Buckeye Basketball Breakdown: This Season and Next

Written April 16th, 2013 by Eric
Thomas was pretty excited - you should be too.

Thomas was pretty excited – you should be too.

I couldn’t believe an entire basketball season had passed us by and I hadn’t yet written a Buckeye Basketball Breakdown. It just goes to show you what the final year of a graduate studies program can do to your soul…and your free time. But those are similar really.

Given how the NCAA Tournament wrapped up, I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about what we saw this year from the Buckeyes, and what we might have to look forward to in the future.

This Season

I will be the first to admit that I was particularly worried about this team going into Big Ten play. Seeing the Buckeyes meltdown against Duke, struggle with Kansas at home, and generally perform lackadaisically in the first half of every game, I was quite pessimistic on the night of January 4th. I knew the team was growing, I could see their development, but I was extremely worried by what I had seen to that point.

And then the first Illinois game happened the very next day.

Surprisingly, my opinions of the team improved dramatically after that. They fought hard and picked up a pair of wins in that four game stretch, including a huge win against Michigan. They started to clue in to how to play proper basketball, but they were still missing something.

And then Wisconsin happened.

That’s when it all turned around for this team, as we all know. A team meeting after the Wisconsin game made all the difference for this team’s mentality moving forward. It’s a huge testament to the will of the players to keep improving despite the tough losses.

There’s no question this team was wildly successful this year. They made an Elite Eight the year following Jared Sullinger’s departure. They very well could have made a Final Four if they had come out and played better basketball against a surprisingly game Wichita State team. I’m by no means embarrassed that this team lost to a 9th seeded Wichita State team either – one that very nearly sent eventual National Champion Louisville packing in the Final Four. Major props to that Shockers’ team and what they were able to accomplish. No one better take anything away from what that team was able to do this year.

I’m quite proud of what the Buckeyes were able to achieve, particularly considering my rather grim thoughts early in the Big Ten. To view this season with anything other than fond memories would be ridiculous. This team played their hearts out and found great success on the basketball court. Regardless of how far we think they may have been able to get (and the sky seemed like the limit at times) that doesn’t put a damper on what they were actually able to do – be one of the eight basketball teams still playing in late March.

Remember how many excellent teams can’t say that.

Next Season

Considering what we had this year, and what we’re losing, there’s a pretty clear picture of what the Buckeyes need in order to be successful next season. There are five major things that I would consider to be “points of emphasis”, and ultimately things to watch for in November. They are listed in no particular order.

Ross and Thompson

Ross (10) and Thompson (12) are key pieces to the scoring question next season.

1. Sam Thompson and LQ Ross continue to improve their scoring. With the loss of DeShaun Thomas, this one is almost a no-brainer. Someone is going to have to step up and be the consistent scoring threat for the Bucks on a nightly basis. Both of these guys could very well be that answer, and it will be fascinating to see how things shape up.

The likelihood that these guys get their scoring together is very high, particularly with the extra minutes they’ll be getting. They really came on at the end of the season, especially Ross but Thompson also managed to get his perimeter game going. If they practice hard and focus on what needs fixing, they could make defenses sweat next year.

It’s worth pointing out that I think a lot of the shooting problems this year centered around DeShaun Thomas. Not that I’m blaming him (quite the opposite), but I think several players didn’t work to find their shooting confidence in the early going this season like most teams normally would. Why bother working on your shot when hot-hand Tank Thomas can get the job done? Eventually they figured out that the team wasn’t going to win consistently without additional scoring threats, and that’s when the lightbulb turned on. That in turned seemed to open up DeShaun Thomas a bit more, who scored above 20 points in every one of OSU’s NCAA Tournament games.

2) Aaron Craft continues to be a beast on the dribble drive. It is absolutely amazing what this kid can do with the basketball in his hands. I think many Buckeye fans had forgotten until the Michigan State games this year how easily he seems to attack the basket. Recall this play from 2 years ago:

Craft has the skills to be a significant offensive contributor. Hopefully he works on it a tad this off-season and tries to make it a more consistent part of his game. This part of his game allowed the Buckeyes to open up some of their perimeter shooters. Opposing players couldn’t slough off of Craft as easily, nor could defenders leave the paint without worrying about giving Craft an opening.

Throw it down big fella!

Throw it down big fella!

3) Amir Williams and Trey McDonald improve their interior offense. A lot of offensive and defensive strategy in basketball is predicated on the idea that the defense cannot stop absolutely everything. Therefore, the goal for the defense is to take away the best options, and force the offense to settle for a less favorable (or even poor) option. The goal of the offense is to either find a way to open up the good options (using screens or other passing strategies) or find an acceptable third or fourth option that the defense can’t account for.

This is what caused OSU to be so dangerous in Jared Sullinger’s freshman campaign. The outside shooting with Diebler, Buford, and Lighty, coupled with Sullinger and Thomas’s inside game, was a devastating one-two punch for defenses. There simply wasn’t much a defense could do to take away options for OSU’s offense.

OSU’s struggles on the interior this year caused a lot of issues early on. If Williams and McDonald can find some ability to move around the paint and open up options on the interior, defenses won’t be able to pressure OSU’s shooters on the perimeter quite as frequently. The nice part about interior offense is that you don’t have to be as good as Jared Sullinger to make a big impact. If Williams manages to start scoring 10 points per game, that will open up a lot of options for the rest of the team.

4) Amir Williams finds a pair of hands (works on getting stronger inside) Coupled with the previous point, Amir absolutely needs to get stronger on the interior. Too often did we see a rebound get knocked away, or an excellent entry pass turn into nothing because it slipped out of his grip. Williams needs to improve his hand strength and start gripping the ball with authority.

Now, we saw some signs of life in this department during the Arizona game. Hopefully the lights are coming on for Mr. Williams and we get measurable improvement in the off-season. Thad Matta and his staff are excellent talent developers, so they can use the tape and experiences from this year to drive Amir to a substantially improved Junior season.

5) Marc Loving does an admirable job replacing DT’s interior rebounding/scoring presence Incoming freshman Marc Loving is supposed to be a direct replacement for DeShaun Thomas. Reportedly, Loving has a skill-set that is similar to Thomas’. He’s a shooter, and another one of those players who looks for his shot. But this also means that he may be capable of producing in the paint, both in rebounding and scoring.

There are two things Loving can do to guarantee himself a spot on the court next year. The first is work on his defense until he’s a master, but that’s true for anyone. The other way is to focus on the interior game first and let the perimeter game come with time. We’re not going to want to take players off the court to plug in guys that can’t stuff the stat-sheet, and this kind of play could make Loving particularly valuable to the Buckeyes.

If the Bucks can get all five of these pieces, they’ll be in pretty good shape. There are other things that could help as well – Lenzelle Smith becoming a more consistent contributor, Shannon Scott developing his offense, improved rebounding from all positions, and more consistent, high-energy defense. However, if we can simply get the five points mentioned above, this team might be capable of competing for all the marbles by the end of next season. Don’t forget, there are many things required to get to a National Title, but there are more than a few pieces that have to be squared away long before you ever play any games.

2 Comments

  1. OHD_MichaelNo Gravatar
    April 16th, 2013 at 9:45 am

    Good job, Eric. Losing Sullinger and Buford (the third-leading scorer in school history) and still coming close to a Final Four appearance is quite an accomplishment. Already looking forward to 2013-14.

    [Reply]

  2. KenNo Gravatar
    April 16th, 2013 at 3:50 pm

    Eric, well done recap/projection. I also was not optimistic going into Conference play; but after Madison Mauling, the team got “it”.

    Regarding next year; it’s interesting (in that I agree) that Amir makes 2 of 5 points. This reinforces out lack of a sizable inside game this year.

    [Reply]

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