Good luck trying to figure out the Ohio State basketball team this season. In fact, good luck figuring out the entire Big Ten conference.
In a league that has featured an unpredictable score seemingly every night, the Buckeyes have personified inconsistency. One night they are walking into the Kohl Center and winning at Wisconsin for only the second time in Thad Matta’s tenure, and the next they are losing at home to Penn State.
The result is a 7-6 Big Ten record after posting a perfect 13-0 mark in nonconference play.
Part of the struggles can be attributed to the overall strength of the league as a whole, but perhaps an ugly win at Illinois can turn things around. Aaron Craft certainly hoped so in comments he made to reporters after the game that were passed along by Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors:
We have not played our best basketball in this building. We just wanted to find a way to end that. Did we play perfect? No. There are definitely things we can get better on. But we found a way to win and that’s huge, especially going forward.
Peaking going forward is exactly what needs to happen for the Buckeyes as March approaches. Here are a few things they can do to make sure they do.
Simply saying "box out" is simplifying what could be Ohio State’s main problem just a bit, but it certainly couldn’t hurt.
The Scarlet and Gray ranked 229th in the country in total rebounding as of Monday, which is frankly an abysmal mark for a program that has featured the likes of Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas and Greg Oden in recent years.
In the disappointing home loss to Michigan, Ohio State was out-rebounded 39-27 and allowed the Wolverines to grab 14 offensive rebounds. Point guard Derrick Walton Jr. tallied 10 rebounds, three more than any Buckeye.
Ohio State’s failure to hit the glass will come back to haunt it in the one-and-done format of the NCAA tournament if there aren’t any improvements.
This does not mean the Buckeyes should stop implementing a full-court press (which is really something they should be doing more of). Rather, they need to stop applying so much internal pressure on themselves when they are playing in the friendly confines of the Schottenstein Center.
The Buckeyes have won three road games in a row and appear to be playing looser when their own fans aren’t there to watch. In contrast, Matta’s team has lost three of the past five home games, including an inexplicable defeat at the hands of Penn State and a loss to the same Iowa team it beat on the road.
Ohio State simply needs to take the same us-against-the-world approach it does on the road when it is at home, even if the crowd is there for support.
Get Out in Transition
Beau Bishop of WBNS-10TV implored the Scarlet and Gray to get out in transition more during the recent win at Illinois:
He is exactly right.
The Buckeyes are built to run behind an excellent defense that forces turnovers and an athletic rotation that only plays one big guy at a time. With athletes like Craft, Shannon Scott, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Sam Thompson, LaQuinton Ross and even Marc Loving, Ohio State should be forcing tempo whenever it gets an opportunity.
It would also help create easier opportunities for an offense that ranked 205th in points per game as of Monday and 106th in Ken Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted offensive efficiency rankings.
Pushing the pace would also prevent the Buckeyes from shooting so many three-pointers, which was largely their undoing against Michigan. They shot a miserable 3-of-20 from behind the arc in that game, largely because the Wolverines simply sat back in a zone in the half-court set.
Get Marc Loving More Involved
Clearly, the Buckeyes need more offense, and they got some at Illinois from their highly touted freshman. Matta discussed Loving’s impact on the game with reporters in comments that were passed along by Rowland:
When that ball went through for him, I was so excited. I told him in practice it was going to happen. You could see 1,000 pounds lifted off of him. We’ve seen Marc do that a lot in practice. For him to come in here and have that type of performance, hopefully it’s something we can add to our basketball team.
Loving has been struggling recently, but he flashed his talent in the second half against the Fighting Illini. If Ohio State can work more plays in that free him up to demonstrate his impressive shooting stroke, perhaps it can finally establish a consistent No. 2 scoring option behind Ross.
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