Anxiously waiting to see how his team would respond in its first real test of the season, Matta instead saw some of the key elements that made the Buckeyes (2-0) one of the best teams in the nation a year ago come back to life.
Following are some observations from Ohio State's triumph over the Gators in the latest version of View From Press Row:
Aaron Craft could make a case for point guard in the country - Florida head coach Billy Donovan said after the game that he thinks Craft is as good as any other at the position in the nation. He said that Craft handled the press and bullied Florida's guards the entire game, dominating the feel of the contest from start to finish.
But the thing you have to love the most about the sophomore is just the way he plays the game. It can't be said enough that he is out there playing with tons of heart, diving for loose balls, grabbing boards and being an all-around defensive pest. It will be hard for Matta to take him off the floor, as he had 13 points, seven assists, a block, three rebounds and three steals. He simply means everything to this team and it is almost unbelievable how good he's become so soon. That explains why he played 37 minutes.
Need proof for why Lenzelle Smith is the starter? The statistics don't necessarily tell the story with Smith, but he is on the floor for two reasons. First, Smith sports incredible length and that makes him a commodity on the defensive end – which Matta loves. Second, he just has a knack for grabbing rebounds. Though he didn't necessarily fill up the box score, Smith showed against a top-10 team that he is growing into an all-around player. Though he scored only six points in 26 minutes, Smith showed elements of what Matta loves in a player. It is safe to assume he'll only get better as the season progresses, but he has a lot of potential to be someone who provides a little bit of everything out there. Sound familiar?
Evan Ravenel couldn't have played better - No disrespect intended to Dallas Lauderdale, but its possible Ohio State found the perfect big role player for this year's team. Ravenel came into the season a little bit of an unknown, but what we've found out about him is that he is incredibly active on defense, has a good fight to get offensive boards and is much more capable offensively than Lauderdale was. In 14 minutes on the floor, Ravenel went 3-for-3, scored seven points, had a steal and took a charge.
Most importantly, there was a stretch in the second half where Jared Sullinger was off the floor for almost six minutes and Ohio State added three points. That's all because of Ravenel and if he can provide that all season it will be invaluable to this team, particularly because there will be times where Sullinger gets in foul trouble and the Buckeyes will need reliable support down low off the bench. Sullinger said Ravenel did simply what he always does in practice. If that's the case, he may have been a very overlooked piece to the puzzle.
Jordan Sibert needs to step up — Or he is going to start losing minutes. With one spurt where he picked up three fouls in 10 minutes, Sibert just needs to settle down and play a little harder on defense. The key to him getting on the floor is to play solid defensively and provide some shots from beyond the arc. He knocked down 1-of-2 shots from long range, but there was a little left to be desired with his game out there.
Deshaun Thomas had a so-so game — If you take a look at the numbers, Thomas had a solid game. He scored 15 points and had six rebounds and Matta said he played better in the second half. However, it was hard to ignore some of his defensive issues in the first half and I caught him a few times not boxing out on defense. Those are the hustle plays that are going to make all the difference in his game. My advice to him is to quit worrying about scoring so much and just focus on the little things. Playing hard on defense and grabbing boards is what will lead to scoring.
Shannon Scott will get his chance — Scott played only three minutes in the game, but that's likely because things were working with Craft on the floor in breaking Florida's press. I was very curious to see what he could do out there against the pressure the Gators were going to show, but things were working too well with Craft and Smith on the floor together. That being said, Matta seemed pleased with what he saw in limited time and it seems as if he'll start seeing his playing time increase more and more against some of the opponents coming up on Ohio State's schedule.
Little things make the difference — Ohio State made 27-of-34 free throws. Florida made 13-of-21. Ohio State turned it over only seven times. Florida turned it over 16 times. When those two categories are as lopsided as that, the team in favor is going to win 90 percent of the time.
Matta still has some trust to earn — The head coach didn't play as many players as he did in the exhibition game against Walsh or the season-opener against Wright State. Though the bench will continue to expand in the non-conference, the players who got into Matta's rotation are the ones he currently trusts. For guys like J.D. Weatherspoon, Sam Thompson and Amir Williams, it may take a little longer before he is quick to pull them off the pine.
Hand it to William Buford — After the game he addressed the team to stay motivated, even if certain players didn't get into the game. He was assertive offensively in scoring 21 points, but it is his leadership that has taken on an even bigger role. The one thing I noticed about Buford's game is that he seems more willing to drive the lane and create contact. He continues to grow into a good all-around player.