First Thoughts from Ohio State's Win Over Florida
By Tony Gerdeman
Thought One: It's early, but in Ohio State's 81-74 win over the Florida Gators, we saw who had earned Thad Matta's trust to this point, and who had not. With whispers and wishes of a nine or ten-man rotation—in a game where every point mattered—Matta went with just seven players in his lineup. Freshman Shannon Scott only played a few minutes to end the first half, and that was only because Aaron Craft picked up his second foul.
I have to wonder if he would have ever even seen the court had Craft not gotten into foul trouble. He will eventually play more this season, as will Sam Thompson, but the game was too big and the freshmen are just too young right now. This game came too early for the youngsters to have a say. They will earn their time as the season goes on, but first they'll have to earn Thad Matta's trust.
Thought Two: It didn't take long for everybody to realize that Deshaun Thomas is not David Lighty. For the second game in a row, an opposing offense went after Thomas on defense, and they were rewarded for it. The Buckeyes are going to have trouble with power forwards who can shoot the ball all season long because Thomas doesn't always pay attention, and Evan Ravenel tends to pay too much attention to the paint.
It almost doesn't need to be mentioned because everybody knows this already, but if Thomas is going to be on the floor, his offense is going to have to make up for his defense. Perhaps that's why he's so quick to shoot—he is trying to show Thad Matta how valuable he is. When he starts missing shots, he then has to try to make up for it by taking more shots. There's a certain snowball effect that will have to be ironed out here. The bottom line is that he is too talented to be a liability, but sometimes it's hard to tell.
Thought Three: While we're on the subject of new starters, I love watching Lenzelle Smith, and it's easy to see why he's out there. David Lighty's not coming through that door folks, but the type of game that Smith brings will remind many of Lighty's full-court tenacity.
Smith has “Go Go Gadget” arms that can traverse almost any passing lane, and he also has a desire to make plays away from the ball. He's a little iffy offensively at the moment, which only furthers the Lighty comparisons. They are completely different players, but they have the same mentality, and on a team full of talented players, you need some of those players to have the proper head on their shoulders. Smith is one of those players.
Smith and Aaron Craft have to form one of the top defensive backcourts in the nation. Combined with William Buford, the three Buckeye guards held Florida's three starting guards to just six assists, and forced eleven turnovers. They also had six steals. Craft himself had three of those steals. He is essentially a biological paint thinner because he was stripping everything in this game. A few of those strips led to turnovers, but I would expect even more to go in the Buckeyes' favor as the season goes on.
Thought Four: I think I've said this before, but if Aaron Craft played for Duke, he would be the most hated player in the nation. As it stands, he will probably be in the top five by the end of the season. Everybody loves his defense, but I think he's a better offensive player than people are expecting. With the way he can get to the basket, he should score double figures every time out. He gets too many good looks, and gets fouled way too often not to capitalize with easy points. Even if the three pointers never come (they will), Craft should always be putting twelve points on the board.
While the guards had their defensive moments, there were still plenty of struggles with the on-ball defense in the first half. It also looked like they had never seen the pick and roll before. Things got rectified in the second half, but it's still something that is concerning. Though it was encouraging to see absolutely zero panic from this team when they were down early and Florida was hitting their shots.
One large aspect of the defense that the team is going to have to get used to is the fact that there is nobody waiting in the paint to clean up their defensive mistakes. In the past, if they got beat off the dribble, it was okay because Dallas Lauderdale was waiting to send the shot into the sixth row (please, no Bauserman jokes). But those days are gone. Evan Ravenel, who showed tremendous energy, will get some blocks this year, but nobody is avoiding the paint because Ravenel is lying in wait.
Thought Five: Speaking of Ravenel, I loved the offensive game that he showed. Not just around the basket, but also with a floater in the paint, as well as a baseline jumper. If you can get one of those three from a big body, you take it. But if Ravenel is going to provide all three, then Matta has certainly found a productive role player for his Buckeyes, though only grabbing one rebound is a concern.
Thought Six: There are four legitimate offensive threats on this basketball team, and when Jordan Sibert is in the game, he needs to be number five. He doesn't need to be Jon Diebler, but he does have to hit open shots. He was 1-2 from three against Florida and looked comfortable and confident. That's exactly what he needs to be in order to make defenses pay attention to him. If he's going to be playing the two-man game with Jared Sullinger in the post, he needs to hit over 50% of his three pointers in those situations. He certainly has the touch to do it, but will he have the nerve?
Thought Seven: Lastly, since the offense treated Jared Sullinger like an afterthought, I may as well too. He only took eight shots against Florida. It was the fourth-highest total on the roster. Yes, a few of his shots were wiped out when he got fouled, but there should rarely be three other players who are taking more shots than Sullinger. Florida did a fantastic job of doubling him, and he was patient throughout the entire game, but eight shots just isn't enough.
He doesn't even necessarily need to shoot it when he touches it, but given the double teams that he receives, and his ability to find the open man, he absolutely needs more touches than he got against the Gators. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, when he isn't getting touches, at least it's because there are other talented players who need shots as well. But that doesn't mean it needs to become a habit.
Thought Eight: Oh, and as a postscript, is there anything prettier than William Buford's shot when he's on? The net wasn't even moving at times. The shot would go up, come down, and the net would be like, “Pfft. Tease.”
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