Ohio State Basketball: Early Takeaways from Start of Buckeyes' 2013-14 Season
The Ohio State basketball season is only two games old, but with a marquee nonconference showdown looming at Marquette, it is worth gleaning some early takeaways.
Clearly, two contests is a ridiculously small sample size, especially considering the fact that both were against lackluster competition, so these developments are far from set in stone going forward. However, some concerns from last year are rearing their ugly head yet again.
But it’s not all bad news for the Scarlet and Gray (after all, they are 2-0). Read on to get the details on these early takeaways.
Amir Williams Showing Signs of Life
The biggest question mark heading into the season for the Buckeyes was the play of Amir Williams.
Ohio State is loaded with perimeter players, especially if we throw LaQuinton Ross into that category, but interior play and depth was (and still is) a concern. Through two seasons, Williams has fallen short of the lofty expectations that arrived on campus with him.
However, through two games, he has been one of the Buckeyes’ best players. He posted his first career double-double against Ohio on Tuesday with 14 points and 10 rebounds. In the season opener, he only managed 14 minutes but grabbed seven rebounds and swatted two shots in that short amount of time.
The fact that Williams fouled out so quickly in the opener is a concern, but when he has been on the floor, he is making an impact on both ends. His rebounding looks much improved, and he is still a shot-blocking threat on defense.
If this continues and the one major question mark is answered, the Buckeyes should contend for a Big Ten title.
Inconsistency Is Still the Word of the Day for Lenzelle Smith Jr.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. has been a different player from game to game seemingly for his entire career.
We are merely two games into his senior year, but that pattern has continued thus far. Smith was the best player on the floor in the opening victory over Morgan State, when he posted 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds. He made seven of his 11 shots and four of six from behind the three-point line.
However, against the Ohio Bobcats in the second game, Smith only made one of his five field-goal attempts, all of which were threes. He did make a point of getting to the free-throw line, but so did everybody else in that whistle fest (more on that later).
Smith doesn’t have to be the best player on the floor by any stretch for the Buckeyes this year, but he needs to be a more consistent performer. He can’t have such drastic swings on a nightly basis, especially as one of the senior leaders.
Get Used to Free Throws
College basketball instituted new rules this season that were designed to open up freedom of movement and result in higher-scoring games and a more entertaining product for the crowd.
What it has actually received for those efforts thus far is a barrage of whistles and free throws while games stretch closer to the three-hour mark. Ohio State’s two games have been a prime example.
In the first contest against Morgan State, the Buckeyes were in the bonus and shooting free throws in the first half before the second television timeout. They were also penalized when Amir Williams fouled out in a mere 14 minutes of action.
Against Ohio, the Buckeyes shot an astounding 51 free throws. Aaron Craft by himself shot 18, while Williams attempted 10. In fact, Ohio State shot 44 times from the field, which means it took seven more shots from the charity stripe than in actual game action.
Free-throw shooting will be absolutely critical this year for the Buckeyes (and pretty much every other college basketball team).
Aaron Craft’s Shot Is Still Missing
You would be hard-pressed to find a better defender in the country than Aaron Craft. Furthermore, he is a formidable facilitator and operates the Buckeye offense in transition and in the half court effectively.
However, if he is ever going to be an absolute game-changer and possibly play at the next level, he needs to shoot the ball more efficiently. He struggled shooting from the outside last year, but there was hope entering his senior campaign that the shooting numbers would improve.
Thus far, that hasn’t been the case. Craft is only shooting 27 percent from the field and has yet to make a three-pointer. Granted, he has only taken two attempts from downtown, but teams are intentionally sagging off of him when he has the ball. This prevents him from attacking off the dribble and getting to the rim, which stifles his individual offense.
There will be a time this season when Craft needs to hit a big shot from the outside. It’s hard to have confidence in his jumper right now.
Turnovers Have Been an Issue
The narratives surrounding the Ohio State basketball team heading into the season were very well defined.
The Buckeyes would be suffocating on defense and make life incredibly difficult for opposing offenses, but their own scoring was going to be an issue. Deshaun Thomas is no longer around, meaning a half-court offense that was already only average at best was going to take a step back if someone didn’t step up.
Thus far, LaQuinton Ross, Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott and Lenzelle Smith Jr. have provided scoring at various times, but turnovers are keeping the Ohio-State-struggles-on-offense narrative alive. The team is averaging 13 a night, which isn’t exactly crippling, but it is the individual numbers that are worrisome.
Aaron Craft is coughing it up 3.5 times a night, while Scott has turned it over three times a game. Craft and Scott are typically very strong with the ball in their hands and have posted impressive assist-to-turnover ratios in the past, which means this pattern will likely decrease over the course of the year.
However, the turnovers from the backcourt thus far are certainly worrisome from Thad Matta’s perspective.
Follow and interact with college basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.