First Thoughts

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Last updated: 11/22/2011 10:47 AM
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Men's Basketball
First Thoughts From the Win Over North Florida
By Tony Gerdeman

Watching an 85-50 win over North Florida is a nice, if uninteresting, way to spend an evening during Michigan Week. It was clear that the Buckeyes were a bit disinterested as well. That's going to happen during non-conference schedules.

But Thad Matta didn't let his team go through a walk-through—he worked them. When the starters all came out in the second half and the bench let him down, he put all of the starters back in the game to show the reserves how it was done.

How did those reserves do the second time around? They came back in and finished the game on a 12-3 run. Consider that a lesson learned.

That wasn't the only thing that caught my eye on the night. Here's what else was rattling around in my brain during the game...

First Thought - The Buckeyes went too many possessions without getting the ball down to Jared Sullinger. They got all the way to the first media timeout before looking for the best player in the country. Granted, that's a byproduct of having three or four guys who can score, but that doesn't necessarily make it right. What happens when he doesn't get the ball down low? He trails on a possession, gets the ball out at the top of the key and launches a three simply because he doesn't know when he'll get the ball back. I actually don't mind Sullinger shooting a couple of threes per game, but they should never be frustration threes.

Offensive Thought - How about Lenzelle Smith looking for his own offense? That's not something that I really expected at this point. Even aside from the dunks and the defense, if he is going to be a guy that defenses have to worry about, then this team just got a little bit better. It's one thing to make shots when the opportunity arises, but he is going out and actively making those opportunities happen.

He wasn't just a guy who looked for the next man to pass to. He was looking at the basket, and that's all kinds of positive. Though if he's going to continue to take the ball to the basket and get fouled, he may want to stay after and get some extra work on those free throws.

One other thing that I like about Smith is that while his handles come and go, he still has the mentality of a point guard when he's on the court. He's always looking for the best option, and the fact that he thinks he's the best option at times tells you how confident he is growing.

Quickdraw Thought - Remember last year when Deshaun Thomas would hit his first shot, and how quickly he would get that next shot up? It was automatic. Every shot after a make was a heat check.

This year, however, those heat checks might be on the way out. His offense simply needs to be a part of the team's offense, and not the entire offense. He's definitely learning that, and he showed it a possession or two after his first make when he had an open baseline three, but passed it up for a better shot to William Buford when it was 6-5 North Florida.

Last year when he came off the bench he had the mindset of providing instant offense. Now, that mindset has had to be adjusted. Right now Thomas is just another piece of a very good starting five, and he seems to be growing into it day by day. Though it was very good to see him put the ball on the floor and score a couple of times. If he can drive and finish, then that's another part of his game that wasn't necessarily ready last year.

Defensive Thought - While there are some strong defenders on this team, I wouldn't exactly call them a good defensive team. There are layups galore being given up and nobody down low is rotating to contest any of them.

Jared Sullinger is going to try and stay out of foul trouble, so he's not necessarily going to challenge many shots, and I get that. But if there isn't going to be an eraser down low, the defensive communication needs to improve.

North Florida actually shot 14-26 from two-point land simply because so many of their shots were layups.

Selfless Thought - Aaron Craft needs to shoot more than just once. Of course if this was a real game, he absolutely would have. But because there was never a need for him to take this game over, he never bothered.

Not only that, but he never really looked for his own shot. Even the three-pointer he took was a shot that he had to take because it was a product of the ball movement.

He simply had no desire to score and he just wanted to keep the ball moving. That's a level of unselfishness that is rare to see, especially from a player who could make scores of All-American lists if he was averaging 14 points a night in addition to his defense.

That all being said, he does need to show defenses that he can hit jumpers or else teams are going to sag off of him, which will also impact his driving ability.

Troubling Thought - The three-point shooting continues to be lacking. The Buckeyes were 4-17 from behind the three-point line, and they started out 2-4.

Obviously there is no Jon Diebler on this team. Most teams never have a Jon Diebler and never will, but this team doesn't need one. There is enough offensive talent to spread around. There shouldn't be the need for one guy to hit seven threes when three guys should be able to hit ten.

The good news is that Jordan Sibert once again shot well, though he took just two threes, making one. I also liked the fact that freshman point guard Shannon Scott kept firing threes. That tells me his confidence is fine right now.

Comforting Thought - Scott actually looked a bit out of sorts for most of his minutes, but he got more comfortable as the game went on. In the final four minutes of the game, he looked like the floor general that he will one day be. He's always got his head up and the alley oop pass to J.D. Weatherspoon was a perfect example of that.

I've called him an ACC point guard in the past, and I think we'll see that come to fruition as the season goes on. Given even the brief glimpse we got of Scott tonight, and the improvement that we saw from minute to minute, this game was probably a pretty good analogy to how his season will go. By the time February rolls around, he should be in Thad Matta's real rotation, and not just the one he plays against East West State Tech.

Finishing Thought - I know we saw some very emphatic dunks tonight, but this team is going to have a problem finishing around the basket all season long. We saw it again tonight. Deshaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger aren't the types of players that can just jump over a defense.

The good thing for both of them is that they are quick second jumpers and they can go right back up after getting a shot blocked. Plus, they both have a great feel for where the basket is.

Shots will fall easier in some games, and they won't fall much at all in others, but as long as they're cleaning up their own misses they'll get away with it.

But I wonder what happens when they face a shot-blocker, or one of those front courts with length and size all over the place. Sullinger will never not have an advantage, but there will always be empty points when so many point-blank shots are missed.

This is not a criticism of either player—they can't help their height—it's just something that they will have to deal with all season long.

Final Thought - These guys better hope they're never in a close game because they are going to brick some free throws this year. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, most of those free throws will be coming from Jared Sullinger.

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