No matter how you slice the 2012-13 Ohio State basketball season, the ending was sorely disappointing for a squad that was a considerable favorite to land in its second consecutive Final Four.
The loss to Wichita State was one of the worst shooting performances in a season that included a handful of brick-laid clunkers, and it came at the most inopportune time.
However, that doesn’t mean the entire season was a failure. The Buckeyes finished second in the toughest conference in America and capped off a long winning streak to end the schedule with a Big Ten tournament title.
Read on to see five lessons the squad learned in retrospect and how some of the knowledge will impact next season.
It didn’t take a trip to the Elite Eight to prove that Thad Matta has built a basketball powerhouse in Columbus, but the fact that he took an offensively challenged squad that far is impressive.
After the Buckeyes’ tournament run, Ohio State is now the only school in the country that has played in the past four Sweet 16s. What’s more, Matta added his fourth Big Ten tournament title in the past seven years to his resume. No other conference school has won more than one since he took over the program.
Deshaun Thomas’ inclusion on the First Team All-Big Ten (and Aaron Craft’s spot on the coaches’ squad) marked the eighth straight season that Matta has had a player honored in such a way. The second-longest current streak in the conference stands at one year.
Throw on top of the on-court success the fact that Ohio State is currently in the process of building a top-notch basketball-only practice facility thanks to Matta’s efforts and that a loaded recruiting class is on the horizon (class of 2014), and it is clear that it is no longer a football school.
This season’s success only cemented that notion ever further.
In today’s SportsCenter-driven, 140-character culture, it is the alley-oops and flashy three-point shooting that often draws the headlines and the attention of the fans.
However, this season’s Ohio State squad proved that defense can turn some heads as well.
The Buckeyes appeared dead in the water after a disappointing start to Big Ten play left them with an 8-5 conference record that included two blowout losses. That’s when Thad Matta turned his focus to defense and started allocating the minutes accordingly.
Shannon Scott began to steal the lion’s share of Lenzelle Smith’s minutes, and he and Aaron Craft combined to form the most dynamic defensive duo of guards in the entire Big Ten and arguably the nation. Each was rewarded with a spot on the Big Ten All-Defensive Team and completely altered the trajectory of the entire second half of the season.
Craft averaged 2.1 steals a game, Scott swiped 1.7 a night and the rest of the defense followed suit. An Elite Eight appearance and Big Ten tournament title was the eventual result.
There was exactly one player on Ohio State’s 2012-13 roster who shot better than 40 percent from behind the three-point arc this season, and he was sixth on the team in three-point field-goal attempts per night.
That player was Sam Thompson, and his shooting percentage significantly climbed in the second half of the season.
A major contributing factor for Ohio State’s early season woes was the lack of effective three-point shooting. The Buckeyes were lacking a knock-down, reliable weapon from behind the arc, which meant opponents could crowd the lane on defense and stifle the Scarlet and Gray’s offense.
The late-season winning streak wasn’t the result of much better shooting, but Thad Matta’s squad was able to mix in timely baskets with its suffocating defense. However, the season-long shooting struggles all culminated in the Elite Eight loss to Wichita State.
Ohio State shot a putrid 5-of-25 from downtown, which was its ultimate undoing in a game that didn’t feature a lot of turnovers. In college basketball, it is difficult to overcome poor shooting no matter how well the defense plays.
It may seem like common sense to say that relying on one player in a game of five versus five is not an efficient way to play offense, but that was an issue Ohio State faced for much of the year.
A season wrap-up article featured on elevenwarriors.com did an excellent job of analyzing Ohio State’s offensive issues throughout the early conference schedule (which ultimately reared their ugly head again in the Elite Eight loss to Wichita State).
The Buckeyes started conference play 8-5 and finished the season on a 12-game winning streak. They shot nearly five less free throws a game during the 8-5 start than in the final 12 contests, turned it over more than three times more a night during the rough start and averaged nearly two fewer assists during the early struggles.
Much of those numbers can be attributed to the fact that Ohio State was relying almost solely on Deshaun Thomas during the first half of the season. When the ball movement increased during the winning streak, the assists (obviously) picked up, the free-throw attempts increased and there were simply less frustrating losses.
Unfortunately for the Buckeye fans, the reliance on Thomas returned in the Elite Eight loss. He was a mere 7-of-19 from the field, which certainly didn’t help the cause.
The most important lesson learned this season by Ohio State may be the fact that next season could be special. This year was kind of a baptism by fire after the losses of Jared Sullinger and William Buford, as Thad Matta mixed and matched various lineup combinations until he finally settled on the defensive-oriented group that served as the catalyst for the late-season charge.
The question of Deshaun Thomas’ return will dominate the early offseason storylines, but even if he takes his talents to the NBA ,the foundation is in place for the Buckeyes to have a special year. Matta will know to utilize the Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott combination more frequently, and the development of the younger players will key next season’s efforts.
Specifically, LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson looked like completely different offensive players in the second half of the Big Ten season. If they continue to develop over the course of an entire offseason (something that often happens between the sophomore and junior seasons), the Buckeyes should be much more formidable on offense.
Throw in stretch forward Marc Loving and sharp-shooting Kameron Williams (who should help with the three-point woes), and Ohio State will be deep and talented. Aaron Craft will serve as the senior leader and maybe even Amir Williams will improve as he enters the realms of the upperclassmen.
A return trip to the Final Four may be the result.