Coaches and diehard fans desire consistent excellence from their college basketball programs. Everyone wants that star player they know is good for 20 points and 10 rebounds a night, even when they are at their worst.
But sometimes a little unpredictability can be exciting. The unpredictable player can go off for 30 points one night and then disappear for the next three games. They may make everyone’s hair a little grayer, but they sure are fun to watch when they are on.
Read on to see five unpredictable Buckeyes that have fit this description throughout Ohio State’s history.
Everyone saw the writing on the wall for Greg Oden and even Mike Conley to a lesser extent after the 2007 NCAA tournament ended.
Oden was going to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft and was supposed to be a once-in-a-generation big man. There was no way he was staying in school for his sophomore year. As for Conley, he played so well in the postseason that it felt his ceiling would never be higher—he was out too.
But nobody predicted freshman Daequan Cook—who played less than 10 minutes in three of the Buckeyes’ last four tournament games—would join his teammates and bolt for the NBA. It was one of those unexpected moves that certainly played a factor in Ohio State’s failure to even make the Big Dance the next season.
Cook was also unpredictable on the floor during his one year in Columbus. In his first eight games he scored 22, 18, 8, 22, 20, 17, 14 and 20 points respectively. He looked like a star in the making.
However, as the year wore on his excellent games were few and far between. He failed to reach double-figure scoring in the team’s final 11 contests and even went scoreless in a win over Northwestern.
Yet somehow he was selected in the first round of the NBA draft.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. still has one year remaining in his Ohio State basketball career, but the one word that can be used to describe his time in Columbus thus far is inconsistent.
Smith was part of a loaded recruiting class that included the likes of Jared Sullinger, Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas, but he found himself with significant playing time by the time he was a sophomore (on a Final Four team nonetheless). He was a solid defender and flashed enough offense to merit the action from Thad Matta’s point of view.
But his offensive flashes have been few and far between. We have seen Smith drop 20-plus points on numerous occasions, but far too often he gets lost in the shuffle when the Buckeyes have the ball.
His three-point shooting also contributes to his unpredictability. He shot 12.5 percent as a freshman, 37.8 percent as a sophomore and 37.4 percent as a junior. Ohio State would like to see those numbers improved during his senior campaign.
Seniors often lend a level of consistency and calm to a basketball team. If Smith is going to do that, he should probably focus on being a bit more reliable when it comes to offensive production.
Ohio State fans were primed and ready for B.J. Mullens when he arrived on campus. After all, a certain 5-star freshman named Greg Oden had recently led the Buckeyes to the doorstep of the promised land, and many had visions of Mullens doing the same.
So much for that.
It was clear on his good days that Mullens had the talent to be a collegiate star. There were nights when he was dropping close to 20 points a night, and his field-goal percentage remained high all season (he finished at 63.8 percent).
But his production level was mired in an unpredictable pattern. He often followed up impressive showings with multiple disappearing acts, and somehow he grabbed double-digit rebounds only one time all season (in a loss nonetheless).
Yet, in a fashion similar to Daequan Cook, he surprised some and declared for the NBA draft. He was of course drafted in the first round (because size almost always is) and is still trying to establish himself as a consistent NBA contributor.
Including Dennis Hopson on here may be a bit of a stretch—especially considering his status as Ohio State’s all-time leading scorer—but his case needs to be looked at on a year-by-year basis instead of a game-by-game basis.
Hopson was a solid contributor at best during his first two seasons in Columbus. He had his good days, but he failed to average double-digit scoring either campaign and actually had more turnovers than assists both years. At the time, even the most optimistic Buckeye fans couldn’t have predicted what was in store for Hopson the next two years.
Hopson broke out during his junior season. He averaged slightly less than 21 points a game, nearly two steals a night and saw his shooting percentage skyrocket to 54.5 percent. He followed that effort up with one of the best seasons in Ohio State history as a senior.
Hopson was a consensus All-American during his final collegiate year and averaged a Michael Jordan-like 29 points a night.
It was an incredibly unpredictable rise to Buckeye lore for a player who struggled to find his footing during his first two seasons.
Much like Dennis Hopson’s inclusion on this list of unpredictable players, Brian Brown’s case should be looked at on a year-to-year basis.
Brown started off in Columbus as a freshman who made little impact on the floor and couldn’t hit the side of a barn with a free-throw (51.9 percent) despite his status as a guard. While his free-throw percentage climbed to an acceptable status as a sophomore, he still wasn’t much of a game-changer on the court.
That changed during his junior season. His rise wasn’t as dramatic as Hopson’s, but he was unpredictably establishing himself as a consistent scorer, rebounder, distributor and defender. That only continued during his senior campaign when he led the Buckeyes in scoring.
His efforts during that final season earned him a spot on the Big Ten’s All-First Team. Not a bad finishing point for someone who started well below expectations.
Follow and interact with Ohio State basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.