One season ago, Ohio State basketball fans were undoubtedly spoiled. Yes, it's true the Buckeyes had just one returning starter from the year before (Jamar Butler). And yes, the Buckeyes had five newcomers to collegiate basketball.
But these group of four freshmen and a junior college
transfer were not ordinary.
Ohio State rode the diaper dandies all the
way to the National Championship game, before falling to two-time champ Florida.
The Final Four appearance and Big Ten Championship, the second straight outright
title, capped off a 35-4 campaign - best in school history.
seven-and-a-half months to the Buckeyes' 68-54 victory against Columbia in the
second around of the Preseason NIT.
Ironically enough, Ohio State's first
round victory (91-68 against Wisconsin-Green Bay) was likely more impressive
against what is, at least on paper, a better opponent. But that's where last
season's success has OSU fans a bit pampered.
From one night to the next,
you often don't know what you're going to get from a young, inexperienced team.
Just as Ohio State's first exhibition against Ashland was nothing less than
sturdy, the second time out against Findlay - a loss to a Division II team, was
less-than-spectacular. So it's no surprise that as Ohio State bounced back in a
big way against a formidable Wisconsin-Green Bay, the group of five freshmen and
a JUCO guard took a smallish step back on Tuesday night against
But only a tiny bit.
Though the margin of victory was
significantly less than Monday, and sure, there were plenty of snafus along the
way, Ohio State also showed some teeny-weeny signs of life for the second
consecutive evening. Playing Columbia in the (allegedly) friendly confines of
the Schottenstein Center is hardly comprable to a visit to Evanston against
Northwestern, let alone Breslin against Michigan State or in Bloomington versus
Nonetheless, Ohio State took a small step in the right
direction with their perimeter defense - which has thus far been dreadful. For
the third time in four games including two exhibition affairs, the
Buckeyes allowed double-digit 3-pointers by the opponent. But here's the
catch... statistically speaking, the defense hasn't been as bad (on paper) as it
Yes, Ohio State has given up games of 10 (three times) and seven
threes, but in four games, opponents have also attempted 124 3-pointers against
the Buckeyes. That's a modest 29.8 percent. The flip side of the coin is that
while it's a lot of attempts, perhaps there's more than meets the
First, The Good
* Ohio State forcing a lot
of outside jumpers is an indication that their interior defense is doing its
job. Is there any question that the tandem of Othello Hunter, Kosta Koufos and
Dallas Lauderdale has been rather imposing just a few weeks into the season?
There is no Greg Oden back there to intimidate opponents this season, but so far
so good for these three.
* Scoring has picked up the last two games when
it's been necessary. Butler, Koufos, Hunter and David Lighty appear to be the
cornerstones of Ohio State's offensive weaponry for the 2007-08 season. Through
a pair of games, Koufos is averaging 18.5 points, Butler 17.5 points and Lighty
17. Hunter is adding 12 a game. Extended to include exhibition games, Koufos is
averaging 18 points, Butler 16.3, Lighty 13 and Hunter 9.8. That's great balance
to have four scorers essentially in double-figures.
* Ball control has
been good so far in three of four contests. Ohio State committed just seven
turnovers Monday evening and 12 turnovers on Tuesday. The question, however, is
how Ohio State will handle half-court and full-court pressure this season -
especially if Butler is taking a breather or on the bench with foul
* The hats-off for Tuesday's game goes to guard Evan Turner. The freshman from Chicago played a surprising 24 minutes, logging 6
points, five rebounds and three assists. Turner even played with the ball in his
hands for several stretches. This is a key point to make for later down the line
as P.J. Hill played only the final minute of the game.
* Butler played
aggressively and had a second-consecutive All-Big Ten performance. That's the
Now, The Bad
* ...the bad news,
however, is that while Butler played another good game against Columbia, 11 of
his 12 field goal attempts were from 3-point range. It's true that Butler did
also convert on all four attempts from the free throw line, and made some things
happen with his court awareness, but that said, I still want to see him have a
game where he goes wild with the ball in his hand.
rebounding, especially on the defensive end, has been problematic at times so
far. Ohio State allowed nine offensive rebounds to a smaller, less athletic
Columbia frontline. One of the repeat offenders has been Matt Terwilliger and
sometimes an inability to locate and box-out an offensive player.
seven players had double-digit minutes on Tuesday with one of them, Terwilliger,
getting only 10. Lauderdale squeezed some meaningful minutes in as well, but
picked up two personal fouls in six minutes of action. This could be a sign that
head coach Thad Matta isn't comfortable with his depth just yet. Can/will Hill
and Eric Wallace find their way into the regular rotation by season's end?
* Aside from great balance with the aforementioned four offensive
players, who else can step up for the Buckeyes if one or two of them are having
a bad game? Additionally, can any or all of them consistently step up
when Ohio State needs it the most. Beyond those four, it doesn't appear Ohio
State yet has more than four guys able to score often.
* That leads us to
Jon Diebler. So far, Diebler's transition from all-time leading scorer in the
Ohio high school ranks to major college basketball can be graded probably no
better than a C+. Diebler is just 1-of-10 in two games since making his
debut and went 6-of-14 in preseason. His assist-to-turnover ratio (1-to-1) thus
far (four assists and turnovers apiece) make it seem like he's had a pedestrian
start to his career. So far, he's certainly failed to establish himself. The
reason is two-fold: a) he's still gaining confidence and b) he's trying to find
his niche within the Ohio State offensive sets. Diebler has the skills (shot,
quickness, mindset and IQ) to be successful even by season's end. However, for
Ohio State to reach any sort of lofty goals this year, it needs Diebler
Summing It All Up
Now the fun begins for
the Buckeyes. It's off to Madison Square Garden to face an equally young (though
especially talented) Syracuse. The Orangemen are ranked No. 25 nationally and
advanced by beating a pesky St. Joe's.
Win or lose, Ohio State will face
either Washington or Texas A&M after their game against Syracuse. These
games on a neutral floor, combined with blockbuster games against North Carolina, Florida and Tennessee should more than prepare them for the Big Ten
and (possibly) the NCAA Tournament later in the season.
Koufos has been
nothing less than one of the top freshmen in the nation through a pair of games.
With he and Hunter performing at a high level, Lauderdale contributing early and
Terwilliger as a veteran sub, the Buckeyes certainly have some punch in the
As for the backcourt, Butler is shooting and dishing it out,
he just needs to take over games when need be. So far, the biggest plus for the
Buckeyes is that Lighty is picking right up where he left off in the NCAA
Tournament last season. Lighty is scoring, rebounding, passing, playing defense,
hustling and making all sorts of plays for Ohio State. The sophomore appears he
will be one of the league's best this season.
There are a lot of ifs, a
lot of buts and many more unknowns for Ohio State this season. The Buckeyes have
already flirted with disaster, had the taste of defeat and learned some lessons
the hard way. That's not necessarily a bad thing for a young team.
they get Syracuse.
Game Observations: Ohio State vs. Columbia
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