What Will the Buckeyes Look Like: In the Backcourt
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — One of the most interesting things to watch with the 2011-12 Ohio State men’s basketball team will be the way Thad Matta handles his point guards.
For Matta, this is the puzzle he has been waiting to solve since the 2006-07 season. That’s when he had to make a decision about what to do with Jamar Butler in order to get Mike Conley on the floor as a freshman.
Matta opted to slide Butler to shooting guard as a junior and the rest is history.
Conley guided the Buckeyes through the NCAA Tournament all the way to the national championship game. That new-found success caused him to be the No. 4 pick in the NBA Draft that summer and Matta spent the next three years trying to replace him.
He moved Butler back to point guard in 2007, signed Anthony “Noopy” Crater and Junior College point guards P.J. Hill and Jeremie Simmons. He eventually moved Evan Turner on the ball and tried to do the same thing with William Buford at the start of last season.
Along the way, he found his point guard of the future in freshman Aaron Craft.
Crafted for Success
He didn’t look like much when he showed up at Ohio State last summer. He was a little guy in a gym full of giants, but that didn’t bother Craft. He was used to being overlooked, and by now he has learned how to use that to his advantage.
Photo by Dan Harker
After originally committing to play for Tennessee, Craft followed Jared Sullinger to Columbus, and by game No. 4, he was a mainstay on the court for the Buckeyes. He started only one game over the course of his rookie season, but what a season it was for the 6-2 point guard out of Findlay.
He averaged 6.9 points and 4.8 assists for the year, but Craft also became one of the peskiest defenders in the Big Ten. He earned the respect of Penn State point guard Talor Battle and just about every other guard around the league for his quickness and tenacity around the ball.
Craft will enter the starting lineup in year two and could average even more than the 29.6 minutes per game he played last season. The biggest key for Craft will be developing his ability to score the basketball and make open shots.
By his own admission, Craft was too hesitant to shoot the ball at times last year and it allowed opposing defenses to completely ignore him in most of their game plans. He shot 37.8 percent from behind the arc, which was fourth on the team behind Buford, Lighty and of course Diebler. What the Buckeyes need from him now is the aggressiveness we saw late in the year when he was attacking the basket during the Northwestern game.
Two of A Kind
If it sounds like Matta has finally got his point guard position figured out, he does. And he doesn’t. There is little question that Craft is the team’s starting point guard and one of their leaders on the floor this season, but the addition of freshman Shannon Scott gives the Buckeyes a lot of flexibility and versatility in the backcourt.
Photo by Dan Harker
Scott is a 4-star prospect out of Alpharetta, Ga. who averaged 13 points, 7.2 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game as a senior at Milton High School. The son of former North Carolina star Charlie Scott helped his team to a 29-3 record last season and should see plenty of minutes for the Buckeyes this fall.
The 6-2, 180-pound point guard has good size and athleticism to go with his natural smoothness at the position. He already possesses a solid mid-range game, but his ability to penetrate and finish, or pass to an open teammate, is something the Buckeyes need from him as a freshman.
What will ensure Scott sees the floor early as a Buckeye is his tenacity on defense. Scott is an excellent on-ball defender who should compliment what Craft already does defensively.
It’s for that very reason that Matta could elect to use both of them on the floor together at times to pester and pressure opposing ball-handlers.
Letting William be William
The emergence of Craft and addition of Scott will allow William Buford to concentrate entirely on his natural position this season. He admitted it was a bit distracting last year when he was being asked to facilitate the offense and bring the ball up the floor.
Those are both things Buford can do, but they are not his strengths. He is a natural-born scorer and that’s what the Buckeyes will ask him to be this year. They have Craft and Scott to advance the ball and run the offense. Now it’s going to be their job to get it to Buford at the other end.
If he is really more comfortable playing the two or the three, it should allow Buford to hit his stride early in the season, when the Buckeyes have key match-ups with Florida, Duke, Kansas and South Carolina during the non-conference schedule.
Finalizing the Rotation
This is something the Buckeyes won’t have done until the time they take on Florida in Columbus on Nov. 15. It may not even be fully developed by the time they host the Blue Devils two weeks later, but Matta has the pieces to do a lot more tinkering with his rotations this season.
Now the only question is whether he will. Matta hates taking his best players off the floor, which means Sullinger, Buford and Craft will see plenty of action this fall. It also means Amir Williams, Deshaun Thomas and Shannon Scott will likely get their fair share of minutes as well.
Sophomore Jordan Sibert figures to be a potential starter if he can show himself to be a much-improved player from year one in the program, but there’s no telling how the rest of the playing time will be divvied up.
Fellow sophomore Lenzelle Smith is a guy who can handle the ball and distribute as a 6-4 guard. There won’t be a lot of minutes to go around at point guard, however, which means Smith will have to prove he can shoot the ball well enough to be on the floor as a two-guard.
Sophomore J.D. Weatherspoon and freshman Sam Thompson give Matta flexibility and athleticism on the wing while both Evan Ravenel and Trey McDonald can bring some physicality in the paint.
The reality is, they’re not all going to play. Even with his new-found depth, Matta isn’t likely to use his substitutions liberally. He might extend his bench to eight or nine guys this year, but that’s probably always going to be the limit for him when he has a talented starting lineup.
Projected Starting Five (3 of 3)
0 Jared Sullinger (6-9, 265, So.)
1 Deshaun Thomas (6-7, 225, So.)
44 William Buford (6-6, 220, Sr.)
3 Shannon Scott (6-1, 180, Fr.)
4 Aaron Craft (6-2, 190, So.)
Part one - Buckeye Big Men
Part one - Buckeye Wing Men
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