Thad Matta's Christmas Wish: Better Shooting

By Kyle Rowland on December 24, 2012 at 10:00a

This evening, Santa Claus will load up his sleigh and venture out into the Great Unknown with a cadre of reindeer. When he stops in Columbus at the Matta household, a sack full of goodies for the Ohio State head coach’s daughters won’t be the only items left under the tree. Forty-five-year-old Thad Matta has also requested a special gift from Santa – more field goals. 

Thad Matta asked Santa to improve Ohio State's jump shootingMatta should totally wear one of these to a game.

The Buckeyes are no slouch at 9-2, but in both losses – Duke and Kansas – poor shooting has been as noticeable as, well, a pile of bricks. At Duke, Ohio State shot 33.8 percent. It happily would have taken that number during Saturday’s 74-66 loss to the eighth-ranked Jayhawks. Ohio State made nine field goals in the second half and shot 30.8 percent for the game.

“I asked Santa for Christmas to improve our jump shooting,” Matta said. “So we’ll find out. I changed my list.”

If you set aside the shooting factor, Ohio State matches up with any team in the country. The Buckeyes possess one of the best defenses in the country. Athletically, they’re as gifted as anyone. Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott are as productive as any point guards in the nation, and each is involved in more cases of theft than many felons. But to win basketball games, teams must put the ball into the basket.

Ohio State did that all of 20 times against the Jayhawks. That prompted more wishes from Matta.

“There was one point in the second half where I turned to the bench and said, ‘Let’s call a play where we can score,’” he said.

Craft, LaQuinton Ross, Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Sam Thompson combined to convert 9 of 37 field goal attempts. One or more of those players is supposed to complement Deshaun Thomas, but even he went arctic. Thomas scored 16 points on just four field goals, shooting 11 shots in 38 minutes. He went more than 10 minutes in the second half without attempting a shot.

“We had wide-open looks, and I trusted my teammates to knock down the shots,” Thomas said. “They had good looks and didn’t go down. I just kept telling them to keep shooting.”

The NCAA Tournament is built for teams with shooters. But you need a minimum of two scorers and most times three is the optimum number. Ross was thought to be the second option, but he’s stalled as of late, and Craft’s shooting woes are becoming more permanent with each game. He’s shooting 27 percent in the Buckeyes’ last seven outings.

During one stretch of the second half against Kansas, Ohio State had made 2 of 17 shots and gone without a field goal for more than 10 minutes. Going further, Ohio State scored just two field goals in a 16-minute span of the second half as Kansas built a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. Those are numbers that elite teams don’t even flirt with. The Buckeyes, however, seem to approach low levels with regularity.

“If you told me (Kansas) was going to shoot 51 and we would shoot 31, I thought it would be like their last three games,” said Matta, about three margins of 28 or more points. “That gives me hope. Maybe this isn’t as bad as I think it is right now.”

Fime form, son.Craft showing off his early season shooting technique.

Or is it? There is a clear divide in Ohio State’s wins and losses. The Buckeyes have made nearly 50 percent of their shots in nine wins against less-than-stellar competition. Those losses feature shooting percentages hovering around 30 percent, though.

In one week, the Big Ten schedule will begin, and with it, Ohio State’s weeks will become much tougher. The conference features four top-10 teams and six teams ranked in the AP Top 25.

“We have two losses on the year,” Craft said. “Kansas and Duke are two of the best teams in the country. That’s not an excuse. We’re not backing down. We want to play teams like this. Going into Big Ten season, we have to know that game in and game out, it’s going to be like this. We’re going to play great teams every night.”

The biggest detriment to Ohio State’s offense is its inability to make jump shots. It made 2 of 18 three-pointers Saturday. Where the Buckeyes get the bulk of their points is in transition. For them, the phrase "good defense makes offense" is more a motto than a statement.

“We have to continue to get better defensively, because transition is great to us,” Matta said. “If we can get out and get some easy ones, hopefully it ignites us. But all of these guys have shown they can shoot the ball.

“We have to continue to build on that. This team has shown that it can shoot the basketball. Somehow, some way, we've got to figure out how we're going to play our best on game night, but knowing it may not go down. So let's find an alternative way.”

As meaningful games quickly approach, time is dwindling for the Buckeyes to discover that elixir. 


Comments Show All Comments

Killer nuts's picture

Matta's point about the margin being close despite being 20 percentage points worse in shooting is a good point. To hang around with a good team despite horrid shooting is a good sign. We make up for bad shooting by causing turnovers and getting extra possessions. Yes, I realize we need to get over the hump against good teams but fortunately our conference slate gives us plenty of opportunities. I think this team will come around and there's reason to think better days are ahead. Losses to duke and Kansas aren't bad losses

Buckeye Chuck's picture

Couple of things. First, a top 10 team will almost always be favored to win at home, as we were Saturday, so I don't see how losing to Kansas can't be seen as a bad loss--especially when  compared to our complete lack this season of "good wins."
Also, I would say that keeping the game close despite the difference in shooting percentages would be a positive sign, if there was evidence that both our bad day shooting and Kansas's ability to get good shots and make them were flukes. Unfortunately, I'm not sure either is the case. In particular, it's beginning to look like my hope that Smith would be able to carry more of the load this season was in vain. 
Not getting a single consistent scorer in a 5-man 2011 recruiting class is a fairly major misstep from this regime. Granted, it's basketball and relatively easy to turn things around, but it's a lot tougher neighborhood now too.

The most "loud mouth, disrespect" poster on 11W.

jestertcf's picture

lol worst photoshop ever. which is of course why i love it.

~Because we couldn't go for three~

ATXbucknut's picture

"If you set aside the shooting factor, Ohio State matches up with any team in the country."  I respectfully disagree. We have next to no post presence. 

RedStorm45's picture

"It made 2 of 18 three-pointers Saturday"
Um, what?
They did finish 2/21 from downtown after starting 6/10.
i remember getting called out (by an 11W staff member no less) for questioning "Craft's expanded offensive role."  Please find me a major D1 pg with a worse shooting percentage.

baddogmaine's picture

If you set aside the shooting factor, Ohio State matches up with any team in the country. The Buckeyes possess one of the best defenses in the country.

 Through games of 12/23 the Buckeyes have played 2 really good teams and 9 really bad ones, a schedule Sagarin ranks as 268th, so we should be looking pretty good. Official NCAA statistics have us 5th in the B1G, 96th in Div 1 in FG %; 5th in the B1G, 65th in Div 1 in 3-pt FG%. On defense we are 6th in the B1G, 43rd in Div 1 in FG % defense; 7th in the B1G, 113th in Div 1 in 3-pt FG % defense. There is more to defense than FG% but these numbers do not look like they belong to one of the best defenses in the country, especially considering our schedule. That we are 7th in the BiG in RB margin, 6th in the B1G and 57th in Div 1 in assists per game suggests that we are not doing the other stuff all that well either. For all Aaron's Craftiness we are only 5th in the B1G, 129th in Div 1 in steals per game. Matta teams used to play without fouling but this year we are 9th in the B1G, 145th in Div 1 in fouls committed per game.
Someone please tell me how these statistics belong to an elite team. Improving our shooting will improve our defense, since defense comes partly from offense, but it will not completely fix our defense. And it is not clear that improving our shooting is as simple as getting better bounces off the rim or simply wishing it. This shooting is a fair reflection of the kind of team we are based on the style of play Matta has directed - our shooting is most likely to improve if the style of our offense changes. This should get me a downvote or two because the cheerleaders in 11W HATE bad news but I'm just the messenger and shooting me will not help a team that even 11W says is only the 5th best in the B1G right now.