Just three minutes into Saturday's Ohio State 78-57 victory over Cleveland State, the Vikings appeared to be unsure what hit them. Then again, it was obvious the deer-in-a-headlights look was caused by Buckeye freshman center Greg Oden.
By the time Cleveland State scored their first basket with 16:18 left in the first half, Ohio State was up 12-2 and Oden had scored eight quick points, grabbed three rebounds and dished out an assist - on five touches.
Despite playing just 22 minutes on Saturday, plagued with two early fouls that caused him to sit out nearly the last 12 minutes of the first half, Oden finished with 16 points on a perfect 8-of-8 shooting and grabbed four rebounds and blocked three Viking shots. His predecessor and the man that held down fort before his debut, Othello Hunter, added 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as Ohio State held a significant size advantage inside.
The Buckeyes used their large personnel mismatches to outrebound Cleveland State 45-21 on Saturday. Ohio State senior Ivan Harris contributed a career-high 10 rebounds to go with 8 points.
Ohio State was unable to put the game away largely due to Cleveland State's full-court pressure. The Viking aggression led to 19 Ohio State turnovers.
For Ohio State, Saturday was a first on several levels:
* Buckeye fans got their first look at the "Thad Five" on the floor at the same time.
* Oden and Hunter were on the floor as a 4-5 combination for the first time this season.
* Ohio State teammates of Oden got their first in-game look at his ability to pass from the post.
Despite a 21-point victory, Ohio State wasn't without plenty of correctable errors. The game was sloppier than OSU head coach Thad Matta probably would have cared for.
Here are my Saturday observations, starting with the not-so-good:
* Undersized forwards for Cleveland State were extending the perimeter against Ohio State against Hunter, Oden and Matt Terwilliger. None of the three looked comfortable stepping out to guard against the 3-point shot. Against teams like Wisconsin, Northwestern, Purdue and to a lesser extent, Indiana, these vulnerabilities could be exploited.
* For the first time this young season and in his young collegiate career, Cook looked frustrated with his lack of opportunities to score. What's worse is that he showed frustration and played like it. It's not a situation where people should echo the, "is there enough balls for everyone," theory, but it's not a problem Matta wants to see again.
* The freshmen found out quickly how disciplined they need to be in a tightly officiated game. Players have a responsibility to feel out the referees early in the game and adjust. Unfortunately for Ohio State, several of them picked up two quick fouls in the first half before they could even begin to adjust.
* Tendencies for Ivan Harris could be exposed easily on a good scouting report. He's done a nice job this season of expanding his offensive value, but almost always when he takes the ball on the right baseline, he takes a fade-away shot. Almost without exception, he will take any shot from the right baseline - three-point shot or otherwise.
* At least four times today Ohio State attempted a soft entry pass over-the-top to Oden and failed to recognize the help coming from the backside. This directly or indirectly led to a handful of turnovers. As they play with Oden more often, they'll learn to recognize the types of passes they can make and how much zip to put on them.
* Great hustle and terrific rebounding position by Harris on Saturday. Harris was running baseline to baseline to pick up loose balls and blocked out as good as I've seen him in an Ohio State uniform.
* Mike Conley did an exceptional job in the first half penetrating until someone helped off Oden or Hunter. As Cleveland State played more exclusive zone in the second half, the dribble penetration stopped.
* Against a team with only one player over 6-7, Ohio State was aggressive on the boards. They had numerous second and third opportunities.
* Only three times in 22 minutes with Oden on the floor did Cleveland State penetrate the middle. All three times the play resulted in an Oden blocked shot.
* Although Cook had a rough day at the office, he comes off the screen arguably as well as anyone in college basketball this season. The combination of his quick release, elevation on his jumper and great body control make him an explosive scorer.
* If Oden had played 30 minutes, he likely could have scored 30 points. He had maybe a dozen touches, possibly 15 at most, and yet he scored 16 points and left three more at the foul line. The Vikings had no chance to stop him once the ball was in his hands.
With another week for Oden to continue working into the flow of Ohio State's offense, the Buckeyes now prepare for the long-awaited game against the Cincinnati Bearcats. Although for Buckeye and Bearcat fans they must travel next door to Indianapolis to see the game, it will be a homecoming for Oden and his teammate Conley.
Note to UC head coach Mick Cronin: expect a fired up Oden on Saturday.
This particular stretch of games for Ohio State is critical. With UC on Saturday, Iowa State on Tuesday and then Florida in two weeks, the Buckeyes will begin to find more about themselves and their potential with Oden in the lineup. Over the next two games, look for Oden to utilize his right hand more and more. Just from game No. 1 to game No. 2, you could see a world of difference with Oden's comfort level.
For the first time in over 40 years, it's time for Cincinnati-Ohio State.