OSU Still Learning To Run

Without Jared Sullinger in the lineup, the OSU basketball team has put an emphasis on playing at a faster rate this season. However, the Buckeyes understand that learning to run isn't something that happens overnight. Three games into the season, the Buckeyes know they must grow before it is completely comfortable with their new up-tempo pace.

For much of Ohio State's basketball team, playing at the collegiate level meant learning an entirely different game from the one they fell in love with on playgrounds and in gyms during childhood.

That was specifically the case during the course of the past two seasons when the Buckeyes had Jared Sullinger on the roster, making it a must for the rest of the team to conform to a slower offensive style that emphasized that All-America big man making plays in the paint.

"As kids, I think a lot of us just liked going out there and getting up the floor and doing exciting things with the ball in our hands," sophomore forward LaQuinton Ross told BSB. "There are a lot of athletic players like me on this team, and we all are capable of running up and down the floor and scoring in different ways.

"Back in the day, basketball wasn't as structured as it is now. You just kind of got the ball and did what you felt was right to score. We have all had a lot to learn, but it has been a positive thing for all of us."

The common expectation for this year's Ohio State team is that the Buckeyes will rely on such athletic players as Ross to simply follow their instincts, even if that sometimes occurs out of the flow of the offense.

While that might be somewhat true at times when the Buckeyes are in transition, the new running mentality the team will adopt doesn't veer from the structured base OSU has come to rely on under head coach Thad Matta.

"We have to learn to run," sophomore Sam Thompson said. "So many guys think when you want to get up and down the floor that you just roll the ball (out) and just run each way as fast as you can. We still want to stay disciplined when we run and are in the fast break. When we do slow it down, we also have to execute our halfcourt stuff.

"To say that we're going to be a running team doesn't mean we're going to completely abandon our halfcourt principles. We still want to be the best of both worlds."

Without Sullinger camped in the paint or guard William Buford coming off screens to knock down jumpers, Matta has made a point of emphasis to encourage OSU to use its athletic ability to score more easy buckets in transition.

That begins with point guards Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott, both of whom will be encouraged to grab the ball on the defensive end and move it up the floor as quickly as possible.

The rest of the Buckeyes must learn how to make that an effective approach. That means learning proper running lanes in transition, understanding where the open shots can be found on the other end and understanding how to pass with symmetry while moving at a fast rate.

Though it sounds simple enough, keeping up with Craft and Scott will also prove to be a challenge. OSU's offseason workout regimen under strength and conditioning coach Dave Richardson has reflected the urgency to be able to sustain a high level of play for extended periods of time.

"We've been doing marathons, basically," junior shooting guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said. "We joke a lot that this is not cross country. We've seen the track this summer more than I think I've seen the court. But that's preparing us for the type of running we're going to do."

Like it always is with Matta, OSU will be only as good as it is on defense. That's particularly the case this season because the Buckeyes must create turnovers and force the opposition to take quick shots in order to set up opportunities in transition.

"I do want this team to play fast," Matta said. "I want to get out, I want to go, I want to utilize our abilities."

Given that Ohio State has been accustomed the past two seasons to playing a slower style with Sullinger, learning to run has become the chief offseason task. Even three games into the season the team isn't comfortable with its running principles.

"I don't think people actually realize how smart of a team you have to be to play up and down like that," Smith said. "We are absolutely going to have to learn to play that style of basketball. We have guys that are capable of doing it, but it is difficult because it is a transition from how we're used to playing."

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