First Thoughts From a 56-51 Loss at Michigan
By Tony Gerdeman
This was never going to be an easy game for the Buckeyes, and it pretty much went according to how I thought it would. A win would have actually surprised me, in fact.
The way Ohio State is playing right now, it's hard to be anything but pessimistic for their future.
As I've said in the past, Michigan's offense actually plays into the Buckeyes' defensive hands, but you have to credit the Wolverines for hitting a ton of clutch shots in the waning seconds of many possessions.
Right now, that's actually one thing that separates these two teams. Michigan has multiple players who can hit clutch shots in consecutive possessions. The Buckeyes do not.
I tend to wonder if this team knows that they aren't going to win a national championship, and once that realization set in, motivation became hard to find.
This isn't a team that can simply flip a switch and turn their game on because there are simply too many streaky players who are integral to the offense.
If the Buckeyes are going to make it far in March, it will require a perfect storm of consistency that doesn't even seem possible right now.
I wonder if this team peaked too early and are now regressing, or if because of the level of schedule they are now playing, this is just who they are.
Ohio State was looking like a team that was going to win the Big Ten by two or three games a month ago, and now they could finish third quite easily.
Have they grown complacent, or has the rest of the Big Ten simply caught up with them?
Or might it be both?
William Buford scored six points on 3-12 shooting, and went 0-3 from three-point range and 0-2 from the free throw line.
This is always the feared William Buford line, but it has also become the expected line. I think Buford gets too much blame for this team playing poorly at times, but there is no doubting that he is absolutely the linchpin on this team.
The Buckeyes generally need three of their five starters to play well in order to beat good teams. Because of their lineup, Buford almost always has to be one of the three. When he isn't, Ohio State is playing with one of their three hands tied behind their back.
Now as I said, it's not completely his fault that players like Lenzelle Smith and Aaron Craft are allowed to be non-existent on offense without receiving any criticism, but it does make his bad days stand out more than everybody else's when they often come in close losses like this one.
In Ohio State's five losses this season, he is 23-72 (32%) from the field and 2-16 (13%) from three-point range.
If this is what is to be expected from him, then Thad Matta simply can't afford to keep playing him for 40 minutes a night, because it's not just his shooting that is poor, but it's also his decision making.
I'm not one of those people that thinks Buford needs to be benched, but the status quo is not going to get the Buckeyes anywhere.
In Ohio State's last four games, Buford has scored 29, 4, 24 and 6 points. That's the type of consistency that never sees a second weekend during March Madness.
The absolute worst thing about college basketball is college basketball referees, and there is no close second.
If there was a way to make officials re-referee the same game they just called, how many of the charging/blocking calls do you think they'd call the same way?
Knowing that such flawed thought processes are going to be deciding important games is a major flaw in college basketball.
This isn't just specific to this game, and I'm also not saying that Ohio State "lost because of the refs". This is just a statement about the overall state of basketball officiating. It makes the game less enjoyable to watch.
For the second time in eight days, Ohio State was getting beaten down court by an opposing front court repeatedly. They simply aren't getting back on defense like they need to.
The only reason for getting beaten down court repeatedly is a lack of effort. That's it. There are no other reasons. Once or twice can be attributed to bad bounces, but three or four means there is an effort issue.
For a team that has looked very ordinary of late, effort is the one thing that takes absolutely zero talent to excel at. Unfortunately for Ohio State, it's also the one thing that evens the playing field when only one team is committed to it.
It's understandable (sort of) when a jump shot isn't falling, but one team running harder than another is indicative of quite a few things, and none of them are good.
Late in the game, Michigan got clutch baskets from Stu Douglass and Zack Novak—both seniors.
The Buckeyes' only senior is William Buford, and he and clutch shots don't mesh so well usually. People forget that when this team needs a clutch basket, they are either going to look at Buford or one of their many sophomores to get a shot off, none of whom have shown themselves to be a guy that relishes that position or excels at it.
As I've said before, for as talented as this team is offensively, they are mostly complementary players who have trouble scoring on their own.
In fact, Aaron Craft is probably the team's best one-on-one scorer, but he's really not interested in exploring that role, apparently.
When Jared Sullinger isn't on the court, I tend to believe that Craft should move from option four to option one. I'm not saying that he should try to score every time, but I am saying the offense should involve him driving the ball and finding open shooters.
When Sullinger is on the bench, this can't become a team that simply passes the ball around the perimeter looking for a shot, because it will just turn into somebody forcing a one-on-one move and then a bad shot, neither of which are in any sort of wheelhouse for Buford or Deshaun Thomas.
At least with Craft attacking, the entire offense is churning and the gears are moving. When they stand out on the perimeter and just pass the ball around, there is no movement until somebody tries to jerk-start the offense with a one-on-one move that becomes as much a bail-out shot as anything.
If I knew anything about cars, I'd explain to you how this is bad on an engine, and draw the analogy to basketball.
Front Court Thought
Deshaun Thomas (25) and Jared Sullinger (14) combined for 39 of their team's 51 points. In other words, they did their jobs. They also had 21 of the team's 34 rebounds, and nine of their twelve offensive boards.
Meanwhile, the Ohio State guards went 5-21 from the field, including 0-7 from three-point range.
As much as I bang the drum of Craft and Smith being more aggressive on offense, I'm wondering how many the Buckeyes would have won by tonight if none of their guards had taken a single shot.
This season isn't over, and this team is capable of beating anybody. I think people tend to panic after each loss—though admittedly some of that panic comes after wins as well, but this is still a very dangerous team.
That being said, this team is only going as far as William Buford can take them. That might not be the type of pressure he is looking for, but he doesn't really have a lot of say in the matter.
How his four years as a Buckeye are remembered will depend quite a bit on this next four or five weeks of basketball.
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