Trouble in Buckeye Country?
The biggest question for Ohio State going into the season was how they would replace the offensive firepower of Deshaun Thomas, a second round NBA pick in 2013. Thomas led the Big Ten in scoring last season at 19.8 points per game. He was able to score from anywhere on the court, a terrific post-up player who also averaged nearly 2 threes per contest. After Thomas, the next leading scorer on the Buckeyes last season was point guard Aaron Craft, who averaged 10 points per game on 41.7% field goals.
6’8” junior LaQuinton Ross was expected to take over a lot of the scoring load, and while he’s shown an ability to be a top scoring option on occasion - a season-high 25 points against Purdue on December 31st and 22 points in back-to-back games during the recent 4-game skid - the consistency just hasn’t been there. His 13.9 points per game lead the team but he’s been held to single digit scoring on 5 occasions and is only shooting 42.6% on the season.
Senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. has been the team’s second best scorer so far this season, averaging 11.9 points per game on 46.6% field goals, yet he’s been similarly inconsistent, held to single digits in 3 of the team’s past 5 games.
All in all, defensive toughness is the name of the game for Ohio State, behind their scrappy, veteran leader Aaron Craft. In their third game of the season, the Buckeyes held Marquette - then ranked 17th in the country - to only 35 points on 18.9% field goals. Craft leads the Big Ten in steals per game with 2.3, and 6’11” center Amir Williams has protected the rim for the Buckeyes, averaging 1.9 blocks per game.
However, the team has shown a lot of vulnerability so far this year on the defensive end, especially in the paint. Iowa lit them up for 84 points in their first meeting and outside of Craft, Williams and junior guard Shannon Scott (2.2 steals per game), no one on the team is forcing any turnovers.
As one of the strongest conferences in the country yet again this year, the Big Ten will likely get at least 5 or 6 teams into the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State is a shoe-in, Wisconsin and Iowa are on pace to get there too, and then there’s Ohio State and Michigan, both likely to make bracket when all is said and done, but a few hiccups in the early going have us raising some questions. Minnesota, Indiana and Purdue are all strong candidates to make a tournament run as well.
With home games against Illinois and Penn State up next, Ohio State desperately needs a pair of victories to get back to .500 in Big Ten play. After that, they have two tough road games at Wisconsin and Iowa, followed by home games against Purdue and Michigan (their only matchup against their bitter rivals this season). The season eventually ends with a home stand against the Spartans and the Buckeyes better be hoping the game won’t be a ‘win-and-get-in’ sort of scenario.