It hasn’t always been a thing of beauty on the offensive end, but it’s hard to argue with Ohio State’s 3-0 start to the 2013-14 college basketball season.
After all, the Buckeyes ended the nation’s longest home-court winning streak at Marquette and are playing suffocating defense. What’s more, they did it with a grand total of zero points from the presumed go-to man LaQuinton Ross.
As long as the Scarlet and Gray continue to win, all we be fine in Buckeye Nation. Read on to see five positive signs from the start of the year outside of the perfect record.
Coming into the season, the biggest question marks for the Buckeyes were Amir Williams, interior play and depth as a whole.
Through three games, Williams has played better than expected and is beginning to show signs of understanding how to maximize his effectiveness in the role he plays. Williams is never going to be the primary option on the offensive side, but he has committed himself to rebounding and defense with positive results.
The Buckeye big man is averaging 6.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per night in only 20 minutes of action. If those numbers were extrapolated to an entire game’s worth of action, Williams would be grabbing better than 13 rebounds and swatting more than five shots per contest.
Williams has also scored 7.3 points per night, so he hasn’t been invisible with the ball in his hands. If he cuts down his fouls and continues to thrive on defense, Ohio State could be better than anticipated.
Williams’ shot-blocking tendencies this season are a microcosm of what Ohio State basketball has become under Thad Matta.
The Buckeyes are one of the best defensive teams in the nation, which will certainly help them compete in the physical Big Ten down the stretch. For context, Marquette scored 114 points in the game before it hosted Ohio State, but only managed to claw together 35 against the Buckeyes’ suffocating defense.
Outside of Williams’ shot blocking down low, Shannon Scott and Aaron Craft have quickly become arguably the best defensive backcourt in the nation. Each is averaging at least two steals per night, which has led to transition opportunities and easy baskets on the other end. Scott’s defense in the second half was especially critical in the win over Marquette.
Matta’s teams are always built on defense, but this team may rely on it even more than usual.
It was something of a surprise when Scott was in the starting lineup on opening night in lieu of Sam Thompson. After all, Thompson was expected to help Ross replace Deshaun Thomas’ departed scoring numbers.
However, having Thompson as the sixth man has worked perfectly thus far. He is leading the Buckeyes in points per game (13) and is a source of explosiveness and athleticism off the bench. What’s more, he is versatile enough that he can fill in anywhere from the shooting guard spot to power forward. Therefore, if someone gets in early foul trouble, Thompson is ready.
Scott has also thrived in his starting role and was the best player for extended periods of time against Marquette. His control of the offense has allowed a number of people to score, while his tenacious defense wears out opposing backcourts over the course of an entire game.
Look for Matta to stick with this lineup for the long haul if it continues to be so effective.
Last season, Thomas led the Big Ten in scoring and frequently bailed the occasionally stagnant Ohio State offense out with difficult shots with the shot clock winding down.
Making up for his lost offensive production was a primary concern for the Buckeyes heading into the season. Many expected Ross to fill that role based on his breakout performance during the NCAA tournament. However, he is only averaging eight points per night and was held scoreless against Marquette.
The good news is that the Buckeyes have demonstrated a balanced scoring attack. Four players are scoring in double-figures per game (Thompson, Scott, Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Craft). Meanwhile, Ross, Williams and freshman Marc Loving have all had scoring bursts at some point this year.
Superstar offensive forces are always nice to have, but teams can win at the collegiate level with a number of different offensive options. That is the formula for the Buckeyes right now.
Anyone who has followed college basketball over the past four years knows that the name Craft is synonymous with defense. He is arguably the best on-ball defender in the nation and has continued his stellar play on that end of the floor in the early going of his senior year.
With that being said, Ohio State’s floor general has done more than just provide suffocating defense. He has turned into a venerable stat-sheet stuffer with nightly averages of 11 points, 6.7 assists, 5.7 rebounds and two steals.
Craft understands his role as the senior leader on this Buckeyes squad. He is doing a little bit of everything while operating the half-court offense and spearheading the excellent defense. If he improves on his jump shot even slightly, the Big Ten Player of the Year race will have a candidate in Columbus.
Follow and interact with college basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.