B1G opener breakdown.

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Last updated: 01/03/2013 1:32 AM

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Men's Basketball
Breaking Down Ohio State’s B1G Opener
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Has there been a worse team in the Big Ten than Nebraska?

Obviously there must have been at one point, but these Cornhuskers are just abysmal. Since joining the Big Ten, Nebraska has now lost three games to Ohio State by almost 100 combined points.

That’s historically bad.

The Buckeyes won by 26 Wednesday night, which makes it the closest game between these two schools since Nebraska officially joined the conference last year. It should have a lot worse.

Things got a little sloppy in the second half when Thad Matta emptied his bench, but the Buckeyes didn’t even play all that well in their 70-44 win. Deshaun Thomas carried the team in the first half, and Lenzelle Smith had a nice performance in the second half, but OSU still struggled to put the ball in the basket.

Here’s a break down of what we saw from each player on the court Wednesday during Ohio State’s Big Ten opener against visiting Nebraska.

The Starting 5

23 Amir Williams (6-11, So.) — This was an intriguing game for Amir Williams for a lot of reasons, really. It was the second start of his Ohio State career, and he didn’t play all that much in the first one. Williams had only 15 minutes against Chicago State on Saturday, so this was his first real action as a starter against what we thought was a legitimate opponent. It’s debatable whether Nebraska is any better than Chicago State, but Williams was much more effective in his second start. He faced off against 6-11, 314-pound monster Andre Almeida in the early going. Almeida, nicknamed the Brazilian Steakhouse, eventually left the game with an ankle injury, but Williams had already gotten the better of him. The sophomore big man looked much more comfortable out there in this game, finishing with eight points, seven rebounds and four blocks in 18 minutes. He showed better hands, better energy and a better feel around the basket, but it’s only going to get harder from here.

1 Deshaun Thomas (6-7, Jr.) — It’s amazing to watch how Deshaun has become both a willing and capable passer for the Buckeyes this season. We never knew he could do it because, well, frankly we had never seen him try. When he wants to be a facilitator, Thomas has a great knack for finding his teammates with a swift bounce pass or a fancy no-look give out of the post. He is starting to recognize how teams are trying to defend him and has a much better feel for when and where the double-team is coming from.

Unfortunately, all that hard work hasn’t led to much because bad things tend to happen when Thomas doesn't have the ball on offense. He was by far Ohio State’s best offensive weapon against Wednesday, scoring 18 of his 22 points in the first half against Nebraska. He had it going inside and outside, where he was 2-of-4 behind the arc, but the Buckeyes are probably going to need him to score like that almost every night in conference play.

12 Sam Thompson (6-7, So.) — He didn’t have a huge impact on the game Wednesday night, but Thompson gave the crowd exactly what they came for. With the Buckeyes already leading by 28 in the final minutes of the game, Thompson went up for one of his hellacious alley-oop dunks in transition. The pass from Shannon Scott was a little behind him, but that didn’t stop Thompson. He reached back and rocked it through the hoop for a big-time jam. Unfortunately, that was about Thompson’s only real impact on the game. He did have six rebounds and big swat on defense, but scored only six points in 22 minutes.

32 Lenzelle Smith, Jr. (6-4, Jr.) — This was the kind of performance the Buckeyes need from Smith, who has the ability to be a much better player than what he has shown at times this season. We know Smith can knock down shots from behind the arc. He can also put the ball on the floor a little bit and get to the basket. The one thing he hasn’t been able to do is show the kind of consistency this team needs, but I’ve been saying for a while that he is the guy who almost has to become the No. 2 scoring option behind Deshaun Thomas. He looked like it against Nebraska, scoring 17 points and grabbing six rebounds in just 23 minutes of action. He went 5-of-7 from three, which probably isn’t going to happen every night, but he needs to be more involved at the offensive end of the floor on a nightly basis.

4 Aaron Craft (6-2, Jr.) — It’s really remarkable, and in many ways unfortunate, how Craft has completely lost any and all touch at the offensive end of the floor, at least when it comes to scoring the basketball. Remember when Craft hit five threes in the season-opener against Albany and we were all talking about his improved shooting form? What happened to that guy? His form is all over the place right now. It doesn’t look like he wants to shoot, and when he does let it go, it’s always with a hitch on his way down instead of at the top of his jump. He finished scoreless for the second time this season against Nebraska, but Craft is still doing the other things that make him so valuable. He finished with eight assists, 0 turnovers, six rebounds and three steals in 29 minutes.

First 3 Off the Bench

3 Shannon Scott (6-1, So.) — We keep waiting for Scott to have a consistent impact every time he takes the court, but he’s not quite there yet. He definitely shows spurts of being able to take over games with his speed, but it seems like he is limited whenever he’s on the floor at the same time as Craft, almost like he doesn’t feel the drive to be as aggressive since he’s not always been called upon to serve as the primary ball-handler. After tallying 15 points and four assists against Kansas, Scott has a total of six points and seven assists the past two games. He didn’t score a single point against Nebraska Wednesday, which has to be concerning considering the Buckeyes won by 26 points. He only had one turnover, but this team really needs Scott to be aggressive in transition. He needs to be a double-digit scorer or a seven assist guy almost every night.

30 Evan Ravenel (6-8, Sr.) — Ravenel scored seven points and grabbed a pair of rebounds in 11 minutes off the bench Wednesday night. It was his second straight game coming off the bench after starting the first 11 at center for the Buckeyes. At 6-8, Ravenel is not really a truly center, but then again, neither was Jared Sullinger. Ravenel certainly doesn’t have Sullinger’s skill set, so he needs to be a high-energy, tough guy every time he takes the court. He had a nice block against Nebraska and scored that key basket at the end of the first half. He had a couple careless turnovers, though, but it was a hard game to get much of a read on Rav because Matta went with Trey McDonald for the back end of the second half.

10 LaQuinton Ross (6-8, So.) — This might be the hardest player on the team to get a read on. Every game it seems like we are saying how the talent is obvious there for Ross, but he still looks uncomfortable on the court. He’s trying to be a team player and trying to find his way in the flow of the offense, but it’s not coming naturally for him yet. He did score eight points and grabbed three rebounds in 20 minutes against Nebraska, but most of that came after the game was well out of reach. He’s probably not going to look fully comfortable until next season – remember when some people thought he might be gone after this year? – but the Buckeyes can hope to speed that along by getting him more minutes.

Emptying the Bench

33 Amedeo Della Valle (6-5, Fr.) — We actually got a chance to see the young Italian late in the first half, when he came in for Shannon Scott with 2:37 left to play. Della Valle is a fan-favorite at Value City Arena, and not just because of his moppy hair style. He has an excellent looking shot, and fans start yelling for him to shoot the ball as soon as he touches it. It’s reminiscent of the days of Mark Titus and Danny Peters, except Della Valle isn’t shy about shooting the rock. He was 0-for-3 from behind the arc in this one, however, and had a couple careless turnovers near center court. He still has to get a better feel for the game before Matta starts to use him for real.

55 Trey McDonald (6-8, So.) — We also saw a decent amount of McDonald Wednesday, although it didn’t come until late in the second half. The sophomore big man logged 11 minutes at center after the game was out of reach. He didn’t grab any rebounds, and he missed both of his free throws, but he did hit a nice little jump shot off a nice assist from Ross.

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