Ohio State remains undefeated, but ongoing issues persisted throughout the No. 7 Buckeyes' win over Wyoming on Monday. Ben Axelrod takes a look at where Ohio State's problems are stemming from, and what Thad Matta's squad needs to work on moving forward and toward Big Ten play.
Some observations from Ohio State's 65-50 win over Wyoming, just as soon as I stop watching these old Larry Nance highlights.
"We haven't probably played as great as we want to, but it's November still." - Buckeyes point guard Aaron Craft.
Craft is right, Ohio State hasn't played as well as it could have in the first two weeks of this season, and that's been evidenced by three closer-than-expected contests against Ohio, American, and now Wyoming. But the Buckeyes have persevered in all three games -- each in different ways -- and I think that there's something to be said for a team showing an ability to weather storms, even this early in the season. Wyoming had OSU on the ropes with fewer than 14 minutes remaining in the game, and the Buckeyes bounced back with a dominant performance in the game's final 10 minutes.
While Ohio State's resiliency was a positive, there has been a glaring issue over the past two weeks for the Buckeyes, and that's the play of LaQuinton Ross. On the season, the junior forward has made just 10 of his 44 shot attempts, with half of those makes coming in OSU's season opener on Nov. 9. Ross again sat out the final stretch of the game -- this time, the contest' last 15 minutes -- a growing trend that has been supported by his inefficiency on the floor. Ross was the only Buckeye to record a negative +/- score against the Cowboys -- a minus-10 at that. A lot of OSU's offensive problems seem to be solvable if Ross could just hit some shots, but there doesn't seem to be much proof that that will happen anytime soon.
Buckeyes head coach Thad Matta on Ross' struggles: "LaQuinton has to trust himself. We're going to get LaQuinton Ross to play better basketball. We'll get him to play at the level that he's capable of playing at. I'm not going to leave his side on that. I think from the standpoint of, as I look at the future of this team, I need Q to be playing. You know, a lot of it is just kind of getting into the flow, getting into the synergy of what we're doing, not fighting things, probably more mentally than physically. We'll find a way to get him playing."
In Ross' absence, however, the Buckeyes seemed to find a lineup that could work moving forward with Sam Thompson replacing him at the power forward position. Alongside Craft, Shannon Scott, Lenzelle Smith Jr., and Amir Williams, Thompson showed the ability to give Ohio State its best defensive lineup, and it was his blocks down the stretch that played a key role in the Buckeyes' final run. Thompson has quietly been OSU's second most consistent player behind Scott early on this season, and his return to the starting lineup could come in the near future.
On the starting lineup, Matta said that he doesn't anticipate a switch happening anytime soon, despite Ross' struggles. That could change in the near future, but for at least Friday's game against North Florida, expect Ross to remain in Ohio State's first five.
In addition to Thompson, how about the play of Williams? For the second consecutive game, he was dominant in both the paint and the boards, positing his second straight double-double with 12 points and 16 rebounds. As Matta pointed out, the Buckeyes need to continue to get production like that from their starting center moving forward, but so far, Williams has been so good on making good on his preseason promise to be vastly improved from a season ago.
Speaking of consistency Scott's jump shot appears to be legitimately improved, as opposed to just a flash in the pan. He hit two 3-pointers early on, which played a role in the Buckeyes keeping up with a Wyoming squad that also got off to a quick start.
I don't think that the same could be said about Smith, despite his 20-point performance that came via five 3-point makes. We've seen Smith play for more than three seasons now, and he is who he is. Streaky might be a better word than inconsistent, but too many times we've seen him follow big offensive outings with unimpressive outings from the field. That was fine when Deshaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger were carrying the scoring loads for the Buckeyes, but it could prove to be a problem should Ross not find his stroke this season.
Craft didn't attempt a shot in the first half, but his 10-point showing in the second looked reminiscent of dominant performances against Michigan State late last season. Craft's outside shot still hasn't lived up to the preseason hype that it was given following its offseason overhaul, but he got to the bucket with ease, which is how he has proven to best be used offensively.
I mentioned Larry Nance Jr.'s father in my opening, but I can't begin tell you how impressed I was with the younger Nance on Monday. A native of Akron, Ohio, Nance Jr. looked a little like his father -- the former Cleveland Cavalier best known for rocking the rims of the Richfield Coliseum. The Revere High School product posted 17 points and 12 rebounds against the Buckeyes in his semi-homecoming, with a number of those baskets coming off of dunks. At one point, OSU assistant Jeff Boals raised his arms in the air, baffled by the ease at which Nance was getting to the rim against his team.
Ending on a positive note for the Buckeyes, the last 10 minutes of action were a thing of beauty from a defensive standpoint. Ohio State didn't allow a single field goal in that timeframe, and the Cowboys made just 15.4 (4 of 26) percent of their shots in the second half. Defense will continue to be this Buckeye team's identity moving forward, but the offense will need to continue to improve as the competition increases moving forward.