Game Observations: Ohio State vs. Columbia

For the second-straight night, Ohio State put its young team on display in front of a cozy audience at Value City Arena. How did they fare? Kyle Lamb chimes in with his customary post-game observations breaking everything down.

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.

Fast forward 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 Columbia.

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 Indiana.

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 seems.

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 eye.

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 difficulties.

* 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 good news...

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.

* Backside 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.

* Only 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 badly.

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 frontcourt.

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.

Now they get Syracuse.

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