Ohio State - Ashland Recap

After a magical ride all the way to the National Championship game last season, Ohio State returned to the hardwood Wednesday evening in an exhibition game against Ashland hoping lightning will eventually strike twice. Gone is over 50 points per game from a 35-4 season, but the Buckeyes showed flashes of ability in an 88-59 victory. Kyle Lamb shares his observations of the win.

Thad Matta commented Tuesday that it was a bit "scary" his team was playing the first exhibition game on Halloween. Turns out, Ohio State was doing all the scaring of Ashland.

Ohio State frightened the Division II Ashland into submission Wednesday evening at Value City Arena 88-59, perhaps giving a brief glimpse of the potential Matta's club possesses.

That first glimpse, an impression if you will, was a favorable one. Though folks watching the National Runner-ups in their first game post-Greg Oden on the Big Ten Network should take this meaningless exhibition with a whole truckload of salt, it probably tickeled people pink to see the Buckeyes demonstrate such an explosive arsenal.

For a young, fragile team, the Buckeyes avoided the freshmen jitters that often plague inexperienced clubs. Further, Ohio State also managed to avoid playing down to a lesser team - something that is not totally uncommon for younger rosters (i.e., Michigan State vs. Grand Valley State in 2006-07.)

The thing that particularly stood out in contest numero uno was the athleticism and abillity to score in bunches by this Ohio State squad. By the same token, it would appear, if you wanted to make a very knee-jerk assumption, that Ohio State doesn't necessarily have a lot of star power but rather, a team full of very good players. That, however, can change over the course of a very long season.

For the first postgame wrap of the season, I'll do a little extra in a tidy new format. In addition to the "good & bad" I'll also add a little mustard and spice it up a little further.


* The most important stat of the evening: 23-15. That's the assist-to-turnover ratio, respectable for a young team getting up the floor often Wednesday evening. Fifteen turnovers won't cut it in the Big Ten, and this was only Ashland, but after all, it was the first night out. Jamar Butler accounted for seven assists and just one turnover. His protoge, sophomore JUCO transfer P.J. Hill, had only one assist and three turnovers though he made a favorable impression with the ball in his hands. Evan Turner also dished out four assists in his debut.

* The Buckeyes shot only 18 3-pointers Wednesday out of 64 field goal attempts (28 percent.) This was a good precedent to set for a young team that could easily come out trigger happy.

* If there was an achilles heel, at least for one night, it was most certainly free throw shooting. Ohio State was just 11-of-20 from the charity stripe on Wednesday. That's the bad news. The good news is that Butler, Jon Diebler, Kosta Koufos and David Lighty, the four most likely to account for a lion's share of free throws this season, only combined on four of the 20 attempts. Collectively, these four are likely to shoot over 75 percent from the line.

* Two players with double-digit (12) rebounds. Can you remember seeing that much recently? It happened a few times last season with Oden and Othello Hunter, but with a sizeable frontcourt and athletes on the wing, it may happen somewhat more often this season. More on that in a bit.

What Went Wrong...

* Free throw shooting. The abysmal showing was such a small sample size it's pointless to draw any conclusion, but suffice to say, 55 percent wouldn't cut it over any sort of haul - short or long.

* Also mentioned earlier, turnovers. Fifteen will have to come down but it's a decent benchmark for this early out of the gate. The 23 assists are more encouraging for Ohio State fans, especially when you consider the great deal of entry passes made by OSU guards. All in all, this wasn't such a big issue.

* The other shortcoming by the Buckeyes on Wednesday was perimeter defense. This doesn't figure to be a longterm problem plaguing Matta's team with Butler, Lighty, Turner and Hill, but as evidenced by Ashland's 10-of-34 shooting from 3-point territory, it certainly was for one evening. Ohio State struggled most all night locating their man in transition, recovering off screens and sometimes, simply gave a half-hearted effort to get a hand in the shooter's face. The effort problem, if you want to call it that, will not linger and will quickly be resolved after watching film. The mental mistakes will be corrected with time and experience, though as mentioned, Butler and Lighty should not concern anyone defensively.

* One of Ohio State's strong points, intensity, was also a weakness. Matta spoke earlier in the week of how he didn't want guys celebrating plays they are supposed to make. He also didn't want guys playing with too much energy at the expense of making poor plays. Case in point: Hill grabs a loose ball on the defensive end that was caused by an Eric Wallace strip; Hill takes two dribbles up the floor and tries to force an errant pass to Kyle Madsen who has two defenders flanking him as he's streaking toward the basket. There were several instances of players forcing passes or being too eager to make a play. This is a problem that will also resolve itself with experience, but can be filed away as "mental mistakes."

* Perhaps the curious thing, if not disappointing or bad, is why Butler didn't look to take the ball more often to the basket. In the offseason, Butler recognized, in his words, that he needed to shed some pounds and improve his quickness. Though there are many facets of the game where this will pay dividends, there's no single better way to utilize his newfound quickness than by beating defenders off the dribble. However, Wednesday, Butler often settled for long jumpers as six of his eight shots were from long range and another was a backdoor feed on a break. Understand, this is one game and far from jumping to irrational conclusions, but if I'm looking for one single thing by one single individual that I believe can improve for the better of the team, this would be right up there competing for tops on the list.

What Went Right...

* Shot selection, I thought, was solid throughout the entire game. It would have been expected, and forgiveable, if the Buckeyes hit the floor chucking some il-advised shots. That didn't happen. The team played exciting, unselfish and rather sharp basketball all things considering. That is measuring on a curve, as one may expect.

* In addition to selection, it also appeared this team has a certain chemistry on the floor. The two or three main combinations played by Matta on Wednesday all had their flavors to them but they all looked like they've been there before.

* The substitution patterns by Matta were simple and easy to understand, yet they are genius in their simplicity. Last season, during the exhibition season, Matta toyed with several different combinations looking for the right one(s). Though he had at his disposal only eight healthy scholarship players, he played many more variations. This season, it's blatantly obvious to the casual observer, despite his public stance to the contrary, that a starting five is likely close to decided on. It's hard to argue that Butler, Diebler, Lighty, Koufos and Hunter won't wind up settling in as the routine starters. That being said, the substitution patterns have groomed competition for starting spots, even if they're not all up for grabs and at the same time, fueled said camaraderie within each set of players.

* The coming-out party by Koufos, the 7-1 freshman from Canton GlenOak,who turned down millions in Greece to become a Buckeye, was not unexpected but still had to put a smile on Matta's face. If the Buckeyes want to be contenders in anything this season - Big Ten or nationally, Koufos has to be every bit as good as advertised. Having seen him dozens of times in high school and AAU, I have no doubts that he is, but the more his game carries over to Columbus the better Ohio State becomes.

* One thing that was somewhat evident Wednesday was that Ohio State might have something of a thief mentality. The Buckeyes have a handful of defenders with quick hands and a knack for taking the ball away from the opponent. The flip-side to this coin is that coaches don't want players playing defense with their hands and forming any bad habits, but as long as Ohio State continues to shuffle their feet and maintain a low center of gravity, no one on the OSU coaching staff will soon be filing robbery charges.

A BIG Deal

The story of the evening for Ohio State was the terrific play of the frontcourt. The tandem of Koufos, Hunter, Madsen, Matt Terwilliger and Dallas Lauderdale was nothing short of sensational. The five, all ranging from 6-8 to 7-1, combined on 20-of-30 from the field (66 percent), 47 points, 30 rebounds and three blocked shots.

Koufos and Hunter alone each had 15 points and 12 rebounds apiece while missing a combined five shots on 19 attempts.

This is not to say the group is infaliable. They were, however, facing a smaller and much less talented Ashland front line. Further, there are still some deficiencies on paper.

For Koufos, it's defending quicker big men. For Hunter, it's avoiding foul problems. For Madsen, it's toughness; Terwilliger low-post defense and Lauderdale, hands, footwork and polish. Realistically, while Koufos and Hunter should excel, at worst-case scenario, Ohio State may at least have a few options to log quality minutes in the post when either are on the bench.

While Terwilliger and Madsen are what they are, solid reserves that will spell time, make a few plays one minute and frustrate the next, I was largely impressed with what I saw out of Lauderdale on Wednesday.

Having criticized his production last year, some of it deserved, Lauderdale certainly showed more promise and potential off the bench than perhaps the other two. His modest line: 8 points, a rebound, block and steal don't quite accurately depict his story in 13 minutes of action. On the other hand, it was his defense, positioning on both ends of the court and work within the offense that stood out as favorable. As young players tend to do, he could easily regress the next time taking the floor, but it was a step in the proper direction.

Fresh Faces

Though Lauderdale and Koufos have been discussed, it's prudent to give the newcomers their own section as they comprise over half of the roster.

Here are my thoughts on the other three freshmen and JUCO transfer Hill:

* Turner - Played well but made some mistakes. Normally considered a "lockdown" defender, Turner was visibly thinking too much instead of trusting his instincts. A few times he was caught out of place on defense and offensively, didn't seem too eager to make a lot of plays with the ball in his hands. Still, Turner accounted for 3 points, two rebounds, four assists and a steal in 16 minutes.

* Diebler - Noticeably stronger and quicker, Diebler actually looked comfortable right out of the gate, though his shots weren't necessarily falling (3-of-8). The all-time scoring leader in the state of Ohio had 7 points in 24 minutes. He dished out two assists and didn't turn the ball over once - something that has been an area of concern entering his collegiate career. One reputation that will die hard is the one that Diebler is an erratic shooter with virtually no conscience. Certainly Diebler isn't timid in shooting the ball, but his reputation was one that grew more out of necessity toward his high school team Upper Sandusky than out of sheer desire to chuck up 30 shots a game.

* Wallace -The long, physical specimen didn't disappoint on his own reputation of being a tremendous athlete. Wallace used his quickness and strength to add 7 points (3-of-6 shooting), four rebounds and three steals in just 15 minutes. Wallace was the stat-sheet stuffer of the evening, also adding an assist and two blocks. His success this season may likely hinge on whether he shows any ability and consistency from 3-point range, something he's yet to do in the past.

* Hill - With admittedly low expectations from yours truly, Hill did little to disappoint. If anything, he left a favorable impression on me at first glance. His jumper, having taken just one shot (a made 3-pointer), will be deemed inconclusive until I can see a much bigger sample. But I did feel Hill was decent with the ball, ran the offense rather well, didn't make too many mental mistakes and was at very least, as quick as he was advertised.

Put Me In Coach

In summation, the biggest conclusion I can draw from a meaningless exhibition game, early in the season, against suspect competition and from an even smaller sample is that Ohio State has plenty of talent and a fair share of depth.

Can the talent overcome the inexperience to exceed any sort of lofty expectations? Hard to say. Will the depth be more of quality than just quantity by the time the conference slate rolls around? We'll see. But beyond that, I'd venture a knee-jerk guess that 10-11 players will see the light of day routinely within Matta's rotation and those same 10-11 will be trusted to provide productive minutes during important stretches of games.

Hopefully, no one got any of the truckload of salt we just dumped in open wounds from last year's National Championship or the poor aftertaste left in wake of mass departures. But maybe, just maybe, we're not premature in surmising that Ohio State has, at very least, a chance to be successful this season.

How successful? Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and I'd imagine that likewise, the threshold for satisfying expectations are wide-ranging from one Buckeye fan to another. Since the final score, opponent and timing of this first exhibition are about as worthless as the words I'm typing, let's conclude by saying regardless of your expectations, I would imagine you saw some of what you hoped to see and possibly more.

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