Matt Barker of Buckeye Banter graciously agreed to answer a few questions about the Ohio State Buckeyes, the first top 10 team to come to The Barn since Indiana last season. We answered some questions too, and you can read those answers here.
FTB: We all know that Ohio State has one of the best defenses in the country. What makes them so good? Please mention something other than Aaron Craft.
MB: It starts with Thad Matta’s starting lineup that features three guards. Then you mix in 6-foot-8 forward LaQuinton Ross with 6-foot-11 center Amir Williams and all five are very athletic. Plus, Matta has a deeper bench this season and you add some length with 6-foot-7 forwards Sam Thompson and Marc Loving, Williams is a good shot-blocker in the low post, but it all starts in the backcourt with Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott. I have to include Craft in this question since he’s the best on-ball defender in the country. Case in point, in five games over the last two seasons against Michigan, Trey Burke shot just 36 percent from the field and 30 percent from three-point range. While he did average 13.2 points and 5.2 assists, he also averaged 4.4 turnovers in those games against Craft.
FTB: Traditionally Thad Matta barely uses his bench during conference play. He seems to actually play more than five guys this season. Who are the bench Buckeyes we should know about?
MB: Matta has been going nine-deep. Sam Thompson was a starter last year that now comes off the bench. He’s a slasher who’s more known for his highlight reel dunks. Very athletic and a great defender but not a great shooter. Amedeo Della Valle is the Italian version of Jon Diebler. He’s mainly a three-pointer shooter though he’s developing his game. Trey McDonald comes off the bench to give Williams a blow. But one player that’s quickly developing is freshman forward Marc Loving, the two-time Mr. Basketball in the state of Ohio. He’s averaging nearly 10 points a game in Big Ten play.
FTB: The Buckeye offense has left a lot to be desired, ranking only 73rd nationally. What is wrong with the offense, and can it be fixed?
MB: I don’t think there’s anything too terribly wrong with the offense. Against Iowa last Sunday, the Buckeyes were up 9 with a little less than 13 minutes left, then took the foot off of the gas pedal. Ohio State is much better offensively when they are attacking the basket, getting the ball into the paint, taking higher percentage shots and getting points in transition. After getting that lead, the offense became stagnant, running the cock down and settling for long jumpers. That’s not Ohio State’s modus operandi. I think a good part of that comes down to Matta’s personnel decisions. There were stretches when Ross and Loving were on the bench when both needed to be on the floor. Credit to Iowa, though, they played zone defense which is the Buckeyes’ achilles heel.
FTB: Deshaun Thomas was something of a designated scorer last season. Who is picking up the offensive slack?
MB:LaQuinton Ross has stepped up as the go-to scorer, but he has to be more consistent. He has scored 22 or more points in two of the four Big Ten games so far. But Ross was a no-show against Michigan State, netting just 5 points on 1-of-7 shooting. The Buckeyes are a very unselfish team. There have been seven different leading scorers so far this season. While that’s usually a positive, and can be a negative at times, too, especially during crunch time. Last season when Ohio State needed a bucket, everyone knew Deshaun Thomas was getting the ball.
FTB: What is your prediction for Thursday night?
MB: Every week during football season, I make a prediction. That’s something I never do during basketball season. As for this edition of the Ohio State Buckeyes’ basketball team, they are still a mystery to me. Matta’s cagers didn’t exactly play the toughest non-conference schedule, so the sample size is fairly small even at this point. Even after the overtime loss to Michigan State on the road, I thought that Ohio State could play with anyone in the country. But after the Iowa game, I now have my doubts. Down the stretch, the Buckeyes folded like a cheap suit against the Hawkeyes. Last season, Louisville lost three-straight games in the month of January. After that, the Cardinals lost just once (in 5 OT’s to Notre Dame) on their way to the National Championship. Could it happen for OSU? Who knows. It’s too early to tell. But one thing’s for sure, playing in front of a hostile crowd on the road against a very good team is daunting task and I expect it to be a great game.
FTB: BONUS QUESTION – America’s love affair with Aaron Craft: reassuring or nauseating?
MB: Aaron Craft is reassuring. He’s a good kid. A good student. Good role model. Plays his heart and butt off.