Sophomore Class the Key to Success for Buckeyes
By Patrick Murphy
The Ohio State Buckeyes basketball came into this season with high hopes and big dreams. Ranked number four in the preseason, there were obvious expectations.
After capturing their third-straight Big Ten regular-season title last season and making a run to the Final Four, the fans and the media were looking for a similar season out of the Buckeyes despite the loss of big man Jared Sullinger and four-year starter William Buford.
While most of the preseason talk focused around juniors Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft, the expectations were as high as they were because of the team’s sophomore class.
Photo by Jim Davidson
The 2011 class – which includes LaQuinton Ross, Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott, Amir Williams, and Trey McDonald – was a big coup for Thad Matta and his staff. This group was ranked the tenth-best recruiting class by Rivals. All of the players except McDonald were ranked in the top 100 nationally.
What made this class exciting was how they could potentially fit together. Scott was the distributor who was steady and would make things go. Ross had probably the highest expectations because he would be the scorer of the group. Thompson athleticism gave him limitless potential and Williams’ big frame made him the ideal shot-blocking big man. While McDonald was not ranked like the others, he still had his place in this class as the hustle man that Buckeyes fans have grown to love in the past.
The class is yet to pan out as projected. None of these guys are averaging double figures despite all, with the exception of McDonald, playing more than 16 minutes per game.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Ohio State has looked for a consistent second scorer, and though many believed that Ross would be that option coming off the bench, that is yet to happen. Throughout the season one of these guys has stepped up in certain games, but none has done so consistently. For example, Thompson led the Buckeyes in scoring with 16 points in the win at Penn State, but followed it up with an 0-1 from the field game and did not score.
Ross has had performances in which it appears the light has come on, but then things flicker out. He scored 16 points in the overtime loss to Michigan and 11 in the first meeting against Indiana, yet he’s also had dud offensive games, such as no points in the first game against Michigan and three in the loss to Wisconsin.
Since he is still developing his defensive instincts, Ross must produce offensively while on the court or Matta has no reason to give him time.
Scott and Williams have been the most mysterious of the group, as they clearly have shown they each possess the ability to play at this level, but just do not bring the intensity each night.
Williams was never projected to be an offensive force early in college, but was expected to develop that side of his game while anchoring the middle of this team’s defense. After becoming a starter early in the season, Ohio State is still waiting for him to bring it on the defensive side night in and night out. While he has had spans in which he causes opponents issues in the paint, he has had trouble remaining on the court in big games due to fouls.
The stats do not lie: when these sophomores play well this team plays well.
In the Buckeyes’ first win over a ranked team this year against Michigan the sophomores combined for 17 points – 30% of the team’s total. In Tuesday’s win at number two Indiana, these four scored 31% of Ohio State’s 67 points.
While they are not being asked to contribute huge numbers, the numbers speak for themselves when they do not contribute their part. In the loss to Duke, the sophomores only scored 17 of 68 points and had four of seven turnovers. In the blowout loss to Illinois they scored just under 13% of the team’s points. No one could get going.
The sophomores are averaging 21.5 points over the Buckeyes’ current four-game winning streak.
While Thomas and Craft are the leaders of this team and expected to propel this team to wins, these four sophomores– with some help from McDonald – need to provide consistency. If they can do so, this is not a team opponents will want to face in the coming weeks.