First Thoughts after Illinois

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Last updated: 02/21/2012 11:24 PM
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Men's Basketball
First Thoughts From an 83-67 Win Over Illinois
By Tony Gerdeman

Most everybody knew that this was going to be a blowout tonight, and the Buckeyes didn't disappoint.

Illinois came limping in with their bruised egos and their own brand of unintensity, and Ohio State ran them off the court.

The Buckeyes started out on fire and didn't stop until garbage time with about five minutes left in the game.

Playing a home game against Illinois is the perfect cure for a team with confidence issues. It's essentially coach-pitch baseball at this point, and the Buckeyes were swinging for the fences.

This was the perfect lead-in to their next two games against Wisconsin and Northwestern, which should also act as confidence-builders prior to their unwinnable game in East Lansing.

First Thought

I'm no expert, but that looked like a pretty good Ohio State offense out there tonight. It was versatile, complementary and unselfish. No Buckeye took more than nine shots, and J.D. Weatherspoon and Trey McDonald were the only two players not to get a single shot up.

The offense is always going to look better when they hit 7-13 three-pointers like they did tonight, but much of that success was a product of superior shot selection. There were very few forced shots.

The ball movement was fantastic as well. Somebody needs to track the successful possessions when the ball is reversed, because I'm guessing it's pretty high. Thad Matta has talked in the past about passing up good shots for great shots, and there were a lot of great shots taken tonight.

When the Buckeyes have three starters scoring in double figures and one of them isn't Jared Sullinger, that's a pretty good night. It seems counter-intuitive to think that success would be an outcome when your leading scorer is fourth in points in the box score, but that's why you surround him with talent. His teammates stepped up tonight, and he was more than happy to ride shotgun.

Obviously he could have scored more if he had wanted to—at least until he fouled out — but things were going fine just as they were.

Double Vision Thought

For the first time in recent memory, we got to see Shannon Scott and Aaron Craft play extended minutes together, and it was good.

Craft got to play off the ball and look for his shot more, and we saw the results as he hit two of his three three-point attempts. He also had a nice fadeaway from ten feet out that should become part of his arsenal.

Meanwhile, Scott got to lead the offense and push the ball like he does so well. He finished with four assists in 22 minutes of play.

As television color commentator Dan Dakich pointed out, when they played together, that allowed Scott to get his bearings, which then helped him when Craft left and Scott was the only guy running the show.

The shooting is still lacking, as his 0-5 from the field proves, but I liked the fact that he kept shooting. Right now his shot is a bit long, but he'll eventually get it dialed in. Remember, Jon Diebler was a 30% shooter as a freshman.

Fuel to the Fire Thought

Ever since he hit his first three-point shot of the season way back against Miami (Ohio), Buckeye fans have been clamoring to see more of freshman LaQuinton Ross.

Even after making just one field goal since then, the clamoring has never stopped. After tonight's career-best performance where he was 2-3 from the field and scored five points, I wouldn't look for that clamoring to die down any time soon.

Let's go ahead and revisit that last paragraph. He scored five points in five minutes of garbage time. That's all. Let's not make it to be anything more than that, because it's not.

Still, you could see that he got more comfortable as the game went on. In his first two minutes, he was a little hesitant with the ball. The dribble was a tad sloppy. Over the course of his time, however, he became more comfortable. He was actually calling for the ball on the inbounds plays and willing to dribble through traffic.

I don't know that he should be playing more minutes, or in place of anybody, but I do wonder what his game would look like paired with four starters for an extended amount of time.

He has a ways to go defensively, but maybe getting to play with the best players will help him see where he needs to be. I understand it's a bit of the chicken/egg problem as far as playing time is concerned, but if a player can grow more comfortable on offense the more he plays, I would assume the same would follow for defense as well.

Quickdraw Thought

I am in the camp that thinks Lenzelle Smith can be a competent scorer on this team. I'm also in the camp that thinks if he just starts out each game in an aggressive manner, the rest of the game will take care of itself. That's pretty much what happened tonight.

Smith will always have his A-game when it comes to defense, but when he starts out looking for his shot in the early moments of the game, the thought that he could continue to do so stays with a defense.

When he's oblivious to shooting the ball, a defense can forget about him and not regret it. However, when he "breaks the seal" early, so to speak, then he can be expected to leak out on offense throughout an entire game.

Obligatory Thought

This is the part of the show where I talk about Deshaun Thomas' offensive game. Tonight I loved the crossover dribble that led to a spin move and a missed layup. I don't even care that he missed the shot, just the fact that he had moves like that was enough for me.

He finished with a team-high 19 points and looked remarkably smooth on his jumper. Both of his three-point attempts hit nothing but net, as did most of his other jumpers. His ability to score anywhere on the court should always be remembered by his teammates. If others are struggling to score, why not see how Thomas is feeling?

Or, I guess if others are struggling, they can just continue to fire up shots and assume Thomas will grab an offensive rebound and put it back up and in.

I've said in the past that Thomas isn't a great athlete, but when it comes to offensive rebounds, he's like a mother lifting a burning car off of her trapped baby—he just finds another level and gets the job done.

Patterned Thought

William Buford was 7-9 from the field tonight, scoring 17 points in the process. His pattern of "good game, bad game" has now reached five games. Sadly, he is now due a bad game against Wisconsin, and then again at Michigan State to end the season.

Perhaps if he sits out the Northwestern game in between, the Buckeyes will somehow be able to pull off the upset at the Breslin Center.

Final Thought

I say it all the time, but I prefer Aaron Craft when he attacks the basket by both driving and shooting. I think it makes the team better. If it requires Shannon Scott playing next to him to get it done, then I say give the freshman at least 15 minutes per night.

Unless Craft stops hitting threes, of course.

Also, I don't think it's a coincidence that an aggressive Craft finished with five assists tonight, which he hasn't done very often this season.

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