10 Things We Learned from Ohio State’s Tournament Run
By Brandon Castel
The tournament is over, at least for Ohio State, and the Buckeyes will have to watch as Wichita State takes on Louisville later this week in the Final Four.
It could have been the Buckeyes playing for a chance to face either Syracuse or archrival Michigan in the NCAA championship game, but Ohio State’s second-half surge came up just short over the weekend.
Here’s a look at the 10 Things We Learned during Ohio State’s run to the Elite Eight this season.
1. One bad half can ruin a lot of good things. This is something all the players and coaches were talking about heading into the tournament. They learned this concept the hard way last season, with a poor second-half showing against Kansas in the Final Four. It also plagued the Buckeyes in a Sweet 16 loss to Tennessee a few years ago. Unlike those two previous losses, this time it was a poor first half that doomed the Buckeyes. They fell behind by 13 at the break and they weren’t able to gain any momentum heading into the locker rooms. That seemed apparent early in the second half. The team made a valiant run over the final 6-7 minutes, but it’s hard to overcome 25 minutes of bad basketball.
2. The key to Ohio State’s season, all along, was Aaron Craft. Don’t get me wrong, I still think Deshaun Thomas was the most valuable player for the Buckeyes this season because they were so limited offensively for so much of the season. He really carried them through some down stretches until some other guys could figure out how to score the basketball. That started to happen at the end of the regular season, but with Thomas scoring 15-20 every night, the guy who really made them into a tough out by tournament was Aaron Craft. Certainly his defense was tremendous all throughout his junior season, but his ability to get inside and score changed the dynamic of Ohio State’s offense. When he is scoring the basketball, this team was almost unbeatable. When he has a night like he did against Wichita State, it’s very difficult for this team to overcome.
3. Why everyone has been so obsessed with LaQuinton Ross since he got to Ohio State. How many people out there are claiming credit for knowing LaQuinton Ross was capable of what he showed in the NCAA Tournament? Probably a lot. I know my good friend Adam Neft texted me after the game-winner to remind me, and there were probably a lot of people texting their buddies during this tournament run. Everyone has been curious about this kid, who was once considered to be the top prospect in his recruiting class, and now we know why. Former NBA agent Joe Kotoch runs a draft/scouting website. He was the one who reinforced to me earlier this year that Ross could be special when “light finally goes on.” Well, it’s on and it’s spectacular. OK, maybe not yet, but the potential is there for Ross to be one of the better scorers Ohio State has seen in years. The one concern with Ross is how he will handle being the star of this basketball team if/when Thomas decides to leave after this season.
4. Deshaun Thomas may have maxed out his potential at this level. I know a lot of fans would love to see Thomas return for his senior season at Ohio State. Some of that is selfish – they just want the Buckeyes to be as loaded as possible next year – but not all of it. Many fans look at Thomas and see a player with great ability who can still grow as a person and a player. But where does Thomas go with his game from here? We saw him make improvements on his passing, his defense and his teamwork as a junior, but none of that really lasted once OSU got to the tournament. It was like the clock struck midnight and Thomas turned back into the guy who only had eyes for the hoop. That’s not a terrible fault to have. This team needed DT to score 20 a night if they were going to be successful, but it really shows that Thomas is who he is. His defense and passing will continue to progress, but deep down he’s just a scorer. That’s what he will be at the next level. He does need to improve his range a little bit, but Thomas is always going to be limited by the fact he’s a 6-7 tweener with average athleticism.
5. Lenzelle Smith is more valuable as the ‘glue guy’ than as a second scorer. Lenzelle Smith can put the ball in the basket. We have all seen it. There were times this year where I truly believed he was their best option for a No. 2 scorer to emerge. He has shown he can shoot the three, but he can also put the ball on the floor and get to the basket. He has some ups and can finish around the rim in transition. The problem for Smith is that he is wildly inconsistent. His game doesn’t seem to come within the flow of the framework and it’s quite obvious when he decides to play outside of the game plan so he can score some points. What we learned in this tournament is that Smith doesn’t have to score for be a vital part of this team’s makeup. It would be nice if he could give them 8-10 points every night, but they don’t 24 points out of Lenzelle Smith. They need him on the glass. They need him playing lockdown defense. They need him hustling and playing with energy and emotion. They him to be a David Lighty type player for this team, but it’s not easy to be David Lighty. It takes a unique blend of skill and selflessness.
6. Sam Thompson has more to his game than just dunks. This is a key distinction, and probably should have been higher on the list. For the longest time I couldn’t understand why Thompson was playing so many minutes while Ross was sitting over on the end of the bench. I knew Thompson was a freak athlete and Ross wasn’t ready to step in and play the way he did in the tournament earlier in the year, but it seemed like they should be using those minutes to get Ross ready to play. Instead, they used them to get Thompson ready. Matta has said a few times how this kid has all the tools, and we’re starting to see them. He’s shot the ball as well as anyone on the team in the month of March, and he’s starting to find other ways to score around the rim. He has to work on being a more consistent rebounder and on figuring out when to be aggressive with the basketball, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility now that Thompson has a higher upside than anyone else on the team.
7. Ohio State can’t afford to give up on Amir Williams. One thing Ohio State fans are probably dreading about next season is more Amir Williams. The 6-11 center had a rocky sophomore season at OSU, and with Evan Ravenel gone, Williams will be the only experienced post player on the roster next season. I’ve had a few people ask me why they didn’t just sit Williams on the bench and get Trey McDonald more playing time, but Williams showed why they aren’t giving up on him during the Wichita State game. There was a bulk of the first half where he was the only reason they were in the game. He blocked four shots in that half and really controlled the paint at a crucial juncture of the game. It didn’t ultimately matter, but it was enough to remind us why the staff isn’t going to completely give up on this kid. Sometimes the light doesn’t come on until year three or four in the program. That’s a long time to wait, but Ohio State doesn’t have any other option at this point.
8. Thad Matta needs to find a post player. In many ways, this Ohio State team was better than the one from the Final Four last season, at least as a total unit. They still relied heavily on one player to score the bulk of the points, but they were a little deeper, a little more athletic and a little better defensively. By the end of the year, they had more scoring options and they were a much better transition basketball team than the Final Four squad a year ago. But the one area this team severely lacked in the postseason was any type of offensive game down in the post. It was nonexistent during the tournament, and I thought it really hurt the Buckeyes against both Arizona and Wichita State. They didn’t a Jared Sullinger down there who could get 20 and 10 every night. They needed a guy like Mitch McGary who can get 15 and 10 or 12 and eight, with a lot of key baskets late in the game. Transition offense is great when you’re turning teams over and winning the war on the glass, but when those things aren’t going your way, it helps to have a good post game.
9. This team still needs another shooter. Even with Thompson and Ross emerging during the tournament, it never quite seemed like Ohio State could get both of them going at the same time. The bigger problem was the fact this team seemed to play its best with both Craft and Scott on the floor together. The problem with that look is the fact neither of them are great shooters. That really showed up in the loss to Wichita State. This team could use another guy who can hit open shots whenever he gets them. Too many guys on this roster missing open jumpers allowed the Shockers to pack the paint. Maybe Amedeo Della Valle or Kam Williams can help with that next year.
10. Shannon Scott has to be on the floor. We just got done talking about Shannon’s deficiency as a scorer, but unlike some people, I’m still bullish on Scott’s ability to score the basketball. Not this past season, obviously, but I saw enough improvement from his freshman year to believe he can become a guy who scores 10-12 points a night for this team next year. He has to figure out how to finish in transition, because he should get 6-8 points that way every single game. Regardless of whether or not his jumpshot is falling next year, Scott has to be on the court more than he was this season. He averaged about 21 minutes a game off the bench as a sophomore, but played 25 or more in three of the four NCAA Tournament games. I expect him to average 25-28 minutes, minimum next season, because this team is clearly better when No. 3 is on the floor.
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