The Ohio State basketball team is currently ranked No. 7 in the country, but that does not mean it is without problems.
The backcourt has experienced some shooting woes, there is still inconsistency in the paint and the defense collapsed in the Buckeyes' one true test so far against Duke. However, that Duke game also proved that this is a talented (and perhaps deeper than expected) squad than can compete with just about anyone in the country.
Read on to see five teams in particular that could give the Buckeyes trouble. I’m not saying there aren’t a number of other teams that could challenge Thad Matta’s bunch, but these clubs stand out.
Before the season started, it was assumed that Michigan State would be the challenger to the Ohio State/Indiana/Michigan trio on top of the Big Ten.
However, the Spartans have struggled a bit even with a win over Kansas, and Illinois has used an impressive start to step into that hypothetical four spot in the conference power rankings.
In spite of this, I think the Buckeyes match up better with the Illini than the Spartans in part because Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. are so tough on defense. Illinois goes as Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson go, so theoretically Craft and Smith could neutralize that strength (although Paul did go off last year against the Bucks).
Michigan State has looked bad at times this year, but it will give OSU trouble because of the pure talent its roster boasts. Big guys Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne take up so much space in the paint that a weak-in-the-middle Buckeye team will have no choice but to focus its defensive energy down low.
The second that Craft, Smith or Sam Thompson helps on Nix or Payne, Gary Harris, Branden Dawson and Keith Appling will be available take open perimeter shots.
Furthermore, the Buckeyes have struggled mightily on the glass against MSU recently, and that was with Jared Sullinger. Expect that to continue without Sully this year.
Not all of Georgetown’s eight wins have been pretty, but the Hoyas have gradually climbed the rankings and now sit at No. 15 in the country. In fact, the most impressive performance of their season may have been in a losing effort in overtime against top-ranked Indiana.
Georgetown could give Ohio State trouble because its strength matches up perfectly against (arguably) one of the Buckeyes’ biggest weaknesses.
The Hoyas have given up an average of 50.5 points per contest in their eight victories this season and contained a player of the year candidate in Cody Zeller for the most part. What’s more, according to kenpom.com, Georgetown is the fourth-best team in the country in pace-adjusted defense.
That could pose a problem for a Buckeye team that has struggled from the field in games against opponents not named Long Beach State and UMKC. The Hoyas could potentially use their suffocating defense to force Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas into contested jumpers—much like we saw in the final few minutes of the Duke game—and win a closely contested defensive battle.
Admit it Buckeye fans, you knew Michigan would be on here when you opened the article.
The Wolverines just have too much talent not give any team in the country trouble this season. Trey Burke looks significantly better as a leader than he did as a freshman. Tim Hardaway Jr. is still a threat to hit shots from the outside. And the freshmen, most notably Nik Stauskas, have given John Beilein's squad significant depth.
And that’s not even mentioning the solid combination of Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary on the inside.
On paper, Ohio State and Michigan are remarkably evenly-matched. Aaron Craft versus Burke could develop into the best individual rivalry in the conference. Deshaun Thomas and Glenn Robinson III are of similar stature and can both light up the scoreboard while grabbing rebounds. Hardaway and Lenzelle Smith both have the potential to be great when they play consistently.
There are even X-factors for each squad in players like LaQuinton Ross and Stauskas.
A matchup like this is why the Big Ten will be so fun to watch this year. With teams like Ohio State, Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, Michigan State and Illinois all loaded with talent, it’s hard to imagine anyone running away from the pack.
There hasn’t been a ton of substance on Syracuse’s schedule outside of San Diego State so far, but the same can be said about Ohio State’s outside of Duke.
Thus far, the Orange have been beasts on the glass, which could potentially cause problems for a Buckeye team that is somewhat weak down low. That being said, Amir Williams has the ability to develop into a formidable center for the Buckeyes, but until we see some consistency out of him, it is fair to worry about strong interior opponents.
Syracuse is first in the country in total rebounding thanks to the combined efforts of C.J. Fair, DaJuan Coleman, Michael Carter-Williams, Baye Keita and Rakeem Christmas. If Williams, Evan Ravenel and Deshaun Thomas couldn't counteract their presence, the Buckeyes would be in trouble.
Syracuse also has a balanced scoring attack, with four players averaging better than 12 points a game. That means Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. couldn’t hone in on one or two guys to stop and some of the weaker defenders on OSU’s roster would be exposed (read LaQuinton Ross and maybe Thomas).
Again, this isn’t to say the Orange would definitely win this game, just that it would be a difficult matchup for the Bucks.
You can’t really blame Ohio State for being in a position where Indiana would give it trouble. After all, the Hoosiers are the top-ranked team in the nation, so they will theoretically give everyone trouble this season.
The Buckeyes have been winning games on the strength of their defense so far, and the Hoosiers lead the nation in points per game. Something will have to give when these two face off later this year.
There’s really no other way around it—Cody Zeller is going to be a handful for Ohio State. I feel like a broken record at this point, but Amir Williams and Evan Ravenel are going to need to make significant defensive strides before Big Ten play really heats up.
Five players on Indiana average double-digit points per game, and there are significant contributors at every position. Even if the big men can find a way to contain Zeller, the other Buckeyes will be in for a battle.
If Ohio State can manage a split with arguably the best team in the country, Buckeye fans should be pleased.