OSU-UNC Postgame Analysis

It was close - but not close enough for Ohio State Wednesday. Playing in front of a sellout crowd against No. 1 North Carolina in the Big Ten - ACC Challenge, the Buckeyes saw a 3-point halftime lead flounder into a double-digit loss. The cold shooting and lopsided rebounding spelled doom for the Buckeyes. Kyle Lamb examines what happened en route to the Tar Heels' victory.

It was only five games into the season, but there were already missing persons report out on Ohio State freshman guard Jon Diebler. The search is over.

Wednesday night in the Big Ten - ACC Challenge, Diebler - and his shot, turned up in a big way with 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting. Despite the rookie's herculean effort - which included a 3-pointer from East campus and a fall-away, buzzer-beating bank shot to end the fist half, the Buckeyes fell to the deeper, more experienced North Carolina club 66-55.

It was one small moral victory for Ohio State (4-2), but one giant leap for the all-time Ohio scoring leader who pranced around like he just had three cans of Red Bull after each made 3-pointer (four total in the first half.)

Here's the bad news Ohio State fans: the Buckeyes shot a dismal 19-of-70 from the field (27 percent), 10-of-33 from behind the arc (30 percent) and for added insult to injury, was out-rebounded 58-42. Nearly tear-jerking when you consider it was a near replica of the numbers put up against Texas A&M in a blowout loss a week ago.

Now, for a bit of good news...Diebler's emergence, should it continue, could mean another perimeter scoring option to a team in dire need of one. His 5-of-14 from 3-point range (36 percent), is about what he shot last season as a high school senior. However, his (beyond) NBA range, quick release and great elevation remind yours truly of J.J. Redick, just purely in terms of shooting form and mentality. Diebler showed Wednesday evening why he averaged 41 points last season - his ability to light up the scoreboard with bundles of points at a time, much like Redick did during his career at Duke.

Point guard Jamar Butler, now Ohio State's all-time leading 3-point shooter, finished his freshman campaign 14-of-61 from long-range (23 percent). Last night's blip on the radar by Diebler leaves him 7-of-38 from 3-point terrritory (18 percent), but was the first real sign of gaining confidence in his shot.

With Diebler getting the monkey off his back for a game or two, so to speak, now everyone's attention turns to 7-1 gigantic freshman sensation Kosta Koufos, who for the last few games, has been something less than sensational.

Koufos struggled Wednesday against All-American Tyler Hansbrough and his frontcourt sidekicks, Deon Thompson and Alex Stepheson. The McDonald's All-American was just 1-of-10 from the field with 4 points and three rebounds in 27 minutes of action. Guess Ohio State head coach Thad Matta was correct in warning of singing Koufos's praises too much early in his career.

The performances, or lack thereof, by Koufos against Texas A&M and North Carolina were not an indictment of being less than advertised, but rather, the stunning reminder he's just a freshman merely six games deep into his career. It just happened rather abruptly for Buckeye fans after his 20-point per game and nine rebound performances early, to see it suddenly yanked away, causing them to feel like Wile E. Coyote running into a painted brick wall chasing after Roadrunner.

It seems as though the 2007-08 Ohio State basketball team, in its infinite youth, will have a true case of split personality. World-beaters one day and struggle mightily the next.

Heck, even Wednesday was a tale of two halves for Ohio State fans, who probably returned to their seats in Value City Arena in the second half to feel they were watching an entirely different team than the one that led 32-29 at the break. But turnovers, rebounding and especially poor shooting yanked the carpet from underneath the Buckeyes' feets and gave North Carolina a double-digit lead fairly quickly.

It will be a steady climb for the Buckeyes this season. Even despite their bi-polar nature, this OSU team should be good for 20-plus wins and a top three or four finish in the Big Ten. But not until it finds a level of consistency, which could happen with experience, will it contend for a conference title or (potentially), another Final Four.

That consistency will hinge on two things: shooting and rebounding.

But let's examine why these things are problematic.

First, What North Carolina Did Right; What Ohio State Did Wrong

* The rebounding by Ohio State has been a season-long problem. Some extra issue has been created due to the zone defense being employed by Matta. Last season, Ohio State used man-to-man defense for a majority of the season - giving each player a designated person to box-out. This year, however, a 3-2 and 1-2-2 zone (as seen last night), has caused problems with backside rebounding and especially, North Carolina sneaking down the baseline for second and third chances on Wednesday.

* The rebounding issue was even worse against the Tar Heels because of the threat of the secondary break. It was obvious in Ohio State's body language after a missed shot that Matta had drilled it into their heads they should get back on defense quickly. While Ohio State did take this advice to heart, and did not really get burnt on the secondary break more than a few occasions, it sometimes led to Ohio State having no one to chase down an offensive rebound. Considering Ohio State was hitting on just a quarter of their shots, this led to a ton of empty possessions.

* Beyond the shooting woes lies a deeper problem: patience. A lion's share of the missed shots came on possessions where a player pulled the trigger after no more than one or two passes. Sometimes a shot was taken with a player wide open on the baseline, sometimes there was an open lane to penetrate, and sometimes, one or two passes simply would have resulted in a better look. It's not even that some of these shots weren't "open," per se, but rushed looks usually tend to result in lower shooting percentages. As Ohio State begins to gel, assuming they do, there will be more patience on the offensive end, better ball movement and better chemistry in finding open teammates. I believe the Buckeyes also have abandoned Othello Hunter down low, and at times, even Koufos could have benefitted from a timely entry pass.

* Credit North Carolina for defending Butler in the second half. In the first half, Butler created shots at will, often beating UNC defenders right off his first dribble. In the second half, however, Tywon Lawson's back-up Bobby Frasor defended Butler and allowed him very few open looks and very few dribble-drives. When Butler did sneak by Frasor, the Tar Heels did a phenomenal job of helping off to block penetration.

* Another problem exhibited by the Buckeyes Wednesday was shot-selection. In addition to the quick shots mentioned above, there were several instances by David Lighty, Koufos, Hunter and Butler where an attempt to get to the basket was made, shut off, and the player was left with a terrible angle. Instead of teammates coming to the rescue to demand the ball and reset the offense, a poor shot was attempted resulting in yet another one-and-out. I believe in both the cases of Texas A&M and North Carolina, this was caused because of young players trying to force shots hoping to right the scoreboard too quickly.

* Though Ohio State did an admirable job on Hansbrough, I thought Thompson's job on the boards and Wayne Ellington's shooting were the stories of the game. Every time North Carolina needed a shot to stop any sort of bleeding, Ellington was there with a back-breaker. The 6-4 sophomore had a career-high 23 points along with eight rebounds. While the rest of Ellington's teammates were just 1-of-11 from 3-point range, Ellington was 4-of-7. The biggest came with just under four minutes remaining: when Ohio State had cut the 14-point lead down to six, Ellington countered with a long three with just three seconds left on the shot clock and a hand in his face. That shot pretty much killed any and all momentum the Buckeyes had trying to come back.

What Ohio State Did Right; What North Carolina Did Wrong

* If there was a bigger story offensively than Diebler's break-out, it was the senior Butler's aggressive play. Ohio State fans have clammored for the last three years to see a more aggressive Butler penetrate at-will. Certainly Butler is no Mike Conley when it comes to penetration, but Butler has often acquiesced completely to the outside jump-shot, often bypassing the opportunity in full. If Ohio State wants to right the ship and live up to its level of talent this season, Butler needs to continue that same mentality.

* I cannot say enough about Ohio State's interior defense Wednesday. Koufos, Hunter, Matt Terwilliger and especially, Dallas Lauderdale all did the yeoman's job on Hansbrough and Thompson on the block. The Buckeyes often denied the entry all-together, rotated down against the high-low and rarely if at all succumbed to the tempting shot-fakes aimed at drawing Buckeye defenders off their feet - a trademark of Hansbrough. Most of Hansbrough's damage (13 points) came off of second-chances, scrums where he picked the ball up and scored or deflections that he slammed home. As a testament to the job Ohio State did in defending him, Hansbrough finished just 6-of-19 from the field.

* A concern of North Carolina should be defending penetration. Though Frasor came to the rescue late, if he's on the bench in favor of Lawson, I wonder if Carolina is equally as successful at stopping it. Stepheson deserves a pat on the back for his job in helping all night - both against oncoming guards and defending the Buckeyes' frontcourt players. However, Ohio State gave other teams a potential template for success when North Carolina is pressing man-to-man beyond the 3-point line: spread them out and drive.

* In case you didn't notice Hunter, as he was lost within the offensive flow, he turned in a great performance last night: 6 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks. Hunter was the only presence on the boards for Ohio State, and really needs to be a larger portion of the Buckeye offense. Though UNC rarely doubled upon entry Wednesday, the way the Tar Heels elected to help off from down low gave Ohio State a perfect opportunity to utilize the high-low seen a few games prior. With Koufos' struggles, I'm surprised Ohio State didn't play that to their advantage and draw-up some baseline screens for Hunter to feed off Koufos. Nonetheless, Hunter played one of his best all-around games as a Buckeye.

Ohio State now must re-group and continue the learning curve. Games against Florida, Illinois, Michigan State and Tennessee loom later on the horizon. However, the slate doesn't get much easier in the interim. Saturday, the Buckeyes have to hit the road and face a very tough Butler team at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse.

Butler is the epitome of experience. The Bulldogs' top three scorers all average over 15 points per game and all three are seniors. Those three - A.J. Graves, Mike Green and Pete Campbell, provide a steady scoring punch to ease the transition of terrific freshman forward Matt Howard, who was a coupe in a recruiting battle against Xaver, Purdue and Indiana.

Stopping Butler won't be an easy task. The three seniors all shoot over 50 percent from 3-point range, and have put on a shooting clinic thus far this season. As a team, the 6-0 Butler is shooting 47 percent from behind the arc on their way to victories against Michigan, Virginia Tech and Texas Tech. However, while it's safe to say Ohio State is in for a tough test, it's equally fair to say Butler has yet to face a team as talented as the Buckeyes.

I tend to expect more 3-2 zone against Butler Saturday evening. Without the thread of a post presence like Hansbrough or DeAndre Jordan, the Buckeyes can concentrate more on stopping the outside shot. Beating Butler may not seem like a high-profile victory, but it's one that would be impressive given their experience and having homecourt advantage.

But hey, at least Diebler is no longer missing. Getting him back, if he was ever really gone, would be a tremendous boost.

Buckeye Sports Top Stories