The most important thing about the start to the Ohio State basketball season is that Thad Matta and company are undefeated. After all, the bottom line always comes down to wins and losses.
However, the path to a 5-0 start hasn’t been filled with effortless blowouts and seamless offense. The Buckeyes have looked downright ugly at times when trying to score and have relied on their suffocating defense in games against Wyoming, American and Marquette in particular.
Read on to see five adjustments the Scarlet and Gray can make the rest of the year.
It is far too early to sound the panic alarms about LaQuinton Ross’ lack of production, but it has certainly reached the stage where there is a little concern. In fact, it has gotten to the point where Matta is leaving him on the bench for the final minutes of close games.
It appears as if Ross is pressing when on the floor, likely saddled with the enormous preseason expectations that were placed on his shoulders before the year. Despite the fact that he had dominant stretches during the NCAA tournament, Ross still had never started a game at Ohio State until this season.
Ross should look to post up early in games to establish some confidence. The one place where he has been borderline effective is on the low block, where he can utilize his quickness and strength.
In addition to building his confidence early in games, posting up will also help with shot selection, which has been Ross’ biggest problem thus far.
Marc Loving is only a freshman, and it often takes freshmen time to get accustomed to the collegiate game, but he looks perfectly comfortable when he is on the floor.
In fact, Loving has blended seamlessly into the offense, can occasionally hit the corner three when he is open to stretch the defense (although that isn’t his strong point), attacks the rim effectively and has played competent defense. If his numbers were extrapolated to a 40-minute-per-game average, he would be scoring 19 points a game and grabbing seven rebounds.
And therein lies the problem.
At 13.6 minutes a night, Loving is playing less time than even Amedeo Della Valle. Della Valle is shooting 23 percent from the field and often gets beaten off the dribble, yet he has managed to crack Matta’s rotation on a more regular basis than the uber-talented Loving.
Something about that doesn’t add up.
There are a number of players that are capable of hitting the three-point shot on this Ohio State team, but at some point the numbers don’t lie.
This squad, composed of basically the same list of shooters as it has now plus Deshaun Thomas, struggled from downtown last year. There hasn’t been any marked improvement this time around unless we are talking about Lenzelle Smith Jr. or Shannon Scott.
Smith is hitting 48 percent of his threes, while Scott is making 37 percent, but there is a steep dropoff after that. Della Valle and Sam Thompson are at 22 percent, while Ross is shooting at a 22-percent clip.
Despite these struggles, nearly 40 percent of Ohio State’s field-goal attempts have come from behind the arc. Perhaps if this team began to play to its strengths (athleticism and quickness come to mind) by attacking the rim, the offense wouldn’t be so stagnant for long stretches at a time.
A point of emphasis heading into the season for Ohio State was to pick up the pace of play, and the Buckeyes have done that for stretches. Not coincidentally, those are the stretches that the Scarlet and Gray have been at their best.
Games against Wyoming, Ohio and Marquette turned in Ohio State’s favor in the second half when the guards started pressuring the ball and running whenever the opportunity presented itself. Between Craft, Scott, Thompson and Smith, the Buckeyes are loaded with excellent defenders that can convert turnovers into easy points on the other end.
Ohio State’s half-court offense has been incredibly stagnant (even though Amir Williams is playing by far the best basketball of his career). The easiest solution to that is to get out and run.
Asking Ohio State to bring defensive intensity over the course of an entire game sounds like nitpicking (and probably is) considering it ranks first in the country in Ken Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted defensive efficiency ratings.
However, it was clear in games against Wyoming, American and Ohio that there were stretches in the first half where the Buckeyes seemed to be going through the motions on the defensive end. All three contests turned Ohio State’s way down the stretch when it picked up the effort level without the ball.
Want to see an example of what an entire 40 minutes would look like if the Buckeyes gave maximum defensive intensity? Just look at the box score in the 52-35 victory at Marquette against a program that was riding the nation’s longest home-court winning streak and had scored 114 points the previous game.
Holding that Golden Eagle offense to a meager 35 points said everything you need to know about how dangerous this Buckeye defense can be this year.
Follow and interact with college basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.