Ohio State (11-2, 1-0 Big Ten) plays at No. 11 Illinois and hosts No. 2 Michigan in two of its next three games, so there's a tough road ahead for the Buckeyes. But first, here are some observations from OSU's blowout in the conference opener.
• Lenzelle Smith Jr. can be the difference – We see games like this from Smith every now and then, and it is hard not to ponder what this team would look like if the junior could produce like this on a consistent basis. It may be too much to ask for Smith to go 5-for-7 from beyond the arc and score 17 points like he did against Nebraska, but the junior is certainly capable of producing a shell of that performance in every game. Smith is the glue guy – he plays good defense, grabs rebounds and finds open shooters – but if he could get to the 12- to 15-point average, I think this team is infinitely better.
• Craft didn't score, but – He brings so much to this team. We can pound this subject into the ground, but between the intense defense, the eight assists and three steals against Nebraska, the junior point guard as simply one of the most efficient players on the floor. I do think there's something up with his jumper – he went 0-for-4 with 0 points – but he accounted for points in so many other ways. The play that stands out to me was late in the first half when he darted from under the hoop, poked the ball away from a Nebraska guard by the out-of-bounds line and threw it to Thomas for the easy bucket. He didn't score on that play, but he was the entire reason the bucket was scored.
However, I think there is something to be said about the funk he has been in offensively, particularly because it's easy to remember the five 3-pointers he made in the Buckeyes' season opener. Craft has been a offensive liability at certain points, which is certainly not his game. Once he wakes up and contributes at least eight or 10 points per game, OSU will be in good shape. For now, it is hard to see extended stretches with both Shannon Scott and Craft on the floor against elite teams because then OSU is strapped offensively.
• Amir Williams and Evan Ravenel are a team – Read into Williams' move into the starting lineup as much as you'd like, but the center position is going to be a 1-2 punch the entire season. However, I do like Williams in the starting lineup, even though he has plenty to work on – like growing at least a little strength in his hands. Ravenel is just better off the bench, and I think his energy has been more tangible in the last few games. In 11 minutes off the pine, Ravenel had seven points and two rebounds.
•Sam Thompson's potential is through the roof – We all know about Thompson's freak athleticism – see the one-handed slam he had on an alley-oop late in the game – but his potential to be something great is through the roof. A few times during the game I saw him put the ball on the floor and create his own shot, but he just wasn't able to convert. If he can develop a reliable jumper, he could eventually become one of the best players in the Big Ten. He has it all – he can rebound, he sees the floor well and he can do some pretty insane things from a physical standpoint. Not being able to score with his jumper, however, has made for a hole in his game. He reminds me of Evan Turner in the sense that he has the potential to be a very complete player. Whether he puts it all together remains to be seen.
• Free throw shooting? – Ohio State was 5-for-13 from the free throw line tonight (38.5 percent), and the poor averages from the charity stripe are starting to become a trend. Sometimes these types of things come in waves, and the hope for Matta is that it passes. Poor shooting percentages from the free throw line against some of the best in the conference could cost the Buckeyes a game down the road if it continues.
• Amedeo Della Valle being groomed for small role? – I didn't think Della Valle was going to have much of a role this season, but it looks like Matta is doing what he can to get him some minutes. While I don't think minutes will come for the freshman during closely contested games in the Big Ten, it seems to me that the head coach is trying hard to find some semblance of a scoring threat from beyond the arc. Della Valle was 0-for-3 against the Cornhuskers, but it doesn't seem like Matta has much to lose by throwing the freshman out there when Ohio State has the game in hand.