First Thoughts: Duke

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Last updated: 11/29/2012 1:47 AM
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Men's Basketball
First Thoughts From the Buckeyes' 73-68 Loss at Duke
By Tony Gerdeman

You didn't have to watch the game to know that the Buckeyes didn't play at their best, you only need to look at the box score.

Ohio State's trio of guards Aaron Craft (3-15), Lenzelle Smith (4-12) and Shannon Scott (1-8) combined to shoot 8-35 from the field. Everyone else was 15-33.

I liked that the Buckeye guards were aggressive, but you can still be aggressive without being foolish. Too many of the shots taken had very little chance to go in, which resulted in a ton of offensive rebounds, but mostly they just ended in empty possessions.

In order to win in Cameron Indoor, you can't simply be as good as Duke, you have to be considerably better. Wednesday night, they were only better than Duke for the first 20 minutes, and only by a little.

You wanted it, you got it. Buckeye fans have been clamoring for Aaron Craft to be more aggressive on offense for about a year now, so you shouldn't get too upset about him taking so many shots in this game.

Yes, you can get upset with the shot selection, I will allow it.

This just wasn't a good matchup for him. He could get to the basket at will, but he wasn't able to finish with Mason Plumlee always waiting for him. It affected the way he finished, which cost him several baskets. I think I remember three shots from inside the paint that never hit rim for Craft. It was not his night.

But if a defense isn't going to allow Deshaun Thomas to get the ball, yet keep allowing Craft to get within 10 feet of it, then it's up to Craft to simply make the defense pay.

With that many shots against a normal opponent, Craft walks out of the game with 25 points and a victory. The worst thing that could come from this game is that Craft gets gun shy and begins to simply be a dribbler. The Buckeyes showed tonight that they need scorers, and they can't afford for Craft to not be one of them.

That's not a complement. Something that I realized while watching this game is that Lenzelle Smith is no longer a complementary player, he is very much instrumental in this team's success.

When Deshaun Thomas went to the bench in the first half with two fouls, Smith became the most proven scorer on the floor. Unfortunately, he seemed to force too many shots, which is a shame considering he scored five of the team's first seven points by just being a part of the team.

Getting Defensive. The Buckeyes started out by playing tremendous man-to-man defense. They stifled the Blue Devils, holding them to shooting percentages in the 30s. For much of the game, it was almost a surprise when Duke made a field goal considering how many of their first-half shots were contested.

But then there was the transition defense, which was not good. Several times the Ohio State big men were beaten down the court by Mason Plumlee for dunks.

The second-half defense was certainly lacking as well. How many times did we see a Duke guard get to the basket, or how many times did we see Deshaun Thomas lose Ryan Kelly for a crucial three pointer?

While you are fretting about where the offense is going to come from this season, don't forget that the defense in the second half was pretty broken down.

Weak Hands. The Buckeyes need to get stronger hands in the paint, most notably Amir Williams. Williams had seven rebounds in the first half, but he has yet to show this season an ability to grab an offensive rebound and finish in traffic.

Half of the time he won't even get a shot up because he'll either get it stripped when he takes the ball down to his ankles, or he'll lose it on the way up. It's one thing to have bad hands that have trouble catching the ball, but it's another entirely to not be able to take the ball to the rim when you have complete control of it.

Even Evan Ravenel had an easy dunk in the first two minutes of the game, but he got stripped before he could get the shot up. In the closing minutes, Craft and Shannon Scott didn't even bother looking down low because they knew the likelihood of a score was nil.

Semi-Great Scott. There are times when Shannon Scott is incredibly fun to watch, and then there are times when he shoots the ball.

The one thing I will say for Scott, as well as Sam Thompson, they may not be hitting jumpers right now, but at least they have the confidence to take them. Now that may change after this game, but it's good to see zero hesitation out of either of them.

When both Scott and Craft can hit those 15-foot pull up jumpers, this backcourt will be devastating. I'm not sure that happens this year though.

Some people might want to see Scott starting instead of Thompson, but I think the wave after wave of defensive pressure that Scott can provide off of the bench with and without Craft better suits this team.

The Circle of Trust. This game gave us a pretty good idea of which players Thad Matta trusts, and right now LaQuinton Ross isn't among those players.

He looked very nervous in the first half, especially on the defensive end, but he quickly calmed down and gave the Buckeyes an offensive spark that they desperately needed.

In the second half, however, Ross was nowhere to be seen. He only played in the first half because Deshaun Thomas got into foul trouble. Had Thomas never got into that trouble, does Ross ever touch the court in this game?

In the end, I thought Ross comported himself well, especially since the game looked too big for him early. I do wonder if he might need to play more simply because the Buckeyes need more scorers, and it would seem that he is capable of scoring from anywhere.

Rule Change. Can we please go to six fouls in college basketball now? When first-half basketball strategy involves getting somebody into foul trouble, it's time to change the rules. Plus, given how inconsistent officials are, why not add room for a sixth foul in order to keep a second foul in the first half from being a devastating blow.

Also, this isn't 1961 anymore. The game is different. There's less room on the court than there used to be. There are more collisions. Why not give a little more room for the referees to not negatively impact a game? That would seem like such an easy solution.

Assisted Living. The Buckeyes had six assists, which is terrible. Duke guard Quinn Cook had seven by himself. Yes, the assists numbers were harmed by all of the missed shots, but there were plenty of missed shots that came from one-on-one moves as well.

There was so little ball movement at times that it almost had to be direction from Matta to go one-on-one, attacking Duke with athleticism. It actually worked quite well, but the Buckeyes simply couldn't finish at the rim.

Because they were unable to finish at the rim, they were also unable to finish the game, hence the outcome.

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