For those who follow Ohio State basketball, the days of Jon Diebler draining three-pointers every night must seem like eons ago.
This season’s version of the Buckeye hoops squad hasn’t had much of a problem hitting its long range shots against the likes of Savannah and Northern Kentucky, but when the bright lights have been on, there has been nothing but clanks and bricks.
In Ohio State’s first big test at Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium, the defense wilted down the stretch, but it was the offensive struggles that really cost the Scarlet and Gray the game. They shot 33 percent for the game, a measly 28 percent from downtown and got poor shooting efforts from most of the key players.
For as bad as you thought the offense was in the Duke contest, it was worse when the Kansas Jayhawks came to town. Not even the comforts of Value City Arena helped the Buckeyes' shooting that day.
Ohio State shot 30 percent from the field and a putrid 8-of-31 (26 percent) from behind the three-point line. To make matters worse, the majority of those long-range attempts (outside of those forced up by Deshaun Thomas) were relatively uncontested.
Clearly, if the team as a whole is struggling to shoot the ball (94th in the country in field-goal percentage, despite the fact that most of the games have come against inferior competition), there are individuals that are middling as well.
Aaron Craft, who is unquestionably the emotional leader of this Buckeye team, could use some shooting improvement more than anyone else on the roster. The Ohio State point guard is last on the team in shooting percentage (36 percent) among players who get at least nine minutes a night, and isn’t consistently hitting his threes, either.
There seems to almost be a hitch in his jump shot when he elevates, and it has become somewhat worrisome to Buckeye fans hoping that Craft would establish his leadership by becoming a major part of the offense this year.
Another player many expected to really contribute to the offense this year is LaQuinton Ross. Ross hasn’t shot that poorly from the field, but he is only making 27 percent from three-point range despite the fact that he has been lauded as the best long-range shooter on the team numerous times.
Throw in the fact that Shannon Scott and Amir Williams are both shooting worse than 61 percent from the free-throw stripe and it is clear that a number of individuals need to improve their shooting efforts.
So, with Big Ten play on the horizon, how is it going to happen?
Thad Matta needs to make it a priority to get inside shots early on in these big games. The Buckeyes don’t have much of a post presence, but the pick and rolls that they love to run should be heading towards the basket instead of on the perimeter.
If some combination of Craft, Thomas and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. run this playbook staple from 10 to 15 feet from the basket instead of outside the three-point line, it will get the key players involved early with easy looks.
Furthermore, there has to be some effort made to establish some type of post game, especially early on in the game. Teams aren’t showing respect to Evan Ravenel or Amir Williams and haven’t even really considered doubling down on the post and opening up the Buckeye shooters.
If Williams and Ravenel can just get some early touches down low, it will establish to the other team that the center position actually does exist in Columbus. Some type of inside-outside game will help Ohio State get more open looks.
However, there is one thing above all else that will help the Buckeyes in the shooting department: picking up the pace of play. This team is filled with athletes and is going eight-deep this year. Craft, Smith, Thomas, Sam Thompson, Ross and Scott are all athletic and quick, and an early transition game will result in easy baskets and an offensive flow.
This is exactly what Matta’s squad was doing in the first half against Kansas. The Bucks went on a 14-0 run and electrified the crowd with dunks and transition baskets.
Then the second half started, the pace slowed and the crowd was treated to a series of long-range clanks for the final 10 minutes.
Ultimately, Ohio State needs to take advantage of its athleticism and not be so reliant on the three-pointer in half-court sets. A few big-game wins might be the result.