The football season is a month away, and there is a full-force buzz around Columbus and Ohio State’s campus. Urban Meyer has arrived, ready to lead the Buckeyes to the greener pastures that seem to only be reserved for SEC teams.
But there is another team in town, and they are even allowed to play in the postseason this year. The basketball Buckeyes are coming off the school’s 11th trip to the Final Four, and expectations are high once again.
If the scarlet and gray hope to repeat their tournament successes from a season ago, or even compete in the treacherous Big Ten conference, the returning players are going to have to make up for the production that departed with Jared Sullinger and William Buford.
With that in mind, here is one thing that each returning starter needs to improve on before the season begins. Otherwise, it could be a much shorter March this time around.
There are those out there that think Craft is the best returning point guard in the nation. If that is the case, however, it is not because of his offensive prowess.
The Buckeyes' lead man is the emotional leader of the squad, rarely turns the ball over and plays suffocating defense. Craft’s ball-hawking defensive abilities are well chronicled, and there is no reason to expect anything less this season.
However, if Craft needs improvement in one area, it is on the offensive side of the ball. While he shot a good percentage last year, Ohio State is going to need more this time around. Oftentimes, Craft would dump the ball down low to Sullinger or swing it across the perimeter to Buford and his job would be done.
Nevertheless, those one-on-one offensive options are gone, so the pick-and-roll may become a necessary play. While it is beautiful in its simplicity, it still requires the point guard to make split-second decisions.
Craft, who is known for his intelligence off the court as well, should have no problem reading defenses and operating the pick-and-roll. He’s just going to have to become more familiar with it before the season starts.
Ohio State’s lack of a true long-range threat last season has been well-documented. Buford disappointed, Craft didn't shoot much and LaQuinton Ross spent more time on the end of the bench than he did behind the three-point line.
Enter Lenzelle Smith Jr. While he is certainly not an unfamiliar commodity to Buckeye fans, his role this season may be. Ohio State is going to need the shooting guard to do just that—shoot.
Smith showed flashes of his shooting ability in the NCAA Tournament with critical games and shots against Cincinnati and Syracuse. If Thad Matta has his way, those postseason games marked a turning point for Smith’s somewhat inconsistent career.
If Smith can improve his long-range shots, the entire floor will open up for Deshaun Thomas to find his shot and Craft to operate in the aforementioned pick-and-roll.
Everything mentioned in the Smith Jr. slide applies to LaQuinton Ross. The Buckeyes could really use Ross’ three-point shooting this season, especially if they hope to contend in the nation’s best conference.
However, if we are strictly talking about what Ross has to work on this offseason, it is his penetration abilities with the ball. Without the presence of Sullinger down low and Buford on the perimeter, Ohio State’s offense is going to appear much less formidable on paper.
That is why Matta will need the 6’8” Ross to be the slasher he is capable of being. Yes, his jump shot will help, but a bona fide driver will allow Smith and Thomas clean looks from downtown. Not to mention the fact that defenders will have to respect Ross’ driving capabilities, which will open up his own jump shot.
Obviously, it would be too much to expect Ross to match Evan Turner’s production, but he is the player Ross—who is basically Turner’s height—should model his collegiate game after.
Of course, I’m sure Matta wouldn’t have much of a problem with Ross matching Turner’s production if he wants to.
I am sure this is not the first time Deshaun Thomas has heard critiques of his defense (you know, assuming he reads all of my articles). In fact, Matta called him “Shaun” Thomas at times last season because there was no "D" in his game.
Motivating monikers aside, Thomas did play better defense as the season wore on last year. However, there is still plenty of room for improvement.
He struggles at times when he is banging down low with taller players (see matchups with Michigan State) but also has trouble keeping up with smaller, quicker forwards. Unfortunately for Thomas, he is going to need to improve in both areas due to the versatility of the Big Ten opponents the Buckeyes will face.
Of course, a defensive improvement by Thomas would also call for an increase in rebounding numbers. Now that Sullinger is gone, Ohio State is going to need a boost from the 5.4 rebounds per game Thomas grabbed last year.
Even though it was a small sample size last year, Williams proved that he can be a defensive force. In only about six minutes per game of action, the 6’10” center averaged almost a block a game for the Buckeyes, good enough for second on the team.
If Williams wants to be one of the primary contributors on Matta’s squad this season, he needs to improve his offense. After all, it is only a two-time defending All-American that he is replacing.
At 6’10”, and without much of an outside shot, there is really only one place on the floor where Williams will be contributing to the scoring department.
In a conference dominated by a bruising style of play and plenty of formidable big guys, Williams needs to improve his low post moves. Scoring on the block will help open up the floor for stars Thomas and Craft.
So there you have it, Buckeyes—one thing for each of you to improve. Now get to work. The season is right around the corner.