Ohio State Basketball: Grading Buckeyes Through Round of 32 of NCAA Tournament

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistMarch 25, 2013

Ohio State Basketball: Grading Buckeyes Through Round of 32 of NCAA Tournament

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    The Ohio State basketball team is making it a mission to ensure there are no more nails remaining among Buckeye Nation by the time this tournament is over.

    After eliminating Iona with relative ease, the Scarlet and Gray looked primed to blow past Iowa State in the round of 32 until the Cyclones came charging back late in the second half. Aaron Craft, who had made some costly mistakes during that Iowa State charge, rescued his squad and its Final Four hopes with a three-point dagger with .5 seconds remaining.

    So how have the Buckeyes fared in the tournament if we put them through the rigors of a grading system? Read on to find out.

Aaron Craft: B+

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    It may seem a bit harsh that Aaron Craft doesn’t automatically receive an A for his game-winning shot against Iowa State, but let’s not forget the struggles he experienced in the minutes leading up to the buzzer (not to mention with higher expectations comes stricter grading).

    His missed free throws, turnovers and untimely foul were major reasons the Cyclones were allowed back into the game. It appeared that Buckeye fans were witnessing a rare meltdown from their floor general, something that hasn’t really been seen since the trip to Ann Arbor.

    Of course, Craft redeemed himself and kept the Final Four hopes alive with a drawn charge and the buzzer beater. He also tallied 18 total points, six assists and two steals.

    In the first contest against Iona, Craft was a defensive superstar but struggled with his shot. He stole the ball an incredible six times and racked up seven assists, but he only scored four points on two-of-eight shooting.

    If Craft can continue to play lockdown defense and eliminate some of the offensive errors he committed, he could propel the Buckeyes to the Final Four at the very least.

Lenzelle Smith Jr.: B –

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    Everything Lenzelle Smith Jr. does on this team is under the radar. It is Aaron Craft, Deshaun Thomas and even Shannon Scott that are drawing the headlines, but without Smith’s contributions the Buckeyes wouldn’t have a No. 2 seed and be in position to advance to the Final Four.

    He scored 12 points on 50 percent shooting in the Iona contest and also grabbed three rebounds. He actually finished third on the team in scoring that night, although you would never know it reading the game stories afterwards.

    Smith was much quieter against Iowa State and only scored six points and grabbed two rebounds. It was a disappointing effort, but his corner three when the Cyclones were seizing momentum after the Buckeyes took the lead was critical.

    Smith has been inconsistent at best this season, but Ohio State is going to need his veteran presence and ability to hit from long range if it hopes to knock off Arizona in what will be a virtual road game in Los Angeles.

Sam Thompson: A –

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    Sam Thompson played nearly flawless basketball in the opening game against Iona.

    He tallied 20 points on 60 percent shooting from the field and a perfect night at the free-throw line. He also grabbed 10 rebounds, blocked a shot, dished out two assists and recorded a steal to go along with his pressure defense and high-flying acrobatics above the rim.

    He didn’t have quite the impact during the Iowa State contest, but he wasn’t invisible either. Thompson did a little bit of everything by scoring seven points, picking up two assists, grabbing three rebounds and tallying two steals. He also stayed perfect from the line in the tournament.

    It wasn’t the best effort of his career, but Thompson still proved critical to the winning effort. Thompson (and backup LaQuinton Ross) will be needed going forward because Arizona’s defense will undoubtedly focus on Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft.

    If he can help take pressure off the stars, the Buckeyes should reach the Final Four after a weekend in Hollywood.

Deshaun Thomas: A

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    The primary reason Deshaun Thomas receives an A for his effort in the first two NCAA tournament games isn’t the fact that he scored better than 20 points in each contest (after all, he always scores) or his reliable stroke from the free-throw line (much needed in the postseason).

    It is his improved shot selection.

    Thomas is shooting nearly 62 percent from the field in the postseason and is an incredible 71 percent from behind the three-point line. He struggled down the stretch of the regular season but is no longer forcing shots in traffic or fading away as he releases his jumper.

    The result has been 46 points and two victories. Even as Aaron Craft develops his offensive attack and LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson find their scoring strokes, Thomas is the one offensive option that really scares opponents in their game planning for the Buckeyes.

    Throw in Thomas’ improved defense in the tournament (he even made Craft proud by drawing a couple of charges), and it is clear Ohio State’s offensive star wants a return trip to the Final Four.

Amir Williams: D –

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    It is still too early to label Amir Williams a bust (even though it doesn’t feel like it is), but that doesn’t mean Buckeye fans aren’t losing patience with their starting center.

    Williams was by far the tallest player on the floor in the Iowa State game (the Cyclones tallest starter stands at 6’7”), but he was only able to parlay that advantage into a single point and two measly rebounds. To the surprise of nobody, he ended up with three fouls in only nine minutes of action.

    Things weren’t much better against Iona. The Buckeye center tallied two points and grabbed two rebounds in 14 minutes of playing time. His two blocks are the sole reason this grade isn’t an F instead of the D–.

    Williams looks like he has bricks for hands whenever Aaron Craft or Shannon Scott tries to lob him a pass, and his effort and intensity is lacking to say the least. With the level of competition ratcheting up in the near future, Ohio State would sure like to have a starting center along for the ride.

Bench: A+

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    In a college basketball season full of surprises, the fact that a Thad Matta coached basketball team is so reliant on its bench seems just about right. The Buckeyes’ head man has been criticized in the past for his short rotation and workload he puts on the starters, but this year is different.

    Shannon Scott and LaQuinton Ross have been excellent in the first two games of the NCAA tournament, and Evan Ravenel played a critical role in the initial victory over Iona.

    Against the Gaels, Ravenel tallied 11 points on five-of-seven shooting, grabbed four rebounds and swatted three shots away. Ross scored seven points and grabbed a surprising but needed eight rebounds, including three of the offensive variety. All Scott did was dish out 10 assists, grab seven boards and lead numerous fast-break opportunities.

    Ravenel was quieter against Iowa State, but Ross was the most important player throughout the game until Aaron Craft hit the game winner. Ross carried the Buckeye offense in the second half and ended up with 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Scott chipped in six points and tenacious defense that helped account for 16 Cyclone turnovers.

    The bench is critical going forward, and Ross, Scott and Ravenel must continue to bring their A-games.

Offense: A –

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    Ohio State’s offense gets an A+ for the Iona game and a B+ for the Iowa State game, hence the A – overall.

    The Buckeyes looked like a well-oiled machine against the Gaels as they poured in 95 points on nearly 50 percent shooting from the field and behind the three-point line. What’s more, they assisted on 25 of 34 total baskets (Shannon Scott led the way with 10 dimes) and were nearly automatic from the free-throw stripe.

    The point total was down against the Cyclones, but the field-goal percentage was actually higher. The only thing that really held the Buckeyes back offensively in that contest was the second-half turnover bug they seemed to catch.

    In some of the game’s most critical moments, Ohio State coughed the ball up and allowed Iowa State to climb back into it. Were it not for Aaron Craft’s dagger, it likely would have been the team’s downfall.

Defense: A

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    Aaron Craft’s shot is getting all the headlines, but the defense is the engine that drives the Buckeye machine.

    Ohio State played against two of the best offensive teams in the country in the first two NCAA tournament games. Iona and Iowa State are loaded with athletes that can stretch the floor, hit the three and drive around defenders, and outside of a few-minute stretch by the Cyclones, the Buckeyes locked it down.

    Ohio State turned Iona over 19 times and held the Gaels to 21 percent shooting from downtown on 28 total attempts. Iowa State shot the ball much better, but the 16 turnovers it committed against Craft, Shannon Scott and the rest of the Buckeyes’ suffocating defense likely cost it a trip to the Sweet 16.

    The primary concern for the defense going forward is how poorly Ohio State rebounded against the Cyclones. Amir Williams and Evan Ravenel combined for a measly four boards, and the Buckeyes were outrebounded 35-20 in total.

    That cannot happen in the later rounds.

Thad Matta: A

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    Iowa State and Iona may not be Louisville and Duke, but the Cyclones and Gaels are not easy teams to prepare for. Both hound the ball with pressure defense, light it up from behind the arc and get out in transition.

    Thad Matta had his plate full heading into the NCAA tournament’s first weekend, and he delivered. The Buckeyes clearly did not overlook the No. 15 seed Iona (ask Georgetown what happens when you do that) and locked down the high-octane attack.

    Ohio State was also prepared for Iowa State and was the better team for 35 out of 40 minutes. Were it not for that near collapse down the stretch, the story would have been about how great the Buckeyes looked in the second half.

    Matta is also utilizing his substitutions effectively and managed serious foul trouble in the contest against the Cyclones. Shannon Scott, Sam Thompson and Lenzelle Smith Jr. all found themselves in dire straits when it came to the whistles, but Matta rotated them all to the point where nobody fouled out.

    The only thing Matta is missing on his resume is a national title. He is four wins away from changing that.