The Ohio State men’s basketball team went to the Final Four last season. But don’t let that lofty accomplishment fool you—there is/was room for improvement.
The Buckeyes hit a rough patch late in the conference season, appeared outmatched (save for a 10 minute stretch in the second half at East Lansing) against Michigan State and struggled to put away lesser teams in Gonzaga and Cincinnati in March.
Of course, this ultimately seems like nit picking for a team that won a share of the conference title and made it to college basketball’s premier stage. However, most conversations about the Buckeyes’ excellence began and ended with their defensive prowess.
If Ohio State has any room for improvement heading into 2012-13, it is primarily on the offensive side of the ball. The Bucks ranked 35th in points per game last season and struggled in a number of different categories.
While adjusting for pace of play in the sometimes glacier-like Big Ten moves the Buckeyes to seventh in Ken Pomeroy’s offensive rating system, there are still strides to be made.
At times last season, Ohio State failed to grasp the concept of a free-throw. There’s a reason they call them free.
The Buckeyes finished 146th in the nation in free-throw percentage in 2011-12, good enough to place them behind such powerhouse programs as Niagara, Sacramento State, Mercer and the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Yes, you read that right: The New Jersey Institute of Technology.
As if the ranking wasn’t problem enough, Ohio State loses its top two free-throw shooters (among regular contributors) from a year ago in William Buford and Jared Sullinger. This means the Buckeyes will not receive the boost that many other teams could expect in the charity stripe category with the departure of their center.
There’s really no other way to phrase it. Ohio State, with a difficult non-conference slate and an arduous Big Ten schedule, will be in close games this season and will need better free-throw shooting.
After all, every point counts.
This slide will sound a lot like the previous one on free-throws, only the situation was even worse last year.
Ohio State was an abysmal 241st in the country in three-point percentage in 2011-12 and somehow managed to win as many games as it did without any real threat from beyond the arc.
Here’s the kicker: Jared Sullinger (you know, the starting center who is now in the NBA) actually led the team in this category. Ouch.
Long gone were the days of Michael Redd or Jon Diebler raining threes down on opponents from all over the floor. But it doesn’t mean the Buckeyes weren’t trying.
In fact, Buford and Deshaun Thomas each attempted more than 140 threes a piece. Considering they were the worst two starters on the team in terms of three-point percentage, the strategy may have been a bit off.
However, all is not lost for those who hope to see Ohio State hitting more long-range shots this year. LaQuinton Ross, who was recruited largely due to his three-point abilities, will play a more significant role in the offense. Additionally, freshman Amedeo Della Valle could bring a capable stroke from distance.
You can bet the points per game will improve as soon as the three-point percentage does.
Aaron Craft is known for his defense and for good reason.
The Buckeye on-floor leader harasses ball handlers better than anyone in the country and would draw a charge from a moving semi-truck if it would help his team win.
However, he is more than capable of contributing on the offensive side of the ball as well, especially as he enters the realms of the upperclassmen this year. In fact, he shot an impressive 50 percent from the field last season.
But the reason Craft did not average more than his 8.8 points per game with that kind of shooting percentage is that he just didn’t take enough shots. With Sullinger and Buford gone, expect the Buckeyes’ point guard to average a few more attempts this time around.
It is important to get Craft more involved in the offense this season due to his ability to step up in the big moment. He hit a critical shot in the final minute in the de facto Big Ten regular season championship game in East Lansing and added imperative scoring against Cincinnati and Gonzaga in the tournament when things were looking dicey.
This is the one improvement on the list that I am confident we will certainly see happen.
Deshaun Thomas will be Ohio State’s primary scorer from the first tipoff in 2012-13.
The versatile forward elected to remain in school for at least one more season and will look to pick up where he left off in last year’s NCAA tournament (minus the Kansas loss). And, without William Buford or Jared Sullinger, the Buckeyes are going to need him to score.
However, Thomas can become an even more proficient scorer if he utilizes better shot selection this season. While his decision making improved by leaps and bounds from his freshman year to sophomore year, there is still room for growth.
In fact, Thomas led all Buckeye regulars in field-goal percentage in 2011-12, but was last among the five starters in three-point percentage. That means he was nearly unstoppable when he was inside the arc.
I know Thomas loves to fire up threes (after all, he was second on the squad last year with 145 attempts), but if he dials it back just a bit this year and takes more two-pointers, he could become one of the most efficient scorers in the nation.
I think Buckeye Nation would live with that trade off.
The fact that the Buckeyes were 35th in the nation in points per game and seventh in Ken Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted rankings means one thing.
Ohio State was a relatively slow team in 2011-12.
Of course, a large reason for this is the conference the scarlet and gray play in. The Big Ten isn’t exactly known for producing Usain Bolt-type speed during league play.
However, this presents Thad Matta with a chance to seize an opportunity and speed up the pace of play, which would ideally make slower Big Ten teams uncomfortable.
First and foremost, this is one area where losing Jared Sullinger is actually a bonus. For as great as the Buckeye big man was, he wasn’t exactly beating everyone else down the floor. If the go-to play isn’t to just feed the ball in the lane this year, the Bucks should be faster.
The other factor that could help Ohio State’s speed is the backcourt combination of Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott. Each is a speedy point guard who only got to play together sparingly a year ago. But when they did, the game immediately sped up.
Look for Ohio State to push the tempo at times this season with Craft and Scott. It won’t be the team’s primary style, but a curveball every now and again never hurts.