The term "Jekyll and Hyde" is a cliche that is used far too often in sports, but there’s really no other way to describe the effort put forth by Ohio State’s basketball team on Saturday against Minnesota.
The Buckeyes tried their best to give everyone in the Schottenstein Center a migraine in the first half when it scored 18 points. The offense was basically let the ball-handlers lower their head and run straight into the teeth of the zone.
Fortunately for the Scarlet and Gray, the Golden Gophers only scored 28 themselves and kept the game within striking distance.
Ohio State came out of the locker room and immediately pushed the tempo for the rest of the game.
Before Minnesota even knew what hit it, the Buckeyes scored 17 straight points in a decisive 27-5 run. After a 46-18 second-half outburst, Ohio State took the game 64-46 and possibly set a precedent for the offense as the season’s stretch run approaches.
Thad Matta has the personnel to run an uptempo scheme like he did in the second half on Saturday. Whether he chooses to do so or not for the final three regular-season games and the tournaments will ultimately define the season.
Just a quick glance at the roster reveals players like Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Sam Thompson, LaQuinton Ross, Amedeo Della Valle and Marc Loving. That is plenty of athleticism and depth to start consistently running, even if Amir Williams and Trey McDonald aren’t exactly built to be thoroughbreds.
Thompson in particular is built to play in an uptempo system, as was evidenced by his season-high 19 points against the Gophers, 16 of which came in the second half. He threw in some high-flying dunks for good measure, and there may not be a better finisher in the country when it comes to lob passes in transition.
Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors points out that Richard Pitino was particularly impressed from the opposite bench:
More important than Thompson’s individual contributions is the fact that an uptempo offense doesn’t allow the opposing defense to get set in the half court. The Buckeyes have faced zones for much of the season and struggled as a result.
Among the notable offensive clunkers this year were point totals of 52 at Marquette, 53 at Minnesota and 48 (in victory) at Illinois. They are shooting a disappointing 34 percent from behind the three-point line and only have one player (Ross) who is at 40 percent.
However, when Ohio State runs the floor, those three-pointers are suddenly open because the defense is busy trying to rush back and protect the rim. When the long-range shots are clean instead of forced as the shot clock runs down, they start to go in a lot more frequently.
Another benefit of implementing an uptempo offense is the fatigue that starts to become a factor for the other team. It’s tiring enough dealing with Ohio State’s No. 2-ranked defense, per Ken Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted defensive efficiency rankings as of Sunday, for 40 minutes as it is, and when the Buckeyes run it just compounds that fatigue.
That fatigue will lead to more turnovers created by the Buckeyes’ defense and more transition opportunities, creating something of a cycle. That is exactly what happened to the Gophers on Saturday.
Finally, there was more energy in the Schottenstein Center in the second half against Minnesota than there has been all season. The crowd may as well have been sleeping in the first half, but the uptempo pace and Thompson’s dunks brought the fans to life.
Considering the fact that the Buckeyes already have home losses to Michigan, Iowa (who they beat on the road) and Penn State this year, more energy in the crowd and an imposing home-court advantage is certainly not a bad thing.
Every advantage Ohio State can get in the loaded Big Ten will help, as Matta made clear in comments passed along by Rowland of Eleven Warriors:
In this league, you need to play like every game is the biggest game of your life. If you’re not ready to compete, fight or execute, you’re going to be embarrassed. It’s going to be exactly the same when we play Penn State on Wednesday. We have to get ourselves ready to go.
The goals have been redefined from a Big Ten championship to a first-round bye in the conference tournament. Who knows what will come after that if the uptempo offense is as efficient as it was against the Gophers.
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