By Johnny Ginter on February 21, 2012 at 2:00p
OSU basketball is downshifting to Mostly Harmless

Last month I wrote a story about how the last month of the regular season would be make or break time for the Ohio State men's basketball team; most of my gloom and doom predictions were based on a lack of scoring (a problem that hasn't gone away), but also OSUs inability to win tough games on the road against top 25 teams.

In retrospect, even though it remains a possibility, saying that the Buckeyes could lose "anywhere up to six" games in their last month of play was more than a little hyperbolic. As of now Ohio State is still one of the best teams in the best conference in the nation. What is worrying, however, is that in addition to the concerns that many had about this team a month ago, several new issues have arisen that cast significant doubt as to whether this team is equipped to make any noise in the NCAA tournament.

To make things worse, what was once a surefire #1 seed is now staring down a 3 or even 4 seed depending on the outcome of the end of the regular season and the B1G tourney. An early exit in either that or the NCAAs would be incredibly disappointing for a team that looked like legitimate national title contenders in November and December. Today I'm going to take a look at what seems to be the biggest problems facing Ohio State, and what (if anything) can be done about them.

In last week's Dubcast, Luke and I discussed potential locker room/chemistry issues with the team. I was of the opinion that it was less a chemistry issue and more a leadership issue; Luke was less convinced, and as usual he seems to be the more perceptive of our dynamic duo. Personally I hate trying to read locker room tea leaves when usually the only exposure to team chemistry fans get are the 40 minutes or so per game that we see a few times a week, but this interview that Lenzelle Smith, Jr. gave to Adam Neft on 97.1 The Fan was eye-opening:

It's all pretty interesting, but the most relevant section begins at about 4 minutes in, where Lenzelle talks about how the team is less close than it was last year, and how that can negatively effect the team at times. Intimating that the team isn't playing "for each other" is incredibly discouraging, especially at this point in the season. It signifies a team that is regressing and struggling to deal with both the expectations that were placed upon them and a tougher regular season schedule.

What's even more discouraging is that this interview was conducted on February 17th, a day before the Michigan loss.

This isn't the only sign of dissension in the ranks. Twitter is admittedly the silliest barometer of team attitude or cohesion that one could come up with, and repeated calls from J.D. Weatherspoon for more playing time might not represent the worst possible public temper tantrum possible, but that combined with comments from Sully that the team has looked like "spoiled brats" at times by arguing both with refs and each other is disheartening at best.

The stats play this out. William Buford has been the target of a lot of scorn because of his performances in losses against Michigan and Michigan State (5/24 from the field combined, holy crap), but the truth of the matter is that aside from one great performance by Deshaun Thomas, as a team the Buckeyes have shot very poorly. For instance, in three games against ranked teams this month, Aaron Craft has gone 5/18 from the floor. "No big deal," you might be saying, "Craft is a 4th option at best on offense." And I agree! Which is why it's insane that he's even being looked upon as a source of points.

I make this face at least once a game

Most of this is attributable to OSU simply not having any perimeter shooters. Jared freaking Sullinger has the best 3 point shooting percentage on the team, and even Lenzelle has a higher percentage than Buford, who's attempted nearly 30 more threes than anybody else. If you had told me four years ago that Jon Diebler would be the missing component holding OSU back, I would've laughed in your face. Now, not so much.

Ohio State is also making only 32.5% of their threes, which ranks a Droopy Dogesque 241st in the country. This wouldn't be a huge problem if the Buckeyes were more consistent about feeding Sully on the inside, but for whatever reason Buford is still taking a higher percentage of shots than anyone else (over 27% of the team's total).

What's most frustrating about all of this is that underneath some very obvious flaws there is still a very talented team here; Ken Pomeroy still has them ranked as the second best team in the country, likely on the strength of his estimation of OSU having a top-ranked defense combined with a very difficult Big Ten schedule. And it should be pointed out that OSU's defense does remain solid. They've allowed 60 points or more in only ten of their games this year, and three of those were in blowout wins against VMI, Duke, and Indiana.

So offense is the issue, and a lot of this has to fall on Thad Matta. Certain elements of his gameplans, like not making sure that Sully is being fed in the paint or allowing guys like Buford and Thomas to rely on brute force poor shot selection, are things that should be easily fixable but clearly haven't yet improved. Spoony, though he's probably 3rd or 4th in terms of bench players who'll see minutes, has a point. Matta is famous for playing with an extremely short bench, but his reluctance to rely on those players for crucial minutes has now created a situation where teams know exactly how to defend OSU 90% of the time. There's no real variance on the court; there's always one consistent inside player (Sully), two perimeter shooters, one of whom might literally be a double agent for the rest of the Big Ten, and two other guys who teams are content to assume won't have an impact offensively. Taking away Sully by double or triple teaming him in the paint and fooling Buford into taking 18 foot shots doesn't work every time, but when it does, it works very well indeed.

I'm not sure how to solve any potential team chemistry issues; that's probably due to a combination of an overall lack of senior leadership and a very young team, and won't be solved overnight. Offensively though, Matta must find ways to get Sully as many touches as possible inside, while also using guys like Amir Williams (6-11) and Sam Thompson (6-7) to extend the court somewhat with their length.

Jared Sullinger is an incredible player, and it's not fun to imagine what this team would've looked like had he not decided to come back for his sophomore season. Still, his NCAA ride will come to a disappointing and early end unless Ohio State begins to address some of the glaring issues facing them, and it starts tonight against Illinois.


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Bam_Childress's picture

Why not this lineup?

PG - Craft

G - Buford

G - Thomas

PF - Sullinger

C - Williams


Do you think Thomas could keep up with the other guards in the B10?  I know Williams could make up for Thomas mishaps on defense by being a dynamic shot-blocker that we are missing down low.  

Sullinger would be hard to guard at the PF position, but he would also most likely have a hard time guarding a PF, but at the same time he doens't really play that great of defense down low anyways.

5 ft 9 in - 185 lbs - ALL HEART

osbucks9's picture

Exactly, and then you could go defensive by taking out Thomas, and putting in Smith or Thompson. 

Bam_Childress's picture

is williams really just that bad or does matta just not see that we need williams dow low?

5 ft 9 in - 185 lbs - ALL HEART

Jdadams01's picture

Defense isn't our problem, generally. Offense is. This lineup takes out a good chuck of our scoring for a guy who has no O outside of dunks.

awwwwwwop's picture

This lineup takes out 6 points a game, not really a good chunk in my opinon.

"Who cares? Go Bucks." - Aaron Untch

Jdadams01's picture

And you're totally right. I misread it the first time and thought he was saying to take Thomas out for Amir.

Squirrel Master's picture

Yeah, for a while I was arguing of removing Thomas for Williams but recently through discussion on here I think we can all agree that moving Buford to 2 might help him alot, Thomas at 3 would be somewhat of a lateral move and Sullinger at 4 would really get him to his natural position. then adding Williams at the post would only strengthen the defense and based on Smith's offensive numbers, williams could easily equal 6 pts a game. Heck, Lauderdale last year almost avg 2-3 dunks a game.

I think that lineup makes sense for at least a try. Moving sullinger would help keep him fresh from all the banging that Williams would take on and Sullinger against a perimeter 4 wouldn't be that much of a change from teams that place a perimeter player at the 5.

This team as is, is a very stout defensive team. I just think it can be even that more difficult with a true post presence. I also believe Buford will excel as the 2 guard.

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

awwwwwwop's picture

The only thing i worry about with this lineup is the fould trouble Amir would get into. He gets a little wild, but he could always get a breather from Rav.

"Who cares? Go Bucks." - Aaron Untch

Squirrel Master's picture

plus that may be less fouls we should worry about for Sullinger. Hasn't it been pointed out by us as well as in game commentators that The defense tries to shield sullinger from getting into foul trouble? Best way of doing that is to get someone else in the post to make those hard fouls in the lane. This team needs an enforcer! I might even welcome a few good hard fouls by Amir to make opponents think again about coming into the paint. He did look a bit nasty a couple times and I like a nasty 6'11'' center!

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

Bam_Childress's picture

I hope Amir plays tonight...

5 ft 9 in - 185 lbs - ALL HEART

Rooster Buckburn's picture

Would be interesting to see this lineup.  Since we can't seem to generate any consistent outside shooting, other than Thomas perhaps, we may as well go 'all in' to get bigger inside and give Sullinger some help in the paint.

chitown buckeye's picture

Good Article! I was on here a week ago as one who thought the glass was "half empty" after the MSU loss. This write up is exactly what I was thinking at the time. It just seems as if everyone makes the simple excuse after a loss like "we didnt shoot well"  or "they had a player who went lights out" or certainly my favorite "Matta will make sure they learn from this loss". To me there is so much more to it then these things, sure a player went lights out at Illinois but at some point dont we make adjustments to how we play defense to stop that from getting out of hand? We played a tough physical team in MSU and there was no change in game plan then what we did against Duke. Run and Shoot and hope we are hitting shots tonight! It worked against Duke so Why wouldnt it work against MSU? My personally feeling is the team chemsitry is gone and it scares me to think how bad it is going to become with each loss. my fear is by the time the tourny comes in Mid-March these guys will just be looking to get the season over with. Especially if we drop a couple more games or have a poor showing in the BI6 Tourny or even worse both! Lets hope Matta and the staff can rally these guys for this final important stretch of BBall!

"I'm having a heart attack!"

Arizona_Buckeye's picture

In my opinion - this team is done, out, and DOA for the rest of the season and the NCAA Tourney.  As I have stated on several other threads, I see no effort, no concentration, and no heart in this team what-so-ever since about week 3 of the season.  They have pretty much mailed it in every game since and the only way they are winning is either luck or just plain outmanning an over matched team.  Personally, I don't think it is a fixable situation and if they even win one game in the NCAA Tourney - it will be a surprise.  Sorry for the gloom and doom but frankly, given their on paper talent, this team has totally sucked and it shows!

The best thing about Pastafarianism? It is not only acceptable, but advisable, to be heavily sauced

pcon258's picture

yea, that interview was pretty disheartening. i can't wait till lenzelle gets a little older, i feel like he could be a great leader. i dont know much about the nuances of basketball, but when i see sullinger literally walking along the baseline while craft is at the point looking to pass it, that doesnt bode well. like i get that sully probably wouldnt get open in time anyway, but off the ball movement is extrememly important! you cant just walk around with your thumb up your ass (sorry for the crudeness)! honestly, if they lost to illinois tonight, and used that as like a rallying point to get hot for the rest of the season, it could be a good thing. im my mind, i imagine them sitting in the locker room, dejected, matta has already stormed out, and then craft, or sully, or buford, or anyone! just starts ripping everyone apart, and then they all come together and work hard at practice and just start dominating. sounds a little too much like a movie, but hell, it could happen

OHIOST1087's picture

Seems to me as though we are still trying to run last year's offense w/ this year's personnel. We aren't able to productively have 2 bigs on the floor at the like last year when we were able to have Lauderdale & Sully in the effectively controlling the post defensively protecting the paint. Thomas & Buford are no Lighty & Diebler (obvs) yet for some reason Matta still depends on them in the Offensive sets as if they were. I would like to see Buford become more of a 'slasher/take it to the hoop finisher' and stop always settling for jumpers/camping out at the 3 pt line. Matta really needs to adjust his offensive sets to fit the strengths of this year's personnel.

NYC Buckeye's picture

I couldn't agree more with your offensive theory (not sure about the Lauderdale comment though)... People seem to think its complicated, but its not, Matta is running last year's offense and its not working with these players... Buford can not substitute for Diebler, and everyone in the conf now knows that which allows faster double teams on Sully...

Everyone wants him to change the lineup however Matta just needs to adjust the offensive scheme... 

Its clear that Thomas can score, maybe 4 or 5 of Buford's brick heaves from 20 ft should go Thomas driving towards the basket...

mclovin's picture

I think any offensive scheme that counts on WIlliam Buford to score as a slasher is doomed to failure.  Buford is going to go down as one of OSU's most prolific scorers of all time -- in the books at least. But for those of us who have watched his career, he will go down as (not a huge, but certainly) a disappointment.  He came in as a lights out jumpshooter and he will leave as a lights out jumpshooter, having developed little beyond that one skill (and he has even cast doubt on that this year).  He has shown sparks of being able to put the ball on the floor and get to the hoop, but anymore those attempts result in turnovers, charges, missed shots, and he's never been able to beat someone on the dribble (read: bad ball-handling). 

Be that as it may, I think he would thrive at the 2 with a bigger body at the 3, forcing other teams to guard them with their 2.  Calipari showed everyone last year that Buford struggles mightily when a longer defender is on him, and the Big Ten took notice.  Matta would be best served to counter with lineup changes rather than by adopting wholesale changes in offensive philosophy.  It has been mentioned that Williams coming in at the 5 would move Thomas to the 3, creating mismatches for the other team.  You could also keep things as they are and bring in Weatherspoon to play the three (or the four and switch with Thomas).  Ross is also another option (although his defesnive liability might be too great at this point). 

NYC Buckeye's picture

I was with you on the first paragraph, but not the second...

I don't think Buford would thrive with a lineup change, by driving more or shooting, hes just not that caliber player to be a primary scorer, regardless of who is guarding him or whatever position he is playing...  granted, he can get hot, and have great games.... he reminds me of John Starks, some nights he was on fire, and some nights he was 3-15... just gotta live with it...

awwwwwwop's picture

I am not really sure where this Lauderdale Sullinger combination idea comes from.  If you go look at Lauderdale's game stats, he was averaging about 10-13 minutes per game in close games.  His big minutes late in the season came in blowout wins over Indiana, PSU, UTSA, and George Mason.  We played 3/4 of the game without him in and seemed to do just fine. Craft was always the first sub on the floor and usually played the rest of the game.  The reason Sully got better looks last year was because we had 3 45%+ shooters whose men physically could not rotate down to Sully.  That is the problem with this team, nobody to spread the floor and keep the defense from collapsing.

I think this team has to pick its identity, offense or defense and go with a lineup accordingly.  If it is offense, get Lenzelle Smith off of the floor and try a shooter whose defense is lacking.  If it is defense, limit Buford's shots and get Williams more playing time. 

"Who cares? Go Bucks." - Aaron Untch

DowntheSideline12's picture

A common trend here seems be Matta's lack of adjusting the offense with the tools at his disposal. How much of this falls on Matta? I said before that it seems like we're not the greatest at making in game adjustments. Great recruiter, definitely a good coach, but great? I don't really think so.

Greg Jennings "I put my team on my back"

djidell's picture

It does seem like we're getting outcoached.  Tough losses like Kentucky last year are a hard pill to swallow when you feel like you have/had the better team.

coloradobuckeye's picture

I agree with the articles point concerning teams knowing how to guard OSU 90% of the time.  In my opinion they seem predictable, and even I am able to see what they are going to run on offense. 

Let your hobbies and interests supplement your life, not be the main course.

buckeyefanatic's picture

>> but for whatever reason Buford is still taking a higher percentage of shots than anyone else

I think that reason is the head coach.  Can't WillieB shoot his way out of this mess?  I'm hoping he can.

How many batteries does it take to beat Michigan football?   1AA
Want to beat Michigan? There's an App for that.

SouthBayBuckeye's picture

two things I've taken away from this season:

Not as good as last year

The Big Ten as a whole is better than last year.


add those up = more losses. more losses = more bitching by spoiled fan base.

Banned from ATO since June 3rd 2PMish PST

awwwwwwop's picture

I dont think it is just bitching by a spoiled fan base.  This team was supposed to be a number 1 seed, and they are staring at a 3 seed in the face.  They have woefully underperformed the expectations of the national media, not just this fan base.  Is it the fan base's expectations that have seen no progress from sully and craft and regression from Buford? Or is it that they have actually either gotten no better or regressed?  When you bring in such quality recruiting classes, expectations are high and deservedly so. 

"Who cares? Go Bucks." - Aaron Untch

SouthBayBuckeye's picture

I'm not saying people shouldn't be disappointed, but just because on paper something is supposed to happen doesn't mean it will. There's a lot of talent on the roster that isn't playing at all and probably for good reason.  It takes more than good players to win, chemistry is huge. Coke II was supposed to be better, so was the Mustang II and Windows Vista. Just because something is supposed to be better doesn't mean it will be or should be. Last year's group was special. More Sr leadership, of which just so happened to be legit ballers. Simple fact of the matter is that this year's team is not last year's team. Period.

Also, saying that Sullinger and Craft haven't gotten better is absurd. Simply put, Sullinger can't score all the teams points when faced with double and triple teams unlike last year. There's no one on this team that other teams have to honor when doubling Sullinger down low.And contrary to popular belief there's no one on the bench that would garner that sort of attention right now either(not saying that those ppl won't develop eventually, they just aren't there yet). We've seen the offense DRAG when the 2nd unit comes in and it's UGLY.


In general I'm just sick of this arm chair coaching mentality. Just because people watch the games on TV doesn't qualify them to do anything more than be unhappy. No one is there in practice that comments here. No one sees what Spoon, Amir, etc are doing or not doing. This is not say that I'm not curious to see what they're capable of or that I don't' get upset when they lose either. I just have faith that other people that are actually part of the program "might" know a little more about the situation than I do as someone that just watches the games on TV from the comfort of my couch.

People are being confronted with a harsh reality: you can't win it all every year. We just learned that in football and maybe it brought us back to earth. Conference Championships aren't just things that happen despite past successes. I think a lot of frustration has flowed over from football on to basketball this year to be honest with you.

Banned from ATO since June 3rd 2PMish PST

BuckeyeSki's picture

People are being confronted with a harsh reality: you can't win it all every year.


Banned from BlackShoeDiaries since 2008. Crime: Slander/Defamation of Character Judgement: Guilty

SouthBayBuckeye's picture

Just wait for the first game we lose under Meyer. You might want to wear a helmet to protect you from all the people jumping from ledges afterward.

Banned from ATO since June 3rd 2PMish PST

awwwwwwop's picture

So why come to the site and comment ever if we are not allowed to question our perfect leaders? You are right about Sully, he has developed a step back game but he has seemed more of a primadonna this year than last year.  But I resent the argument that I am not allowed to question the coaching because all I do is watch the games.  You do know coaches are not infallible right?

Edit: When we talk about what we want to see, it is just that, what we want to see. You may notice that nobody is calling for Matta to be fired or anything like that, we are wondering what other lineups may look like.  We do not know what goes in practice and neither do you.  Maybe he never tried that lineup or isnt giving somebody a chance. We dont know.  The whole point and a lot of the joy in sports is armchair coaching.  I am sure that you have never once criticized Jim Bollman right? Right? I mean, you arent in practice or in his head when he makes the calls.

"Who cares? Go Bucks." - Aaron Untch

SouthBayBuckeye's picture

I'm not questioning anyone's "right" to say what they want(provided politics are not involved as we all know that rule). it just gets to a point where none of it matters and it's all spec and we get in the mode of "well F***, he clearly should have done this" etc etc etc.  I'm not saying anyone is perfect here either. Youth can be a great thing, but it can also swing back the opposite way and be not so good. I think the reason why a lot of those guys don't play is because they're not ready. Either someone ahead of them fits the role better, or their immature(see Amir during the Kansas game). I even agree that I'd LIKE to see Amir get some PT over Ravenel, or maybe even run an offense with Sullinger and Amir at the same time. When it doesn't happen though I just think back to seeing him getting a little physical with a KU player in a way that wasn't part of the game.


Another example: I'd love to see Q Ross play more(3 seconds would be more than he's getting now) but then his little twitter pout session lets me know that maybe he's no ready or not mature enough to see meaningful minutes.


i don't' know if prima dona is correct. I'd be a little miffed if I was getting hacked all day(or thought I was) with nary a peep from Teddy Valentine's whistle, but on the other end breathing on someone as they flop and getting called for a charge. He's the focal point of the team, and it's pretty clear that when he touches the ball the offense is better and isn't stagnant as we've seen at times when he doesn't


side note - I'm not saying coaches are made in the mold of Jesus or whatever and never screw up, but I would  think that we were all taught a lesson this football season that they know more than the general public.


BUT this is MERCA, and you do have the right to voice your displeasure as much as I have a right to disagree. Let's just hope this becomes a moot point and OSU wins out.


EDIT in response to your EDIT: I have seen people say that Matta is the problem. Which is clearly 100% true because of all the titles OSU won from the 70s until he came on board, right? Randy Ayers: Never forget.

Banned from ATO since June 3rd 2PMish PST

awwwwwwop's picture

good response.  To the Matta things, I meant me.  I cant speak for the rest of the people on that topic.

"Who cares? Go Bucks." - Aaron Untch

SouthBayBuckeye's picture

Yeah, I didn't mean you said that. I think we're on the same page there. I think we're both furstrated with this team at the end of the day. the homer in me wants to say that these tougher game, as compared to last year, might be good for them come March. Find out what they're made of now(mentally more than anything) and reset my hopes accordingly.


with all of this said, please no one ruin the outcome of the game, I am DVRing it as it starts at 4PM PST. Tempted to have it up on the Watch ESPN app on my phone at work... we'll see though.

Banned from ATO since June 3rd 2PMish PST

SouthBayBuckeye's picture

I wish I could go back an correct some of my spelling grammar......

Banned from ATO since June 3rd 2PMish PST

Jbuckham94's picture

Right now the team has a 2 seed. I don't understand where you guys are getting this 3 and 4 seed stuff. I really don't expect them to fall that far.

Class of 2016. Go Bucks!

SouthBayBuckeye's picture

we're probably a play-in team at this point. 65th seed or worse.

Banned from ATO since June 3rd 2PMish PST

Squirrel Master's picture

I am not sure "not as good as last year" is fully accurate. they are not as much of a veteran team as last year but I think it can be easily argued that this team is just as talented all around.

and I wouldn't say we bitch as much as wonder out loud why the team is looking so stagnant against lesser teams. I trust Matta is a good enough coach (his record speaks for itself) but sometimes I think he might be doing exactly what I think Tressel fell into, slurping his own past success! No matter how good you have been, you always need to shake things up every now and then to reach new levels.

I hate to say this but "stupid is doing the same thing over and over again and get the same failed results!" It's time for something new and I am not talking about firing or anything major. Just try something different to see if it may or may not work. There is still time left!

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

SouthBayBuckeye's picture

Judging by the colors Coach Matta's face turn during a game, I doubt he's satisfied. haha.


"not as good" doesn't necessarily mean "not as talented". "good" can be measure 1st by # of wins. I think last years team's pieces fit together better than this year's. Are there better players overall than last year? Maybe? are they at least as talented? Sure. I just don't see them clicking like they did last year. But then again, not having anyone we can put the word THREE in to there last name to give them a nickname makes us way worse than last year if you ask me.


DeShaun THREEmas.. no

Evan THREEvanel.. ugh

Jordan THREEbert.. hey, maybe someday.

etc etc

Banned from ATO since June 3rd 2PMish PST

bowe1632's picture

The chemistry issue is absolutely huge - that lack of chemistry respective to last years squad has always been apparent (excluding perhaps the Duke game).  You can tell these guys aren't as close as last year's team - that issue will most certainly be a contributing factor in this team's demise.  Last year's team seemed to be closer off the court, resulting in slightly elevated play on the court.

Spoiled fan base or not - this team is more talented than this.  No sports fan wants to see a team underachieve to this degree.  This is a forum, these people have a right to be upset watching a team capable of winning a NC get thoroughly outplayed by UM (I don't care if it's on the road or not)

And I hate to continue to ride William Buford, but here is a stark reality at this point in his collegiate career:  the young man is not a big game 'gamer'.  Do you remember watching Golden State beat Dallas in the first round?  Baron Davis - gamer.  Some guys are gamers, some aren't.  Being he will always be a Buckeye, I hope he becomes a gamer in the future.  But, at this point, it's not in's not in his personality and he hasn't displayed those characteristics.

Buckeye414's picture


Has anyone ever looked at Google Maps definition of Ohio Stadium, or as google has it "Columbus Crew Stadium" and when you scroll over it the description is "Looks like a giant toilet bowl. Also a den of cheaters."



-Go Bucks!

CanadianBuckeye's picture

Wow, there is a slew of scUM fans posting nasty remarks on there.  Looks like a lot of them went in and posted today as well.

OSUNeedles's picture

Thanks for the Hitchhiker's Guide pic... That has been dancing through my head the past few weeks of the season.

larzdm's picture

If only Zaphod Beeblebrox was on the team... maybe between his third arm or second head we'd score a few more points.  42 more to be precise.

CanadianBuckeye's picture

I consider Buford the Zaphod of the team... never know which head is gonna pop up in the games.

Also... Ironically you just had the 42nd comment of this article.  Way to be!