There's only so much one can take from an exhibition game against an opponent that is clearly inferior, but Ohio State did exactly what you'd expect of a top team when dispatching the Cavs 95-49.
The Buckeyes don't open the regular season until Friday when they host Wright State, but there was 40 minutes of exhibition basketball to break down before Ohio State really gets going on games that will count.
Following are some observations from the Buckeyes' first public action in the latest version of View From Press Row:
• Jared Sullinger's game is going to be more diverse – It didn't take long to realize that the version of Sullinger that is now 20 pounds lighter is going to offer the same things that he did a year ago before becoming an All-American. He is going to score – he went 7-of-9 from the floor and scored 15 points in 23 minutes of action – but its possible that he'll be away from the basket more this year. Attempting three shots from beyond the arc in the game, Sullinger knocked down one of them while showing off his pretty form on his jump shot. Also, he was in different areas on the floor at times than we're used to seeing him, which could make for some defensive problems for opponents.
But at the end of the day Sullinger is going to be Sullinger. He was banging inside the paint, he grabbed six rebounds and he had two blocks. Reports that he kind of went through the motions in Ohio State's scrimmage against Ohio came to light, but that certainly wasn't the case against Walsh. A more improved player with a seemingly more diverse game, Sullinger could really take his game – and Ohio State – to an entirely new level.
• Aaron Craft's defense is back - Matta told the media a story in the postgame press conference that he used Craft in a demonstration during practice when showing other big men how to guard the post. Apparently Craft did a good enough job in the demonstration to prove Matta's point about how to get on the floor and stay on the floor. Matta said that Craft's defense makes it nearly impossible to take him off the floor and he used the sophomore guard as a tool to show the younger players on the team what it is going to take to earn minutes on this squad.
Despite it being an exhibition game, Craft was diving for balls and playing that same pesky defense for which he became synonymous a year ago. In just 22 minutes he came up with four steals and had more than one instance of floor burn diving for balls he had little chance at grabbing. In all Matta said that he was taken back about how well Craft played defensively, saying that was, "Well, Aaron being Aaron."
• William Buford confidence is back - The last show Buford took was a missed 3-point attempt that sent Ohio State home early in last year's Sweet 16 a year ago. On Ohio State's first possession, Buford knocked down a shot from long range in a statement that just screamed he's ready to go. Buford was aggressive offensively all evening and ended up leading the team with 17 points. Buford also grabbed four rebounds, had five assists and two steals. The senior knows his role and he looks primed to take over games this season.
• Deshaun Thomas didn't dominate like I expected - Before the game I predicted that Thomas would have the type of year that would have him in the NBA in 12 months. In limited time, however, Thomas went 3-of-7 from the field and even demonstrated some of the "quick-trigger" tendencies he was criticized for having last year. While the sample size wasn't enough to really come to a full conclusion on Thomas, his seven points and three rebounds weren't quite what I expected to see out of him in his first game as a starter at Ohio State.
• Evan Ravenel's rebounding ability - Matta spoke in the preseason about the importance of Ravenel coming in, providing defense and hitting the boards hard. While there was some anxiousness about how the team would survive without having a guy like Dallas Lauderdale to come off the bench, Ravenel was more impressive in his Ohio State debut than anyone could have imagined. Despite playing only 11 minutes – which is the range he'll like play during the regular season – the redshirt junior lead the team with eight rebounds. Perhaps the most important stat not to forget is that he also took two charges and added four points. That's exactly the type of game that Matta is going to need from Ravenel off the bench so he has to be pleased with the effort he saw in the big man's first minutes as a Buckeye.
• Sam Thompson's athleticism - At Big Ten Media Days Matta said that Thompson could be the most athletic kid he has ever coached and we saw some evidence that warranted those comments against Walsh. An extremely long player, Thompson filled up the box score with nine points (off 4-of-4 shooting), five rebounds, three assists, two blocks and four steals. While there's no telling how his numbers would have translated had Ohio State been facing a tougher opponent, the first time it seemed as if there was something special was in the first few minutes he was on the court he came up with a block when it seemed like he was out of range. Thompson has been somewhat overlooked in the preseason and it is hard to come away watching him in his first action anything but impressed. The numbers are there to prove it.
• Lenzelle Smith Jr. gets the start - People had been hyping up Smith all preseason and Matta proved that was more than just all talk when inserting the sophomore into the starting lineup. In 23 minutes of action we saw what Matta liked about Smith, particularly because the shooting guard had more rebounds (eight) than he did points (six). The shooting guard position is going to be one to watch for all year, but it looks like Smith has the inside track to earning a big chunk of playing time for the Buckeyes right now.
• Jordan Sibert will get on the floor if he can shoot the three – At Ohio State hoops media day Sibert told me he knew there was no way he'd be able to replace what Jon Diebler brought to this team a year ago but he knew if he could be consistent from long range that would be his ticket onto the floor. Having worked on his shot the entire offseason, Sibert came in and knocked down 4-of-5 attempts from long range in only 16 minutes. If he can play some defense and shoot that consistently, he'll get his time on the floor this season. The Buckeyes are desperately looking for guys to help them with shots from beyond the arc – and the looks will come – and Sibert could be the leading candidate to hurt opposing teams from long range.
• Point, guarded? - The biggest prediction of the preseason was that Shannon Scott would get the start at point guard and Craft would start at shooting guard. Matta, however, proved he wasn't quite ready to trust Scott in that role just yet. Though he came off the bench in the first media timeout – a place Scott will likely check in in most games like Craft did a year ago – the head coach did mention some jitters out of the young freshman. In 20 minutes of action, Scott turned the ball over five times and was just 1-of-5 from the floor. It wasn't a glamorous debut, but if he settles down he'll likely get a big role.
• Getting it done - Simply put, Ohio State did the things needed to win games. They outrebounded Walsh 46-22 and forced the Cavs to turn the ball over 19 times. Conversely, Ohio State had 13 turnovers, which is a little too much for Matta's liking.
• Free throw line woes - Ohio State ran into trouble last year from the free throw line and today it shot only 12-of-24 from the charity stripe. Matta wants to pull out what hair he has left when his teams shoot only 50 percent from the free throw line. Leaving 12 points out there could be the difference in a game come Big Ten play.
• Raw before ready - I predicted that Amir Williams would be a starter about a month ago but right now I think that was a little premature. Though he is a huge specimen it is clear that he needs to gain some strength and defensive maturity before he can be considered a long-term post player on this team. Don't forget he's a freshman that can jump out of the building, but it will take time before Matta trust him with shut a role.
• J.D. Weatherspoon looked really solid - When he was on the floor Weatherspoon was making plays. In just 11 minutes of action he went 6-of-7 from the floor and had 13 points. His athleticism has always been an attractive thing to Matta, but he too could be a ways from cracking the regular rotation and it is all about the defensive side of things. A poster on the message board predicted big things from him in the coming years as an "elder statesman" and I believe that's what is in his future. I am still unsure of what his role will be on this year's team.
• Matta shed a tear - When seeing some of the defensive breakdowns and thinking "David Lighty would have gotten there." That may be a regular occurrence as his youthful squad irons out the kinks of playing college basketball.
• The bench was long - Matta said after the game that they've played with so many lineups during practice and he did play just about everyone in the exhibition. But how much of that was because it was a "dress rehearsal." We'll get a real feel for Matta's rotation Friday against Wright State.