Ohio State may be off to a perfect 9-0 start in the 2013-14 season, but it was one of the best teams in the country last year. The Buckeyes took home the Big Ten tournament title and played their way to the Elite Eight before being stunned by Wichita State.
That means improvements won’t come easy throughout the campaign, even if Thad Matta’s squad continues to win. There are some things on the court that the Scarlet and Gray are doing better than last season though.
Let’s dig into a few of them.
Last season Deshaun Thomas led the Big Ten in scoring and was one of the best offensive weapons in the entire country. He could score from behind the three-point line, mid-range and in the low post, and one of the primary concerns for the Buckeyes this season was replacing his production.
Thomas shot nearly 30 percent of Ohio State’s field-goal attempts last season, but instead of one guy replacing his shots and scoring, the Buckeyes have improved dramatically in scoring distribution. Four Buckeyes are scoring in double figures, and Shannon Scott isn’t far behind at nine points a night.
Last year, only Aaron Craft joined Thomas in the double-figures scoring club, and Craft averaged exactly 10 points a game only after a late-season charge.
The best thing about the scoring distribution this year is that Craft, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Scott, Sam Thompson, LaQuinton Ross, Amir Williams and even Marc Loving are all capable of putting the ball in the basket on any given night.
Instead of relying on one or two guys who could have an off night at a critical time, the Buckeyes are gradually becoming better on offense with more ball movement and widespread scoring.
Protecting the Rim
Amir Williams struggled last year in most facets of the game, but he did block nearly 1.4 shots a night in only 16.5 minutes. However, his rim protection, along with nearly every other part of his game, has improved noticeably this season.
Williams is averaging 2.7 blocks a night and is altering plenty of other shots at the rim. He has looked better on the defensive side of the ball than he has in his entire career, and it is a primary reason why the Buckeyes may have the best defense in the country.
It’s not just Williams protecting the rim either. Thompson is blocking better than a shot a game, while backup center Trey McDonald is swatting nearly one a contest in only 13 minutes a night.
The perimeter defense of Craft and Scott is well-documented, but the interior defense and Ohio State’s ability to protect the rim will be crucial in the physical Big Ten.
It seems almost unfathomable that Ohio State could improve on its ball pressure and perimeter defense from a year ago when that was its calling card on the way to the Elite Eight, but it is happening in the early going.
Craft and Scott are combining for five steals a night through nine games as opposed to 3.8 a year ago. However, it is more than just the overall steal numbers. The starting backcourt mates consistently get their hands in the passing lanes, wear opposing ball-handlers out over the course of the game and have created transition opportunities on the other end through their ball pressure.
If you throw in Smith Jr., Thompson, Ross and Loving, the Buckeyes have plenty of athletic and versatile players who apply ball pressure on the perimeter. Ohio State’s best chance at making a deep run in the tournament is its defense, so if it continues to improve, a Final Four berth isn’t out of the question.
Follow and interact with Bleacher Report writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.