Ohio State Basketball: 10 Things We Learned from Win over Illinois

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistMarch 11, 2013

Ohio State Basketball: 10 Things We Learned from Win over Illinois

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    The Ohio State basketball team closed its regular season out in style by beating Illinois, 68-55, on Sunday afternoon.

    Deshaun Thomas led the Buckeyes with 19 points, while Aaron Craft chipped in with 14 points, six assists and three steals. Had Michigan not blown the last minute of its game against Indiana, the effort would have earned Ohio State a share of the Big Ten title.

    Alas, the Bucks will have to settle for the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten tournament. Read on to see 10 things we learned about the team from the final regular season game as it heads to Chicago.

Aaron Craft Is Back

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    Strange as it seems now, it wasn’t that long ago that some fans were becoming so frustrated with Aaron Craft’s offensive struggles that they were calling for Shannon Scott to chip into Craft’s playing time.

    Since the blowout loss to Wisconsin, Craft has embraced his strengths, limited his three-point attempts and hasn’t forced the issue offensively. The result has been incredible performances against the likes of Michigan State, Indiana and Illinois.

    Craft tallied 14 points, six assists, four rebounds and three assists against the Illini Sunday and was a stabilizing force for the Buckeyes from the free-throw line.

    Perhaps more encouraging for Ohio State fans than Craft’s offensive renaissance is his defense during that same stretch. He has always been known as one of the nation’s best defenders, but he has taken it to a new level.

    If Craft plays the same way he did against the Spartans, Hoosiers and Illini throughout March, the Buckeyes can make some serious noise.

Evan Ravenel Picked a Bad Time to Foul

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    Sunday was senior day for the Ohio State basketball program, but that really meant it was Evan Ravenel day.

    The Boston College transfer is the lone senior on this year’s team and was honored accordingly before tip with a video montage. While he didn’t start or see much action during the first half, Ravenel played very well after intermission.

    He scored seven points and grabbed five rebounds, two of which were of the offensive variety. However, the last play of Ravenel’s regular season career was a misguided, intentional foul on a driving Brandon Paul.

    Thad Matta benched Ravenel following that play, and he never saw the court again. It didn’t matter in the outcome of the game (there were fewer than two minutes left), but it probably wasn’t how the Buckeye big man wanted to end his Columbus career.

    He will certainly be looking to redeem himself in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.

Amir Williams May Not Play Much in March

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    Thad Matta once again utilized a no-center lineup for long stretches of time against Illinois on Sunday. In fact, it was that very combination that went on the extended run at the end of the first half to give Ohio State a lead it never relinquished.

    Furthermore, it has become clear in the past few weeks that this coaching staff trusts the senior Evan Ravenel more than it believes in Amir Williams. Ravenel has rewarded that trust with excellent games against Michigan State and Indiana and is a significant reason why the Buckeyes should get a favorable seed in the NCAA tournament.

    Unfortunately for Williams, it is probably no coincidence that Ohio State has played better when his minutes have decreased. He has struggled to establish himself on either end of the floor and simply hasn’t given Matta the type of energy that is required from a Big Ten center.

    Expect to see his playing time limited in March.

This Just Isn’t a Great Three-Point Shooting Bunch

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    Ohio State attempted 25 three-point shots against Illinois and only made seven of them. That is good enough for a measly 28 percent clip which, as poor as it seems, isn’t that far off from the Buckeyes’ season average.

    The team as a whole is only shooting 36 percent from behind the three-point arc despite the fact that the majority of the players Thad Matta uses are capable of hitting from long range. Aaron Craft is only shooting 30 percent, and nobody except rarely used freshman Amedeo Della Valle is shooting 40 percent or better.

    It would probably be to Ohio State’s advantage if it works for more two point looks and limits the amount of threes it takes in March. If the shots are open, the shooters should obviously take them, but nothing should be forced.

    The Buckeyes aren’t going to win any championships from behind the three-point line.

Deshaun Thomas Kept Shot Selection in Mind

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    Deshaun Thomas is Ohio State’s go-to scorer and leads the Big Ten in points per game, but his shot percentage and quality of shot attempts have dipped in the past few weeks.

    That pattern came to an end on Sunday.

    Thomas scored 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting and only took five three-pointers. He is such a consistent free-throw shooter that he should be taking the ball inside more, something he did against Illinois.

    Thomas has gotten himself in trouble recently by forcing shots up and playing too much one-on-one. Aaron Craft is a steadying distributor, and Thomas should allow the offense to flow through Craft’s passing and vision.

    The result would be more open looks and a higher shooting percentage.

Illinois Feels Like a One-and-Done Tournament Team

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    Illinois is going to be a NCAA tournament team, but it doesn’t look like a squad that can go deep in March if its three-point shots aren’t falling.

    The Illini have struggled at times this year against opponents with size and guards that can harass Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson. Ohio State certainly has the defensive-minded guards in Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott, and the Buckeye backcourt mates combined for five steals.

    Illinois has lost three of its last four games and struggled to fend off Nebraska in that one victory during that stretch. What’s more, the Illini have a difficult contest awaiting with Minnesota to start the Big Ten tournament.

    It may be premature to predict an early exit before the NCAA tournament brackets even come out, but if Illinois isn’t hitting its threes, that is exactly what will happen.

LaQuinton Ross Should Try to Create His Shot More Often

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    LaQuinton Ross scored six points in a mere nine minutes of action Sunday afternoon, but the way he found the basket was notable.

    He was recruited as a three-point shooter but has struggled to find consistency from behind the arc. Against the Illini, Ross drove the lane a handful of times, and when he did, he found success. He made all three of his two-point attempts and looked comfortable inside the perimeter.

    Ross stands at 6’8” and will likely be taller and/or quicker than whoever is guarding him in the NCAA tournament. Instead of simply relying on his ability to hit from downtown, Ross should look to drive the lane more and establish himself as an interior scorer in March.

    His overall game and the team would certainly benefit from that development.

This Team Has Heart

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    Buckeye fans were in a state of despair on February 17 when Ohio State was eviscerated at Wisconsin by 22 points. Thad Matta’s team had numerous issues, and it didn’t look like the season was going to get any better.

    Then something clicked.

    The Buckeyes won their final five games, including ones against the likes of Michigan State and Indiana. They were a Michigan choke job against the Hoosiers away from winning a share of the Big Ten crown.   

    For the Scarlet and Gray to emerge from the negativity and mindset surrounding the program after that Wisconsin loss to grab the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten tournament is rather remarkable and required heart and determination. From the defensive prowess of Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott to the scoring ability of Deshaun Thomas, everything has clicked in the past five games.

    If it continues to do so, a deep NCAA tournament run is not out of the question.

Senior Night Will Be Emotional Next Year

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    This is nothing against Evan Ravenel, but next year’s senior day will be much more emotional than this year’s version.

    Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Deshaun Thomas (if he elects to forgo a chance at the NBA and return for his fourth season in Columbus) will each be playing their final game in Columbus, and careers that include the school record for total steals, multiple Big Ten titles and a trip to the Final Four will be coming to an end.

    But there have been decorated Buckeyes in the past who have gone through senior day. The reason next season’s final game will be so emotional is the spot that Craft holds in the collective heart of Buckeye Nation.

    From being a heartthrob for Ohio State co-eds to a fan favorite among appreciative supporters who admire his defense and willingness to dive on the floor and do whatever it takes, Craft will be missed in Columbus.

Shannon Scott Is Going to Play More in March

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    Shannon Scott comes off the bench for Thad Matta, but he will play starter minutes during the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.

    Ohio State’s defense revolves around the efforts of Aaron Craft, but Scott is the Robin to Craft’s Batman. Craft is more than capable of operating on his own, but his presence is only enhanced by Scott’s own defensive tenacity.

    The Craft and Scott combo was the primary reason the Buckeyes upset Indiana in Bloomington, and it will be the main weapon in Matta’s arsenal once tournament play heats up.

    Scott will steal minutes from Lenzelle Smith Jr., Sam Thompson and even the Amir Williams/Evan Ravenel rotation depending on the game. Scott saw 28 minutes of action on Sunday, while Williams and Ravenel combined for just 28 minutes of their own.

    Look for the Buckeyes to utilize Craft and Scott together as often as they can in March.