Thad Matta told reporters in his postgame press conference that his team worked a lot last week on defense. It showed.
The Buckeyes, with a little help from the slumping Cincinnati Bearcats, out-muscled, out-rebounded, out-hustled and out-manned their opponent Saturday en route to a 72-50 win. Ohio State held Cincinnati to 14 first-half points and 26 percent shooting from the field for the entire game.
There were four key components as to why Ohio State was able to pull away: dribble penetration, second-chance points, transition success and cold perimeter shooting by Cincinnati.
The first, dribble penetration, was not as big a key as Matta probably would have liked it to be. To his own admission, the offense was stagnate at times on Saturday. The ball-movement was not always as crisp as previous games and sometimes his players relied too much on stand-still jumpers with a hand in their faces.
As for the frigid Cincinnati shooting (0-of-13 in the first half from three-point range and 2-of-24 overall), some of that was poor ball movement by the Bearcats and a lot of it was the inside presence of 7-footer Greg Oden. Although the Cincinnati players downplayed it after the game, the only points the Bearcats got in the paint Saturday were on runners, weakside putbacks with Oden drawn out to his man or when he simply wasn't in the game. Otherwise, they were virtually shut out inside.
Cincinnati was hoping to get a lot of scoring in transition to neutralize the 7-foot presence in the halfcourt. They failed miserably.
On the plus side for Cincinnati, a lot of credit goes to 6-5 juco transfer John Williamson. The former Marion-Franklin High School standout netted 17 points and grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds as he was relentless inside - especially on the backside.
* The shot selection by Ohio State on Saturday was probably the worst it's been all season. If there's one downside I've seen thus far to having Greg Oden in the lineup (and this is a stretch at best), it's that the ball movement has been good to set up a clean angle for entry passes to Oden inside but it doesn't continue when trying to get an open perimeter look. If the entry is unavailable inside, often 2-3 more passes around the perimeter will free up an open look from the corner or possibly set up an easy baseline layup. Ohio State has to become accustomed to having not only an inside post option but still have the ability to make the extra pass for open shots. There were a handful too many of stand-still jumpers Saturday.
* There are only so many possessions in the course of a game, but David Lighty has become the odd man out offensively. Early in the season he was getting a lot of open looks but for some reason those touches have disappeared. When he does have the ball in his hands, he's not looking to score enough. Lighty is the consumate team player, so this by no means will cause friction or poor chemistry, but he's a talented enough player that he should be able to get his.
* This was a topic mentioned by Thad Matta in the postgame, but when Greg Oden leaves his spot in the middle to attempt to block a shot out on the perimeter or his man is intentionally drawing him outside, Ohio State must be better both defensively and on rebounding on the weakside. He mentioned that NBA scouts had mentioned this to him and it's something he wants the team to work better at. You may wonder why Oden would like to try to block shots outside, but Matta says he actually wants him to, "be a risk-taker on defense." I too like that attitude, but they can't fall asleep on the backside.
* There are still signs of occasional sloppy play here and there. In a game of fewer possessions yesterday than some of the games this season, Ohio State committed nearly 10 turnovers in the second half, many of which were unforced turnovers. You can live with the physical mistakes but when some of them are mental, you need to eliminate those in the future.
* Ohio State is still learning to recognize the double-team in the post on Oden. There were a few times they forced a pass when it was there and a few times they didn't
* Great job by Ohio State on Deonta Vaughn. Matta mentioned they saw in the scouting report that they wanted to force him one direction (which going back and watching the game for a second time, it was to the left). They really neutralized him which left Cincinnati with virtually no perimeter scoring. Everything Cincinnati got (as mentioned above) was on the backside, without Oden in the game or was mid-range.
* The rebounding since the return of Oden has certainly improved although the last three games are extremely misleading as to how effective the Buckeyes might be in that department since their last few opponents have been undersized. Valpo had some bigger kids although they were not physical or athletic enough up front to match-up. Meanwhile, Cleveland State and Cincinnati simply didn't have any size.
* Another great day Saturday for Mike Conley. He had 8 points, eight rebounds and seven assists - with no turnovers. On the season, Conley is averaging 6.5 asissts a game with nearly a 3-to-1 ratio. He's also averaging 9.2 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.6 steals a game.
* For those scoring at home, through 10 games the Ohio State defense is giving up: 62 points a game, 38 percent shooting and 28 percent from three-point range.
* I was again impressed with Othello Hunter Saturday. Once again he was very active inside. He has been playing very well of late. If Hunter continues to improve at this pace, Ohio State is going to be very, very tough late in the year (if they're not already).
Overall, it was a good victory for Ohio State. Now they have a fairly short turnaround for Iowa State and then the big clash with Florida on Saturday. Health and depth are the two big keys for Florida. With Corey Brewer still recovering from mono and Al Hoford having an injured ankle, if the Gators are not completely healthy, it's going to be tough to win. On the other hand, the biggest key for Ohio State will be guarding Joakim Noah. Ivan Harris, Matt Terwilliger and Othello Hunter are the likely people to have to draw that challenge.