomas, Craft and Sam Thompson, who has all but cemented himself as a future starter for the Buckeyes. If the team is going to be any good, they will need guys like Amir Williams and Shannon Scott to take a big step forward.
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