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Ohio State Basketball: How the Buckeyes Can Start This Season Strong

COLUMBUS, OH - DECEMBER 14:  Aaron Craft #4 of the Ohio State Buckeyes drives around Adrian Rodgers #15 of the South Carolina-Upstate Spartans in the first half on December 14, 2011 at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
Scott PolacekFeatured ColumnistSeptember 24, 2012

There have been plenty of years where the only thing Ohio State’s basketball team has needed to do to ensure a successful start was roll out the balls and make sure they brought the right uniforms.

That won’t be the case in 2012-13.

The Buckeyes play Marquette, Washington (probably) and at Duke within the first six games this season. It’s not exactly an early slate of contests against the Youngstown State’s of the world.

Clearly, Ohio State is going to have to be ready to play come November. In fact, the scarlet and gray don’t even have an easy contest to get their legs warm in Game 1 because the first matchup is the Carrier Classic on the U.S.S. Yorktown against perennial Big East contender Marquette.

So what do Thad Matta and company have to do to ensure that successful start?

First things first—they have to win. I know, I know, groundbreaking stuff.

But, theoretically, five out of six victories would be an impressive start, considering the fact that the Buckeyes will be breaking in a few new players. If they can escape that daunting opening stretch, things do get a lot easier until a showdown with Kansas on Dec. 22.

While winning is obviously the ultimate goal, there are other aspects of the game that the Buckeyes can work on early in the season to set themselves up for future success.

A lot of those other things revolve around the fact that the other three games in that early stretch should be relative cakewalks. That means Matta, who is not exactly known for utilizing a deep bench, will have an opportunity to get some of his young players minutes.

Furthermore, by playing more substitutes, Matta can experiment with different combinations. Specifically, he can use Shannon Scott and Aaron Craft in the backcourt together for a type of “speed” set.

That guard combination is something that the Buckeyes used toward the end of last season with mixed results. However, it started to work by the NCAA tournament once it had time to gel.

That means if Matta starts using it periodically right from the start of the year, it could be a dangerous weapon come conference season, especially in the grind-it-out Big Ten.

Another combination Matta can experiment with is a “big” lineup with Deshaun Thomas, Evan Ravenel and Amir Williams in the game at the same time. While using that speedy lineup occasionally in Big Ten play will be a nice ace for Matta to have up his sleeve, if the Buckeyes don’t have a paint presence by the conference season, the most physical league in the nation will chew them up and spit them out.

Finally, Ohio State is going to have to establish some type of an offensive identity in the early season. With Jared Sullinger in the NBA and William Buford graduated, the scoring is going to be spread out a bit more in 2012-13.

Clearly, the Buckeyes’ go-to option will be Thomas from the start, but it will be hard to succeed in some of those difficult games if the plan of attack is just throw it to Deshaun and stand around.

Much of the offense’s flow in these early contests will fall in the hands of Craft as the point guard. It will be up to him, as well as Matta in the huddle, to decide which plays are most effective and when they should be run.

So, in summary, if Ohio State mixes in its substitutes, experiments with different combinations, establishes some type of offensive identity and ultimately wins at least five of the first six games, it will be a successful start to the 2012-13 season.

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