On Point: Guard Play Carries Buckeyes

By Kyle Rowland on March 7, 2013 at 10:00a

There’s something about Ohio State playing with its back against the wall. In two must-win games to end the regular season last year, the Buckeyes got the job done. Facing a similar situation a year later but beginning weeks sooner, Ohio State has come up a winner again. 

Swoon.Aaron Craft has made his way into the All-Big Ten discussion.

Riding a four-game win streak, the Buckeyes are a single win and another Indiana loss away from winning a fourth consecutive Big Ten championship. Thad Matta has Ohio State pointed in the right direction during college basketball’s marquee month once again. March has become a time for Matta’s teams to thrive. Ohio State is 46-12 in March since Matta took over.

To win that title, the Buckeyes must take care of business first. That much is a given. But the nightcap will be a Maize and Blue party. That’s right, Ohio State will be rooting for Michigan. The Wolverines found themselves in a similar position one year ago when Ohio State needed to beat Michigan State for the three teams to share the conference crown.

“Coach Beilein told me before we played in the conference tournament last year, ‘I’ve never seen a group of Michigan guys rooting so hard when Buford made the shot,’” Matta said.

This season, it could be Ohio State pulling for Columbus’ own Trey Burke. His status as arguably the nation’s best player has been discussed at length throughout the year. In Columbus, there’s still some wonder as to how he went unnoticed by Ohio State.

But the person who had the scholarship Burke coveted was Shannon Scott. He might not be the best player in the country, or even the best player on his team, but Scott has developed into a creator on offense and a whirling dervish on defense. In the Buckeyes’ win at No. 2 Indiana, Scott had eight points, three rebounds, three assists, four steals and zero turnovers. 

“Obviously, we didn’t shoot it well (39.6 percent), but we had costly turnovers,” said Indiana head coach Tom Crean, at roughly 1:40 a.m. Eastern Wednesday morning. “We did not protect the ball the way we needed to. They were leading the league in steals on the road, and the way we looked at it, they had those steals tonight and a lot of them were live-ball turnovers that just turned into buckets for them.”

Combined with Mr. Defense, Aaron Craft, the tag-team champions of Scott and Craft had eight steals, leading to 16 points off turnovers and 14 fast break points. Matta did, surprisingly, peg Scott as the most disruptive player in the country prior to the season. It came to fruition in Bloomington.

Sixth Man of the Year?Scott has been sensational off the bench.

When Craft wasn’t the facilitator on fast breaks, it was Scott who threaded the needle and delivered on-the-money passes in traffic going full speed down the court.

As the best team for much of the season, Indiana was uncanny at making plays at opportune moments. But when Ohio State needed to counter the Hoosiers, it did. The scrappy Buckeyes got loose balls, rebounds, forced turnovers late in the game and converted on must-make possessions.

“We didn’t think we played real well and we felt they had a lot to do with it,” said Matta, about Ohio State’s 81-68 loss to Indiana in February. “We talked about creating more havoc defensively and challenging shots better, and just looking at the easy baskets we gave them in Game 1. They got rebounds, putbacks, just crazy baskets.

“You’ve just got to guard them. They’re a great basketball team, and when you make mistakes, they kill you. I think for us the biggest thing was don’t make defensive assignment mistakes.”

Matta discussed pairing Craft and Scott together before the season. He’s held true on that promise, but the diminutive duo was never bigger than Tuesday night.

“Everybody turns the ball over,” Scott said. “I just wanted to have good pressure on defense and be in help defense all the time.”

There was a 10-minute stretch in the second half where Indiana scored just seven points. For the most efficient offense and third-highest scoring team in the nation, it represented the worst offensive period of the season.  

“We just didn’t execute offensively," Indiana guard Jordan Hulls said. “We allowed way too many transition buckets, turned the ball over too much, which led to them getting easy buckets. There were some stretches there that we would play really good defense for the whole shot clock and then they would get a bucket right at the end.”

It looks like history could repeat itself for a fourth time. Ohio State winning the Big Ten with a victory right at the end. The regular season concludes Sunday, and the collective basketball world will be centered on the Midwest.

In Columbus, eyes, ears and maybe even noses will be pointed toward Ann Arbor.

“Obviously, if it comes to that, we’ll be rooting for Michigan,” Matta said.



bhartman13's picture

I love the small lineup Matta has been using lately.  With Craft and Scott on the floor the tempo picks up and the defense is top of the line.  Depending on matchups I think Matta should go small more often and try to force defensive pressure that translates into fast break points.  I have been optimistic about this team all year and it finally looks like they are clicking.  It sure would be sweet to finish with another B1G title!!  Come on IU choke!!

Kyle Rowland's picture

When Ohio State can use it, it's proven to be arguably the team's best lineup. They've done it three times: both Northwestern games and then at IU with Oladipo and Zeller out. Each time, the Buckeyes enjoyed an overwhelming advantage in points - and defense. The problem is if you go up against a true center, you can't do it. 

spqr2008's picture

And to me that small lineup may help the most in the NCAA tournament.  For instance, look at the 2006-2007 squad.  The overtime game against Xavier was a win only because the small lineup performed extraordinarily well.

gwalther's picture

I have the same thought as Kyle. We weren't able to pull that off because of the size difference against Duke or Kansas. With that said, going forward, the havoc Craft and Scott create on the perimeter still might be our best option for long stretches in games. Not having a second scoring option doesn't matter as much when turnovers are forced and we're getting buckets in transition.

Class of 2008

SilverBulletNYC's picture

I can't believe it but you're right- the smaller lineup has helped. I was totally against it at first, but it is clearly the best unit we have. Just need Ravenel to continue his beastly ways and for Lenzelle to be more consistent.

The South will NOT rise again!

thatlillefty's picture

"Scott has developed into a creator on offense and a whirling dervish on defense"
a whirling dervish, eh? I had to look that one up. Funny analogy.

Jugdish's picture

I was really happy for Scott. It seemed that he has not been playing up to his potential. Indiana was by far his best game and was really needed for the win. Ravenel also contributed which helped at the bucket where the team has been suffering for rebounds. Craft and DT can be relied on to play their best every game. Now we have a great supporting cast to go along with them. The tourney definitely is going to be fun this year. Go Bucks.

Remember to get your wolverine spayed or neutered. TBDBITL

LouGroza's picture

Sam Thompson had a very nice game as well. Having nine points in the first half with a couple really nice jumpers. Had he put a second half that was equivalent to the first we would be in high praise mode. It is coming. He is getting comfortable and he has the ability. Just needs to put it all together and he is getting closer with each game. When Craft attacks the basket as he has the last few games, everyone else seems to join in. Keep it going!!

Smanpoint10's picture

I don't even remember if he shot in the 2nd half, but he got us going offensively in the first which was huge

slippy's picture

I think this team would be a top pick to win it all if either of these guys shot 40% from three.  Just that threat would make players press out higher...and MSU can tell you what happens when you press out on them.

Dougger's picture

Kyle nice little jab at Crean for showing up in the wee hours like a turd-burglar.
I won't be rooting as much for TTUN as I will be for IU to suck it up, however the sun and blue's game yesterday against purdue was absolutely atrocious. hopefully they bring their "A" game

I like football

JeffCoBuck's picture

My brother is the only other person I have ever heard use the term "turd-burglar".  If I could upvote you, I would, lol.

Kyle Rowland's picture

Michigan has been a completely different team away from Crisler. Until last night, the Wolverines had lost four straight road games. But they are undefeated at home. Going to be quite a game at 4 p.m. Sunday.

OurHonorDefend09's picture

The absolutely hounding defensive play by the guards (Scott & Craft) made my unathletic, scrappy, white body all warm inside. 

Don't give up... Don't ever give up.

D. Anthony's picture

you could predominantly play Craft, Scott, Smith Jr, Thompson, Ravenel and though they might struggle to score 45-50 points in a game with their inconsistence offensive, but with their abilities and effort on D, 50 might be enough most nights.
Obviously we need the O of Thomas, Q and others but we're proving more and more that when Thomas is off we can still compete and win.

D. Anthony

IBleedSandG's picture

Overall, I've been pretty happy with the strides Scott has made this year. I wish his shot was a little better, but even that has come a long way from last year. Dude just has another gear in transition, he has to be on of the quickest players in the country, and you can't teach that.
I think Scott, Thompson and Q all have the potential to have breakout years next year. Maybe then we'll finally see the promise of the 2011 recruiting class come to fruition.


PhillyBuckeye27's picture

Mr. Smith should be on the bench - It won't happen but Craft, Scott, Thompson, DT and then Amir / Rav should be the starting 5 for the rest of the yr.....who knows, maybe sitting Smith would allow him to get more in to the flow of the game and not be so widely inconsistent!
Scott is such a better defender then Smith.....

gobucks5413's picture

Smith is a pretty darn good defender. He spent a lot of the 2nd half on Oladipo. He's quick, and really long. And he provides a heck of an upside offensively that some of the other guys don't have (Northwestern). I think Smith is probably the most underrated player on the squad. Love the small line up. Don't think it bothers us if we have Craft/Scott coming on the backside to help, like we did against Zeller. THis helps because, as its been noted, we are SOOOO much better when we are in transition (first half @ duke, vs. Kansas, etc).

PhillyBuckeye27's picture

Smith should be playing guard at a school other than Ohio State.  He is taking up valuable minutes from people with way more upside then he will ever have.  Then again, Matta sure as heck knows what he's doing so he must see something in Smith that warrants getting the starting nod over other people.  All us Smith haters will just have to live with it for the remainder of his career. 

Breakawayspeed's picture

Smith is a great athlete but seems to have a hitch in his jumper.  He brings the ball up into the shooting position way too fast, IMHO.  I think this jerky motion affects his shot accuracy and makes him very inconsistent  because its not a smooth rise & release jumper.   I wonder if Chris Jent would agree? 

Run_Fido_Run's picture

“Everybody turns the ball over,” Scott said.

In the above comment, Scott was practicing humility -  i..e., "those IU guards shouldn't feel too bad about me repeatedly picking their pockets . . . because everybody makes mistakes (turns the ball over)."
Terrelle Pryor once tried to make a somewhat related point, but ended up coming across as a psychopathic nihilist:

"Not everybody's the perfect person in the world. I mean everyone kills people, murders people, steals from you, steals from me, whatever. I think that people need a second chance . . ."

thatlillefty's picture

Ah, Terrelle... what a dunce.

gwalther's picture

..came across as an psychopathic nihilist  idiot.

Class of 2008

Man of Scarlet and Gray's picture

Tom Crean just seems like such an asshat

 "I like to believe that my best hits border on felonious assault."
--Jack Tatum

gobucks96's picture

It's great to see Scott emerge from the Duke game earlier this year. I've never seen a team that causes such swings of emotions as this team. One minute they make a play that makes you pull your hair out, toss the remote, and kick the cat. The next the make you hit your head on the ceiling with excitement...