Ohio State Basketball: Final Report Card for Buckeyes' 2012-13 Season

Scott PolacekFeatured ColumnistApril 1, 2013

Ohio State Basketball: Final Report Card for Buckeyes' 2012-13 Season

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    The sting from a shocking Elite Eight loss to Wichita State is still fresh for many Ohio State basketball fans, but that doesn’t mean the 2012-13 season wasn’t without its memories and merit.

    The Buckeyes finished second in the brutal and arduous Big Ten, took home a conference tournament title and thrilled onlookers with multiple game-winning three-point shots in the final seconds of NCAA tournament games. Throw in a second consecutive trip to the Elite Eight, and suddenly one poor game against an underrated opponent doesn’t quite look so bad.

    So how does the final report card read for the starters, bench and other aspects of the Scarlet and Gray’s overall season? Read on to find out.

Aaron Craft: A –

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    Aaron Craft was the heart and soul of the 2012-13 Ohio State basketball team and, for the most part, he delivered on that role.

    His defensive tenacity needs no introduction, but his pressure and forced turnovers keyed the second half turnaround. He dominated Michigan State and frustrated Indiana enough that the Buckeyes were able to pick up the two most important wins of the regular season, and it carried over into the Big Ten tournament.

    Craft ended up averaging better than two steals a game, but his overall defensive impact, especially when it was combined with that of his understudy Shannon Scott, went far beyond the box score.

    Craft’s only real issue was his offense, which was certainly more effective during the long winning streak. Once he accepted the fact he was not an efficient jump shooter and began driving the lane more, his offense was no longer a liability.

    Yes, Craft’s performance in the Elite Eight was one of the worst of his career, but that doesn’t completely overshadow what was a successful campaign for the Buckeye floor general.

Lenzelle Smith Jr.: B –

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    There wasn’t necessarily anything inherently wrong with Lenzelle Smith’s 2012-13 campaign, but he didn’t exactly live up to expectations either.

    After breaking out in the 2012 NCAA tournament as a sophomore, many expected Smith to assume more responsibility as an upperclassman. His numbers improved, but not to the degree that was anticipated, and he started to lose significant minutes to Shannon Scott by the end of the year.

    Smith was third on the team in scoring (9.2 points per night), shot 37 percent from behind the three-point line and played solid defense from the starting shooting guard position.

    Smith’s best attribute on the floor was his rebounding. He finished second on the team with nearly five boards a night (which was better than both centers Thad Matta utilized) and was never afraid to mix it up down low regardless of his listed position or size.

    Smith will be a senior next year, so if he is ever going to take that expected jump, it will be this offseason.

Sam Thompson: B +

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    Sam Thompson’s late-season development is one of the primary reasons there should still be basketball-related optimism in Buckeye Nation, regardless of the heartbreaking loss in the Elite Eight.

    Thompson finished with respectable nightly averages across the board—7.8 points, 50 percent shooting from the field, 40 percent from downtown, 3.5 rebounds, .7 steals and .8 blocks—but he was a much better player during the late season winning streak.

    His awe-inspiring dunks brought even hostile crowds to their feet, his defense was more than passable thanks to his length and athleticism and his shooting stroke improved as the year progressed.

    Expect Thompson to be a part of a shooting guard/small forward rotation that includes LaQuinton Ross, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Shannon Scott and freshman Kameron Williams next season as he continues his encouraging development.

Deshaun Thomas: A

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    It may seem like a lifetime ago, but before the season started there was legitimate concern that Deshaun Thomas could not handle the rigors of being Ohio State’s go-to offensive option without the likes of Jared Sullinger in the post to divert the defense’s attention.

    Thomas not only answered those worries, he ended up leading the entire Big Ten in scoring, and boosted his NBA draft prospects in the process. He was a matchup nightmare for opposing defenders thanks to his length, shooting touch and ball-handling capabilities and finished with nearly 20 points a night.

    Thomas also led the Buckeyes in rebounding (5.9 per game) and was the best free-throw shooter in the Big Ten. He will never be mistaken for a defensive stalwart, but his efforts on that end of the floor improved throughout the year.

    Whether he elects to forego his senior season for the NBA will be the predominant question for Ohio State’s early offseason, but if he were to return next year he would certainly be on the short list of Naismith candidates.

Amir Williams: C –

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    The only real good news regarding Amir Williams for Ohio State fans is the fact that he was only a sophomore this season, and it was the first campaign that he played significant minutes.

    Williams came to Columbus with plenty of hype thanks to his spot on the McDonald’s All-American team, but he is yet to deliver on that promise. Evan Ravenel was the better center for Thad Matta, and Williams often looked tentative and disinterested in the action on the floor.

    The one effective skill that Williams brought to the court was his shot-blocking tendencies, which resulted in 1.4 blocks a night in a mere 16 minutes per game. That means Williams would have blocked nearly 3.5 shots a contest if he played the entire game.

    Williams still has an opportunity to make a significant jump in production next season as he becomes a junior, especially considering the fact that Ravenel will be gone and Trey McDonald probably won’t see extended minutes.

    Whether Williams takes advantage of that opportunity remains to be seen.

Bench: A –

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    Thad Matta has developed a reputation during his tenure in Columbus as someone who plays a short rotation and ignores the fact that he has a bench once the cupcake early games are in the rearview mirror.

    That was not the case during the 2012-13 campaign, and the bench minutes actually expanded as the year progressed.

    Shannon Scott played a critical role in the late season winning streak by teaming up with Aaron Craft to form the most dynamic defensive backcourt duo in the conference. Evan Ravenel established himself as the best big man on the roster and earned minutes through hard-nosed defense, passable rebounding abilities and timely scoring.

    But it was LaQuinton Ross’ second half contributions that should have Buckeye fans most excited for next year. In terms of pure talent he may be the best player on the entire team, and he started to show why down the stretch and in the NCAA tournament.

    With freshmen Marc Loving and Kameron Williams joining the fold next season, Matta will likely distance himself from his reputation for the second straight season.

Offense: B

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    This is probably a simplification of some of the problems the team faced throughout an up-and-down season, but Ohio State would have been an elite basketball team in the 2012-13 season if it had a better offense.

    The Buckeyes did not shoot the ball particularly well from behind the three-point line all season (Sam Thompson was the one player who shot better than 40 percent from downtown and he was at 40.4 percent) which allowed opposing defenses to crowd the lane and stifle the attack far too often.

    The ultimate groundwork for that blueprint was laid out by Wisconsin in Ohio State’s blowout loss in Madison, but it was Wichita State that took full advantage of that strategy to end the Buckeyes’ season.

    That is not to suggest there were no offensive bright spots. Deshaun Thomas led the Big Ten in scoring, Aaron Craft become much more of an offensive weapon in the second half of the season and it is clear LaQuinton Ross will be a force to be reckoned with next year.

Defense: A

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    Ohio State’s defense was the lifeblood of the team in 2012-13, and the long winning streak to end the regular season and take the Big Ten tournament title was the direct result of the Buckeyes’ suffocation of their opponents.

    Aaron Craft was the defensive leader, but Shannon Scott became much more than just an effective wing man. In fact, Scott earned a spot on the Big Ten’s All-Defensive team right alongside his more famous teammate. The two combined for nearly four steals a game and completely stifled dangerous attacks from the likes of Michigan State and Indiana down the stretch.

    But it wasn’t just Craft and Scott that brought the defense. Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Sam Thompson used athleticism and length to frustrate opponents, Evan Ravenel held his own against the bruising bigs of the Big Ten, Deshaun Thomas gradually improved over the course of the year and even Amir Williams served as a formidable shot blocker.

    The Buckeyes were not the most talented team in the country, but they finished ranked among the elite because of their defense.

Thad Matta: A

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    Thad Matta has made multiple Final Fours, qualified for the national championship game and taken home Big Ten titles in years past, but the 2012-13 season was one of his most impressive coaching jobs.

    He didn’t have a Greg Oden or Jared Sullinger to dump it to down low, there was no Jon Diebler draining three-point shots all season and his best offensive option struggled with shot selection and dipping shooting percentages most of the season.

    Thad Matta took his offensively challenged group all the way to a Big Ten tournament title and second place finish in the deepest conference in the country. Regardless of the opponents he faced in the NCAA tournament, an Elite Eight finish is nothing to sneeze at either.

    Matta even developed a reliable bench, which is something he has not always done in the past.

    Yes, it was certainly disappointing that the Buckeyes weren’t ready to play against Wichita State, but that doesn’t change the fact that this season was one of Matta’s best efforts during his time in Columbus.