Thinking Out Loud about Thad Matta’s Rotation
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — After thinking about Tuesday night’s 83-67 win over Illinois, there was not a ton we could take away from that game.
The Fighting Illini were completely helpless without an automatic shooting night from Brandon Paul, and they wreak of a team that has quit on its coach. Bruce Weber even singled out the freshmen as guys who are playing hard right now, which should say a lot about the upper classmen outside of Meyers Leonard.
It was good to see the Buckeyes find their stride and it should be a big confidence booster after a few tough scoring nights, but they aren’t going to shoot 71 percent in the first half against even a decent defensive team.
The one thing that stuck out to me from the game was Thad Matta’s decision to change up his rotation.
1. It was good to see Thad try something different. This late in the season, you rarely expect to see a coach make any major changes to his rotation. Especially Thad Matta. While fans were frustrated with the lack of bench use by Matta this season, the Buckeyes are still a top 10 team with four games to play. There are plenty of other teams out there with more need to tinker than OSU, but Matta decided he needed to spark something by going with Shannon Scott as the first man off the bench.
2. The Buckeyes are not getting a finished product. Right now, the move itself is more important to me than the fact Scott is the one benefitting from the extra playing time. In theory, I like the idea of Craft and Scott playing together, but not for the reason most expected at the start of the season. Right now, swapping Lenzelle Smith, Jr. for Scott is a downgrade on the glass and at the defensive end of the floor. It is also a drop-off in perimeter shooting, where Smith is hitting 39 percent of his shots while Scott is just 1-for-15.
3. I’m still not sure what to expect with Scott. There is no question that outside shooting has been the biggest issue for Ohio State this season, and Scott is not going to help them there. Maybe his jumper will come around by next season, but right now it is not ready for big time basketball. Forget that he’s shooting only 28 percent from the floor, or that he was scoreless in five shots against Illinois, it just doesn’t look good off his hand.
4. Where Scott could help is in creating offense. So if he can’t shoot and he is not an upgrade on defense or on the glass, why bother? Well, it is no secret that Ohio State’s offense has looked stagnant in recent weeks. Craft is capable of getting to the hoop, but it seems to be a second or third option for him when he is the primary distributor. Bringing Scott in to play alongside Craft allows both players to handle the ball without the pressure of being the distributor. In theory, it should help the Buckeyes aggressiveness, both in the halfcourt, and especially in transition, where Matta has put a lot of emphasis in practice this past week.
5. I think the biggest benefit could involve William Buford. Scott played 10 minutes in the first half Tuesday. He was 0-2 from the floor with two assists and a turnover. That is not exactly the production we have been talking about from the bench, but there was another statistic that was created as a byproduct: 15 minutes for William Buford. That might not seem like a big deal, but Buford had played 35 minutes or more in nine of the last 11 games.
6. Even if he isn’t fatigued (he played a lot of minutes down the stretch last season too), Buford has clearly been off his game lately. He is not a guy who is going to strap the team on his back and carry them to a championship. He can be a critical complimentary player, but I think it will do him some good to play 5-10 less minutes per game. First of all, it opens up those minutes for a few of the bench players, in this case Scott and Sam Thompson, who slid over to the three to take Buford’s spot at times against Illinois.
7. Secondly, it gives Buford a chance to sit on the bench and refocus his thoughts without feeling the burning desire to get up his shots. Even he admitted he was forcing his shots against Michigan and Matta spoke to him about the difference between a good shot and a great one. It just seems like sometimes Buford feels like he hasn’t shot the ball in a while, so he needs to hoist one up, regardless of the shot clock or flow of the game. Maybe a quick break or two on the bench will help soften that.
8. There is no guarantee this will help Buford with his consistency, but there is no guarantee it won’t, either. It makes sense to try something rather than just sitting back and watching as Buford implodes every other night. Maybe it has nothing to do with minutes or time on the bench, but the Buckeyes are desperate for an answer to Buford’s woeful inconsistency. They have four games left to figure it out before it counts for real.
9. I would not expect Matta to make any more drastic changes to his rotation. I know people want to see more of guys like LaQuinton Ross, Amir Williams and even Jordan Sibert, but I just don’t see him changing up too much more. If Scott cannot get it done, or he just isn’t giving them the boost they were hoping for, then maybe Thad will try one of those other backcourt guys. Williams looks to be a year away from being ready to contribute. He is a good offensive rebounder and shot-blocker, but he has heavy feet and gets lost on defense.
10. I like what I saw from Ross, and I would love to see more, but I doubt that happens this season. He only played five minutes Tuesday in a game Ohio State led by double-digits almost the entire way. He scored five tough points—I say tough because he wasn’t just jacking up threes. He had an excellent baseline drive and finished through a foul for a three-point play. People forget he is 6-8 and sturdy, but he doesn’t have a feel for the game yet. It’s not just at the defensive end. Ross has to learn what it means to be a teammate on a team full of guys who were also stars in high school.
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