Matta, Buckeyes, Seeking Team Identity
By Rob Ogden
Before the Buckeyes become familiar with their Big Ten counterparts, they must first answer a few questions about themselves - starting with the team's identity.
Days before the Buckeyes kick off the 2013-14 season, coach Thad Matta might still be unsure of what type of team he's got.
Photo by Jim Davidson
"I don't know yet," Matta said last month. "I've liked their energy, I've like their cohesiveness, I've liked their intensity. Attention to detail is going to be something I'm always on, but I like our conditioning level, I like where we are physically. In terms of our identity, I don't know what it will be."
With a pair of the Big Ten's best defenders on the roster - and no proven scorer - defense might be a good place to start.
Plus, a good defense has always been a trait of a Matta-coached team.
The Buckeyes have held their opponents to fewer than 60 points per game for each of the past three seasons. Wisconsin is the only other team in the Big Ten that can make that claim.
This season should be no different, said point guard Aaron Craft, a Big Ten All-Defensive team selection this past season and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year as a sophomore.
Photo by Dan Harker
"I think we can have one of the better defensive teams that we've had since I've been here," Craft said. "Guys have been around and they understand what our schemes are, and we have length at every position except for maybe me. Everyone has longer arms and can get in passing lanes and use their athleticism."
That athleticism might be useful on the offensive of the ball, as well.
The Buckeyes know they don't have a dominant scorer like Deshaun Thomas or Jared Sullinger, so instead they'll rely on their athleticism to score points, sophomore guard Amedeo Della Valle said.
"We'll play defense and we'll run," he said.
"We have size but we don't have Sullinger any more or Deshaun, so we'll definitely have to play hard on every single play and we've got to run. We have athletic guards who can score and guys who can score in the paint too. I love running. We have very fast point guards and they're able to guard the ball very well. They allow us to run the fast break and find open shots."
Sullinger and Thomas could put the ball in the basket, but they certainly weren't the fastest guys down the court.
In Sunday's exhibition game against Walsh, Ohio State finished with 25 points off the fast break.
For a team that has struggled with offensive consistency, turning easy buckets into points is important, Matta said.
"That has to be something that is kind of a calling card for this team."
The best way to produce those opportunities is through disruptive defense, center Trey McDonald said.
"We're long and athletic, so that's going to help out a lot in defending the ball and flying around defensively, and our defense can ignite our offense so that will be good for us," he said. "We're working to be very disruptive."
The 59.4 points allowed by Ohio State last season was the best mark in Matta's nine-year tenure as the Buckeyes' head coach.
Craft and junior guard Shannon Scott, also a Big Ten All-Defensive team selection this past season, combine to create one of the best defensive backcourts in the country.
"It's going to remain about defense," senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said.
"Our identity is always defense and that's put us in some good situations over the years that I've been here. As long as we can maintain that I think we've got a good shot."
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