A Case for Chaos

By Chris Lauderback on March 3, 2013 at 6:00a
15 Comments

All season long, it’s been far easier to dissect the flaws than gush about the strengths of Thad Matta’s current squad, especially when bumping it up against the three previous editions of Ohio State hoops.

The bigs still fail to impress more often than not, a consistent complementary scorer has yet to be found and collectively, the offense doesn’t consistently strike fear in anyone from the perimeter. Even at 21-7 overall and 11-5 in the incredibly rugged B1G, the Buckeyes too often put their deficiencies on display and through 28 games, haven’t really closed the gap on any of the largest areas of concern.

Matta’s success in Columbus has raised the bar and with that, this is undoubtedly Thad’s least impressive group since the 2008-09 Buckeyes went 22-11 overall, 10-8 in the league and lost to #9 seed Siena in the first round of the Madness.

Over the next three seasons, Matta’s teams won at least a share of all three regular season conference championships, captured the conference tournament crown twice, earned a #1, and two #2 seeds in the NCAA tournament and advanced all the way to the Final Four a season ago.

Despite their collective superiority over this year’s basketball Buckeyes, and a nationally elite status all three seasons, two of those teams didn’t live up to expectations in the Dance.

The 2009-10 Buckeyes went 29-8 and 14-4 in league play on the way to a conference title sweep and a #2 seed in the NCAA tournament. This team featured Turner, Diebler, Buford and Lighty but still got bounced in the round of 16 by a solid but lesser foe in #6 seed Tennessee to end the season on a sour note.

A year later, the loaded 2010-11 squad featuring Sullinger, Buford, Diebler, Lighty, Thomas and Craft steamrolled its way to a 34-3 record, sweeping the B1G crowns and earning a #1 seed in the East region. Matta’s team would underachieve again, however, as they ran into a long and athletic Kentucky team that held Ohio State to 33% shooting, including the 2/16 stinker from The WB.

Last year, the Buckeyes broke through for the first time since the 2006-07 group led by Oden and Conley, reaching the Final Four on the heels of another B1G regular season crown, finishing with a 31-8 overall record and coming within three points of playing for an NCAA title.

So, while the three previous editions of OSU basketball sported a superior resume, only one of the teams managed to exceed expectations when it mattered most. In the same three-year span in which the Buckeyes were never seeded below #2, lesser seeds – aka lesser teams – did all kinds of crazy things. A #5 (Arizona ’11), #6 (Tenn. ’10) and a #7 seed (Fla. ’11) all made the Elite Eight, an 11-seed VCU team advanced all the way to the 2011 Final Four and Butler, as both a #5 seed and an #8 seed, reached the title game in back-to-back seasons.

The point is that, while this year’s team has some warts and could very likely meet an early demise in Big Dance, they could also play out of their minds and go on a very respectable run. The standby prophecies of needing strong guard play and a go-to scorer aren’t without merit but just as important is whether or not the team, regardless of its supposed ceiling, is clicking on all cylinders when the specter of single-elimination, lose and your season – maybe your career – is over, and the chance for chaos increases.

Could Ohio State be just good enough to hang around, get some ridiculous and/or overachieving performances from a few guys and reach the Elite Eight or better? The odds are probably against it but that’s why they play the games.

Thinking some Buckeye optimism might be a good thing ahead of Tuesday’s trip to Bloomington, here are a few more why Ohio State could ultimately exceed expectations and respond to the challenge of March Madness.

A BATTLE-TESTED CORE

Despite the current shortcomings – aka hopefully just yet-to-be-developed skills – the roster still has a tournament-tested core.

Lenzelle, though he has struggled to play consistent basketball against the upper-echelon teams this year, went four double figures in three of five NCAA tournament games a year ago, scoring 17 against UC, 18 in the upset of #1 seed Syracuse and 10 in the Final Four loss to Kansas. And he was efficient doing it, shooting 52% overall and 45% from distance. If Smith Jr. can play that kind of ball this time around, it would be a huge plus for the Buckeyes.

OSU needs 2012-Lenzelle to play bigger in big games

Aaron Craft also reached double figures in three of the five tourney games last year, including a masterful 17-point, 10-assist performance against Gonzaga. Overall, he shot a respectable 48% in the Dance and averaged 5.2 assists. And if teams are foolish enough to press him like Izzo did recently, Craft is smart enough to repeatedly drive the lane off high screen action. None of this even contemplates the impact he had at the defensive end of the floor, which I’ll get to it a bit.

Finally, as you undoubtedly recall, Deshaun straight blew up in the tournament last year with the exception of his 3/14 shooting stinker in the Kansas loss. Removing that game from the equation, Thomas went for 31 against Loyola, 18 in the win over Gonzaga, 24 in the pride-stripping of the Bearcats and 14 in the win over the Orange.

Even with the Kansas dud, DT shot 47% for the tournament and pulled down an impressive 7.6 boards per game.

Bottom line, these three won’t be overwhelmed by the big stage and if the trio can raise their respective games, Ohio State absolutely has a chance to shake things up.

Though the Buckeyes took some lumps this year, it’s important to remember they also beat two then-top-five ranked teams for the first time in the same season. They were at home but the point remains the Buckeyes won’t just curl up and die if things don’t go well early in a game. Playing in the B1G this year could pay off come Madness time.

a lack of dominant higher seeds

It’s still uncertain exactly where Ohio State will be seeded but as of Friday night, they were listed as a 5 seed in Lunardi’s latest projection.

The squads listed as 1-4 seeds look like this:

LUNARDI'S TOP 16 SEEDS (THRU 3/1)
#1 seeds #2 seeds #3 seeds #4 seeds
Indiana Duke Florida Marquette
Kansas Louisville New Mexico Arizona
Gonzaga Michigan State Kansas State Wisconsin
Miami Georgetown Michigan Syracuse

I still see Indiana and Kansas as my personal favorites. In addition to those, Miami could be a tough matchup but while I respect Gonzaga, I can’t say I’d be scurred of taking them on if it came down to it.

Looking at the #2 seeds, Ohio State has already beaten Sparty and while they’d be classified as upsets to be sure, I don’t see it as impossible for OSU to take down a Duke, Louisville or Georgetown if things broke right.

The #3 seeds don’t exactly strike fear either. Ohio State hung with Michigan on the road and beat them at home. New Mexico? Okay. Let’s play. Florida and K-State both have some weapons but in a one-game season, I feel like Ohio State could pull out a W against either of those teams provided Deshaun and Craft were playing up to their potential.

Ohio State already beat Wisconsin and the rest of the #4 seeds aren’t world-beaters. I think it’s safe to say most of those top 16 teams aren’t without what could be fatal flaws. There just aren’t any great teams in college this year.

THE CRAFT EFFECT

I touched on his bit of offensive success in last year’s dance, but it’s what he can do at the defensive end that is probably the most important in the tournament.

Of late, Craft and Scott are creating havoc on defense

We already know he has the ability to take a team completely out of their offense, especially if the opponent doesn’t have a strong ball-handler. Craft forced many a team, specifically Gonzaga and UC, to start their offense much further away from the three-point line than usual and that had a ripple effect on the rest of the offense. That is truly an underrated aspect of Craft’s game, and one that really made a difference in last year’s run to the Final Four.

Not only that, Craft’s quick hands yielded a ridiculous 15 steals in five games, including six as he dominated the Bearcat backcourt. He had just one theft against Syracuse but picked up three steals each in the other three contests. When it comes down to it, Craft’s defense is very tough to prepare for, especially if you haven’t faced him all year.

What also seems to be improving of late is how Shannon Scott and Craft are working in tandem to really dog the opposing backcourt. Scott alone has nine steals in his last three outings while Craft has five.
Led by Craft, the perimeter ball pressure could be a factor in a run that exceeds expectations.

big-time player, big-time stage

Hopefully it won’t work against him but there’s no question Deshaun is aware he needs a huge NCAA tournament to help propel him up the NBA Draft board.

Ohio State will go only as far as Thomas takes them

It became plausible that he’d turn pro after he went off in last year’s dance. I already touched on the individual performances which helped him average 19.2 points per game along with the noted 7.6 boards. In fact, Deshaun led the Buckeyes in scoring and rebounding in three of the five games while Jared Sullinger only did it twice.

Thomas has been in a bit of a funk lately, shooting just 35% over his last three outings (17/48). From my vantage point, he’s simply been too eager to jack up threes early in the shot clock, taking 20 of his 48 shots from distance.

Still, more often than not, he’s been there when Ohio State needed him most. He’s led the team in scoring in 12 of 16 conference games to date, plus both non-conference games against good teams. Other than the 11 points in a league play-low 29 minutes, Thomas has scored no fewer than 14 points in B1G action and has gone for 20+ in half of them.

In seven league games against ranked opponents, Thomas eclipsed the 20-point barrier four times and is averaging 21 points per game.

Obviously, how well Thomas plays in the Dance will be the chief factor in determining just how far Ohio State might advance. This fact isn’t lost on him, nor is the noted notion he needs to blow up if he wants to see his draft stock rise.

His track record says he responds to the challenge more often than not so I’m excited for the opportunity to see if he can carry the team to unexpected postseason heights.

So, there you have it. I admit self-counseling was a huge reason for writing this piece as I am typically a realist that leans toward the negative but hopefully, all of you also receive an infusion of optimism as the Buckeyes march toward the Madness.

15 Comments

Comments

oregonianbuckeye's picture

Really nice article, Chris. I tend to agree, that this team has a shot to make a deep run. The problem, however, is this team is a team that matches up really well with some teams, and terribly with others. For example, our perimeter defenders help us to match up really well with tsun (and other teams that rely on guard centered offense) but our bigs really struggle with teams that have either 1) a major low post threat or 2) an athletic, mobile big who can play on the perimeter (see Wisconsin game or Adrein Payne). With some of Matta's more elite teams, they could match up with a wider variety of teams. That's why come Selection Sunday I will be even more intrigued to see our region. I would not be surprised at all if we lost in the first weekend, or made a really deep run. 

Enzo's picture

You could have stopped at "our bigs really struggle", period. The next game against Indiana is going to be a massacre when you add in the Indiana home court visitors foul smorgasbord. OSU has zero inside presence.
If they can get lucky and draw smaller teams, they can use their superior athleticism (with the exception of Amir "rubber band hands" Williams) to get by.
I agree with the article that this team can catch fire and beat just about anybody on the list on a neutral court. Except for the teams with a good big man like Kansas, Indiana, and Duke.

buckz4evr's picture

For me it comes down to one thing....crossing my fingers.  I just don't see how they can pull this off without a lot of luck.  I hope they prove me wrong.  One thing I think would go a long way is for Craft to step up his offensive game and I don't believe that is going to magically happen. 
 

BuckeyeVet's picture

I know what you mean, Buckz4evr, but it was fun watching Craft against MSU.

"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."          - Groucho Marx 
 

Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

Louisville and Syracuse present difficult matchups for us.  Those are teams that I would prefer to avoid.  My ideal bracket according to the seeding above (which Miami may not be a #1) is #1 Miami, #2 Georgetown, #3 Florida, and #4 Arizona (Wisconsin is probably a better matchup for us, but I doubt they'd put B1G teams as #4 and #5 in the same bracket and have an all B1G game as the favored second round matchup.

Read my entire screen name....

Jack Fu's picture

Just because better teams got upset in close sweet sixteen games doesn't make me feel better about going into the tournament with a squad that's clearly inferior to those two.
But yeah, anything's possible in March. Defense, Deshaun, and pray for rain, so to speak.

BuckeyeChief's picture

***IF YOU CLICK ON THE LINK FOR THE OLD POST, PLEASE DO NOT START DOWNVOTING PEOPLE FOR COMMENTS AFTER THE UK LOSS!***
It was very emotional loss and in the pre-voting/ impending doom of Coach Tressel being fired, so please just leave it alone.
That being said, great article; I saw last week's projection had us playing Kentucky, and I thought that would've been a great revenge game for us.

 

"Clutch has no boundaries"

Phillips.449's picture

It goes to show you how spoiled we have been lately with our roundball Bucks.  When I see people being critical of this team i get flashbacks of what our teams were like when I was going to tOSU in the late '90s/early '00s.  I am hoping for more magic in March than madness for Buckeyes fans!  Thanks for the great article Chris!

old_rasputin's picture

You are right.  Matta really raised the bar so that we all expect greatness from his teams.  

"We hate to lose, but when we do, rest assured we'll be back, and someone will pay the price." Coach Hayes

bucksfan92's picture

I think the biggest problem on this year's team is chemistry, we just don't have that "glue guy" that can rally the troops.  Sully was that guy last year, and even though WB was quiet, he was a leader by example and I think commanded respect from the team.  There is no such "elder statesman" on this team.  The lone senior is a role player, and lost his composure Thursday night.  To go deep in the tourney you need to be able to weather the storm and not lose your cool.  I don't think this team has that quality.  I see a first weekend exit, unfortunately.

Idaho Helga's picture

Good article, I'm more optimistic now.  But, I'm withholding final judgment until after the big 10 tournament.  We're all mostly saying the same thing. Needs:
1. Great play from Ravenel.  He can turn it up at times.  Amir can play when Ravenel needs a breather, otherwise he can keep the bench warm.  In the NW'ern game, Willliams had 17 minutes 1 whole point and 6 rebounds.  Ravenel had 2 points, 5 rebounds in 9 minutes. In other words, about the same production but in only HALF THE COURT TIME.
2. Either Smith or Craft (probably need both) to play at the level they did last year in the NCAA tournament.  Both are averaging around 10 pts/game and that number needs to go up by about 3-4 for both.
If we get these things we can get to maybe elite eight.  If we can get these things in the big 10 tourney, we can do well and get a 3 seed in the big dance.  Otherwise we're a 5.
 
 

Ashtabula's picture

Can this team make a run into the elite 8?
Yes.
Can this team lose in round 1 to an 11 or 12 seed?
Unfortunately, yes.

tampa buckeye's picture

This team has little or no chance of losing in the first round.  Look at their losses.  No shame in losing to the teams on the list.  Still not out of the question for Ohio State to grab a 1 or 2 seed.  Wins at IU and at home vs Illini and a big ten tourney championship and they get a 1 seed IMO.

tampa buckeye's picture

by the way i down voted you because there is no way OSU is losing first round.

frozen buckeye's picture

Chuck Klosterman (he of Sex, Drugs, and Coco Puffs fame) is predicting a 1-16 upset this tourney.
If Gonzaga gets a 1-seed, Chuck may be on to something. 
 
As for us, well, I think it's time to dig up the True Grit pics from last year.  I believe this team will ride into the tourney, reins in teeth, a shotgun in each hand....