It may not have been pretty on offense, but Ohio State and its suffocating defense ending the nation’s longest home winning streak at Marquette was one of the more impressive wins of the young college basketball season.
The Golden Eagles scored a measly 35 points after scoring 114 the last time out.
After the victory, the Buckeyes are sitting pretty at 3-0. An undefeated nonconference performance is a legitimate possibility with the only “power” conference opponents being Maryland and Notre Dame.
Thad Matta has utilized his depth thus far, but it is the starters that have done a lot of the damage. Read on to get some way-too-early grades for each Buckeye starter through three contests.
All Aaron Craft has done this season is become the first Ohio State player in program history to record 500 assists, 200 steals and 1,000 points in his career and the third player in Big Ten history to total 500 assists and 250 steals in a career.
Not a bad first three games.
The Buckeyes’ leader has been the typical stellar force he always is on defense (two steals a night), but he is doing much more than just disrupting offenses. He is averaging 11 points, 5.7 rebounds and 6.7 assists a night and has controlled the tempo of the game on both ends.
There are two things holding Craft’s grade back from the A range though. He is turning the ball over more than three times a game thus far and is still struggling with his outside shot. Craft has yet to hit a three-pointer this year and is shooting only 40 percent from the field.
If Craft can cut down on the turnovers and at least become an average shooter while continuing to stuff the stat sheet, Big Ten Player of the Year is still a possibility.
Ohio State and Marquette were locked up at 19 in what could only be described as an ugly first half of basketball. Shannon Scott decided to take matters into his own hands after intermission.
Scott made three critical baskets in what was a decisive 12-4 second-half run for the Buckeyes. He ended up with 13 points and five steals and was the best player on the floor for extended stretches of the game. Ohio State needed that with LaQuinton Ross struggling from the floor.
On the season Scott is averaging 12.3 points, 3.7 assists and 2.3 steals a night. What’s more, he is hitting 56 percent of his shots and has extended his range to behind the three-point line. His quick hands on defense and overall speed in transition is make life particularly difficult on opposing guards, especially when he is teamed up with Craft in the backcourt.
Scott’s 2.7 turnovers a night is the one reason his grade is an A- instead of an A.
Ohio State’s most unheralded contributor is quietly putting up numbers across the board again.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. is third on the team with 11.3 points a night, is grabbing nearly five rebounds a game and leads the Buckeyes in three-point percentage. He has also been a formidable defender and is only turning the ball over one time a night, which is significantly less than fellow guards Craft and Scott.
However, Smith’s numbers are a bit skewed in such a small sample size because of his excellent season opener. Smith scored 18 points behind four three-pointers and grabbed nine boards in the victory over Morgan State.
Consistency has always been an issue with Smith, and through three games, it still is lingering. He followed up his impressive first game with nine points on one-of-five shooting and one rebound against Ohio and seven points against Marquette.
Smith doesn’t have to score 15 points every time out for the Buckeyes, but more consistency out of the senior will be important going forward.
If we were grading on a curve based on preseason expectations this grade would be even lower, but for now we will stick with a C- for LaQuinton Ross.
Ross was supposed to be the guy to replace Deshaun Thomas’ Big Ten-leading scoring totals in the Ohio State offense, or at least be the Buckeyes’ go-to guy on offense. Instead, the expectations are clearly weighing on him as he continues to force the issue. Ross’ biggest problem right now is shot selection.
Ross is averaging eight points a night and is only shooting 26.7 percent from the field and 23.1 percent from behind the three-point line. In the season’s biggest game against Marquette, Ross came up scoreless on six shots.
The one thing saving Ross’ grade right now is the fact that he is contributing on the glass. Ross is grabbing nearly six boards a night, although even that is skewed by the fact he grabbed 11 in the season opener. Ross only had three rebounds in each of the next two games.
The fact that the Buckeyes won on the road at Marquette without their supposed go-to offensive option scoring a single point is a great sign going forward. But they are still going to need better play from Ross if a Big Ten title is in the cards.
If Ross gets punished a bit based on preseason expectations, then Amir Williams gets some extra credit.
Coming into the year, Williams was expected to be the Buckeyes’ primary liability in the middle, but he has done everything that can be asked of him thus far. Williams posted his first career double-double against Ohio (14 points and 10 rebounds) and swatted a critical five shots against Marquette in only 19 minutes.
That means Williams blocked more than a shot every four minutes against the Golden Eagles.
Williams is averaging 6.7 rebounds a night, which is excellent considering his career high for a season is 3.9, and blocking shots (2.7 a game). He is never going to be a dominant offensive force, but if he scores the occasional basket (averaging 7.3 points a game now) and plays excellent defense, Matta will be pleased.
He does need to stay out of foul trouble though, as he is only averaging 20 minutes a game and already fouled out once.
Follow and interact with college basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.