Every once in a great while, they don’t play the games for a reason. Ohio State is that good. While they won’t run the table during the Big Ten season (no one will ever do that again) they should cruise to the conference championship, unless something goes terribly wrong.
That something was almost Jared Sullinger’s left foot in their game against South Carolina today. Initial reports were positive, in the sense that it is not a broken foot. No one wants to break a foot, but there is at least certainty with that diagnosis. With so many bones, muscles, and ligaments in a weight-bearing part of the body, there is a lot that can go wrong. Right now it looks to be a bone bruise, but that was Al Nolen’s initial diagnosis last season, and we saw how that worked out. The thing is though, even without by far the best player, Ohio State should still win the Big Ten. That is the level of talent that Ohio State has been able to buy, er..barter…no…recruit to Columbus.
How they’ve done so far:
Playing without Sullinger who was out due to back spasms at the time, the Buckeyes lost by 9 points at Kansas, and that is their only loss. They have played and beaten the directional tech states by an average of thirty points per game, humiliated Duke during the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, and beat Florida at home by 8, though they had 15 point lead without about two minutes to play.
Who to watch:
A lot of teams can score a lot points, but few can back that up with truly elite defense. Aaron Craft, not a slouch offensively with 9 points and 5 assists per game, is almost solely responsible for the Buckeyes committing turnovers at about half the rate of their opponents. He is also almost solely responsible for showing how insufficiently traditional basketball statistics measure a defensive players impact on the court. Only 9 players in the country collect steals more often than Craft, and steals account for only about half of theso far this season.
What to watch:
Thad Matta acquires players that can put the ball in the basket, and who would be good shooting in any offensive system. Give these good shooters wide open shots, and it is easy to understand why the Buckeyes have one of the best offenses in the country. They aren’t absurdly good like last season when they led the country in three-point shooting and were 12th in two-point shooting, but they still rank 26th in the nation. There was bound to be some negative consequences to losing Dallas Lauderdale shooting 73% and John Diebler making better than 50% of his shots from the field and the three-point line. Ohio State won’t be able to shoot that well though the shots will be just as open. Sullinger will still suck in perimeter defenders. Craft still puts his teammates in a position where it is hard for them to miss, and William Buford still knows how to find a gap in the defense as well as anyone else in the conference. Throw in excellent spacing and several other players that can score off the dribble, and it isn’t fair.
How they’ll do:
Ohio State went 15-1 in conference play during the 2006-2007 season. Their only loss was at Wisconsin, and that may be their only conference loss this season. If they play as well as they should, they should have a number 1 seed in the NCAA tournament locked up before the Big Ten Tournament. It is going to be an insufferable season.