Ohio State Basketball: Predicting Who Will Be the Buckeyes' X-Factor This Season
The X-factor for the Ohio State basketball team in 2012-13 is how many of its games will be played on dry land and how many will get cancelled for condensation issues.
But that goes without saying.
What about the players? Who among Thad Matta’s bunch is the X-factor who can make the difference between a decent team that bows out in the Sweet 16 and one that challenges Indiana and Michigan for the Big Ten crown and plays deep into March?
Let’s first take a look at what Ohio State has going for it.
Based on the perfectly valid one-game sample size against Albany, it is clear the defense is going to be a strength for the Buckeyes.
With players like Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. manning the perimeter and (ideally) someone like Amir Williams down low to block shots, it should be.
Furthermore, Deshaun Thomas is going to provide plenty of offense, and the fact that he hit four three-pointers in the opener should scare some people.
That means there are ultimately two X-factors on this Ohio State team: the offensive version in Craft and the consistency of the production from the Sam Thompson and LaQuinton Ross platoon.
Starting with Ross and Thompson, it is absolutely critical for the Buckeyes that each player provides what is expected of him.
Ross is supposed to develop into a reliable offensive weapon who can light it up from downtown and slash the lane depending on how he is defended. Thompson should join Craft and Smith Jr. as the lock-down perimeter defenders who make life miserable for opposing backcourts.
What is most important to the Buckeyes?
In game one, both played their respective roles beautifully.
Ross finished with 10 points and looked comfortable with the ball in his hand almost every time. Thompson flew around on defense and ended up swatting four shots away, much to the delight of the crowd.
However, because the two players can’t genetically morph into one, Matta needs at least passable performances from Ross and Thompson on the other side of the floor.
That means Ross is going to have to rebound and defend, while Thompson has to do more on offense than awe the fans with his aerial display of dunks (not that they are complaining about those).
Granted, the game was against Albany, but Thompson looked more comfortable on offense as a slasher and someone who can crash the glass than Ross did on defense (that's more of a nod to Thompson than a knock on Ross).
As for Craft, he is the unquestioned leader of this team. Therefore, he needs to fill that role on both sides of the floor, especially since he can no longer simply dump the ball down low and watch Jared Sullinger go to work.
The Buckeyes need their point guard to penetrate the lane more for his own scoring purposes and to set up open teammates.
Additionally, with William Buford gone and a lack of a deadly three-point option (although Ross could become one), Craft would serve his team well by developing a long-range jumper.
The fact that the season opening game in the year where Craft needs to become an offensive threat was arguably his best offensive performance of his career is an unbelievable sign for Matta.
Craft finished with 20 points, seven assists and five three-pointers.
The untold hours that Craft spent in the gym during the summer working on his shot seem to be paying early dividends.
If that is the case all season, the Buckeyes have a legitimate chance to with their fourth consecutive Big Ten crown.
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