Game of Threes: Charting Ohio State’s Tournament Exits

By Michael Citro on April 1, 2013 at 12:00p

Ohio State’s departure in the Elite Eight on Saturday night was indicative of the same problems that previous Buckeye squads have suffered through in years past. During the Thad Matta era, tournament exits have coincided with irregularities in long-range shooting that flare up at the worst possible time.

We'll always have this moment.Not nearly enough shots like this on Saturday.

Sometimes the clanky shooting has affected one particular top player. At other times, like Saturday night, the disease has quickly spread like the hantavirus, infecting everyone on the roster.

As a team, the Buckeyes shot 35.6% from three-point range in 2012-13, yet Saturday night in Los Angeles, Ohio State couldn’t buy a bucket from the arc. Ohio State was 5/25 from deep against Wichita State, hitting only 20% of the time. That’s a pretty large swing from the norm. Particularly affected were Deshaun Thomas (0/7) and LaQuinton Ross (2/7). Thomas hit 34.4% of his treys this season, while Ross drilled 39%.

Aaron Craft was also 2/7, but that is less distant from the norm than the others. Sam Thompson, however, was 0-2 on Saturday after a 3-6 performance over the first three tourney games.

Ross was probably due for a game like this, having gone 6/11 on triples in the tournament’s first three games. But Tank laying an egg was a pretty big surprise. By shooting 15.6% below average, the Buckeyes missed out on about 12 additional points. Needless to say, in a four-point loss, that’s huge.

Some of this is attributable to bad shot selection, especially those launched early in the shot clock or in transition. But many of those were legit open attempts out of normal offensive sets. It’s frustrating to watch players clanging triples, particularly open ones that come in the course of the regular offense. Wichita State effectively packed the lane and dared Ohio State to hit open jump shots. The Buckeyes hit two fewer than they needed.

The tournament is unforgiving, and one off night shooting can relegate a team to the sidelines while other teams march forward.

Last season, the Buckeyes reached the Final Four, where they ran into a solid Kansas team. Many point to Jared Sullinger’s 5/19 performance in that game for just 13 points as a reason why the Buckeyes failed to advance to the title game. However, Thomas was abnormally off as well. Tank was 3/14 from the floor, including just 1/7 outside the arc. He hit 35% from the arc last season as a whole, so a 1/7 performance was once again unusual.

As a team, the Buckeyes actually shot well from outside against the Jayhawks. The team was 8/22 (36%) from three, and if you delete Tank’s 1/7 night, that jumps to 7/15 (47%). Buckeyes not named Thomas or Sullinger (0/2) combined to go over 50% on 7/13 from deep.

One of the most fun teams to watch in Ohio State history, the 2010-11 Buckeyes featured a veteran team that could score in every conceivable way. The additions of freshmen Sullinger and Craft added excitement and enthusiasm to the core of William Buford, David Lighty, Jon Diebler and Dallas Lauderdale. Just about everyone was capable of putting up 15-20 points on any given night. OK, maybe not Lauderdale. That squad hit an impressive 42.3% from outside as a team for the season.

In the 2011 tournament, the Buckeyes reached the Sweet 16 against the Kentucky Wildcats, and promptly imploded. Everyone recalls Buford’s 2/16 night, and much blame has been laid there. But only two of his misses were from distance, with one of those occurring at the buzzer.

Miss U, Threebler.Even the immortal Jon Diebler was a tournament goat. Twice.

Diebler hit an impressive 4/7 from outside against the Wildcats, making up for his failings the previous two seasons (more on that below). But guys not named Diebler combined to go just 2/9 outside. That was a two-point loss. If Buford, Lighty (1/4), or Craft (0/2) had just hit one more, well, that could have been a championship season. All three were under their season average that night (44% for Buford, 43% for Lighty, and 38% for Craft).

In 2010, the Buckeyes rolled into the Sweet 16 with wins over UC Santa Barbara and Georgia Tech, before squaring off against Tennessee. Ohio State fell by three points, 76-73, in a hard-fought contest, in which the team actually shot right on its 39% average from downtown. The big anomaly in that 39% for the game was Diebler’s 1/7 performance from the arc. Diebler hit 42% of his triples that season, but his shot failed him in the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.

The first round in 2009 featured a trip to Dayton to face No. 9 seed Siena, after an NIT-winning performance in 2008. The Buckeyes hit 38% of their bombs that season, but in an agonizing double-overtime loss, Ohio State hit only 7/25 (28%) from deep. Buford went 1/5 and P.J. Hill hit 1/4, but the biggest goat horns were Diebler’s.

The man who would one day set every three-point record in school history, and become the B1G’s all-time leader in made threes, was just 2/11 from long range that night. Diebler was a 42% shooter from three that season.

In the 2006-07 season, the Buckeyes may have featured their most talented cast of all time. Greg Oden locked down the paint and the likes of Mike Conley Jr., Daequan Cook, Jamar Butler, and Ron Lewis patrolled the perimeter. That team wasn’t an especially hot team from the arc that season (36%), possibly owing to Conley’s driving and Oden’s dunking, but it was serviceable, with three players hitting at least 39%.

You know about that team’s run to the national championship game against Florida, a team essentially returning an entire national championship squad. Oden did his part, nearly fouling out three opponents and scoring 25 points with 12 rebounds.

Florida ended up winning by nine, on a night that saw the Buckeyes clanging threes in bunches. Ohio State was just 4/23 (17%) from the arc, with many wide-open looks. It was a who’s who of missed triples: Butler (1/6), Cook (0/1), Conley (1/3), Ivan Harris (2/8), Lighty (0/1), and Lewis (0/4). An average night from the arc would have produced an additional 12 points. The final was 84-75, with the Gators drilling quite a few freebies from the stripe down the stretch.

In Thad Matta’s first trip to the dance as Ohio State’s coach, his 2005-06 squad hit 37% of its threes. After a win over 15 seed Davidson, the Buckeyes faced the Georgetown Hoyas, who were seeded seventh. No. 2 seed Ohio State allowed only four Hoyas to score, but still fell, 70-52, in Dayton.

Honestly, the Buckeyes still would have lost had they shot their average from the arc that night, but they didn’t. Ohio State hit 5/16 (31%), with Matt Sylvester (0/3), J.J. Sullinger (0/2), Lewis (0/2), and Harris (0/1) all laying eggs. Butler went 2/3 and Je'Kel Foster was 3/5.

Failings from the arc in elimination games certainly aren’t limited to the Buckeyes. That particular bug bites many teams. But it’s curious how generally good-shooting Ohio State teams, and individual star shooters, have crashed and burned in the tournament, even after starting the tourney well.

In all but one of the above examples, just the norm would have pushed the Buckeyes into the next round, and in the case of the NCG of 2007, to the school’s first title since 1960. Is it pressure? Solid defense? Unfamiliar rims? It’s likely all of those things, but until Ohio State can put a run of six games together without an off night from the arc, that elusive chase for the second OSU national hoops championship will likely have to wait.


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DMcDougal24's picture

I agree, 3-point shooting was critical for the forwards in the lineup with Craft and Scott in the backcourt.. No offense to Scott and Craft because they are good players, but you have to question every possession where they take a jump shot. It's just not a good shot. With both of them on the floor (and Amir), there is tremendous pressure for DT and the SF to make shots. I'm scared to think what this offense will do when Thomas is gone and they want to play Scott and Craft together. 

EazyElmo's picture

The Wichita State game might have been the worst shooting performance as a team in recent history IMO. But OSU showed that even with that bad shooting it cut into that lead with tough D and driving to the basket, which is the biggest kudos to Thad and the staff. This only gives me hope for next year and I can't wait for Q to play the 4 and Amir to progress and everything else I can't even think of

zosima's picture

Interesting reading the history here, but I don't agree with the conclusions.  Bad shooting nights happen... and most games show significant variation in metrics from season-long averages.   It just so happens that these games were in the tournament, so 1) we remember them and 2) they were against other good (tournament) teams that win when the other team is having an off night. That is why I hate the tournament as a way to determine a champion... it has a lot more to do with being streaky/lucky... not having any off night on the nights they chose to schedule the games.  The NBA uses a series of games so that a good team's season does not end due to one single game.

nickma71's picture

Only one team can say at the end "we're number one".

OldColumbusTown's picture

I think the conclusion here should be, if you aren't making your outside shots (even wide open jumpers) early in the game, start focusing on driving the ball to the basket aggressively.  That's what this team did the last 12 minutes of the game, but a 20 point deficit at that point was just too large to overcome.
This club, during most of their 11 game winning streak, seemed to realize they could not live by the three point shot.  They became less and less dependent on the success they were having from the outside each game.  After such success the past two/three games in the tournament, though, they seemed content to take open jumpers, even though they were not falling.  In a one and done scenario, a team has to realize that relying on that outside shot is dangerous, and if it's not falling you've got to do something else to keep the game close until they begin to fall.
I thought it was quite funny that everyone speaks so highly of WSU's defensive strategy in this game (and partly so), but if OSU hit even a third of the wide open jumpers they missed on Saturday, they'd be marching on to Atlanta.  I'm sure WSU wanted to give up wide open shots the majority of the first half and expected OSU would not be able to make anything...

Michael Citro's picture

My intent here was to show a commonality, not necessarily to draw any particular conclusions, since each game is different. But you look at a guy like Jon Diebler and see things like 1/7 and 2/11 when compared to his average and it's easy to see why Ohio State went wanting for points in elimination games. And in most cases it was only a basket or two, so even slightly below average would have worked out.

The Buckeyes averaged 17 3-point attempts from the first game of the streak to the end of the season, eliminating the Indiana outlier of 8. Prior to and including the Wisconsin loss, the Buckeyes also averaged 17 3-point attempts per game.

So if there was a concerted effort to rely less on the trey down the stretch, it isn't apparent in the numbers. In fact, during the worst 4-game stretch of the year (at Michigan through at Wisconsin), Ohio State attempted 14.5 threes per game.

Attempting 25 on Saturday (the most since 24 against Sparty in the B1G tournament semifinals--again, during the streak) was largely a function of trying to erase a large deficit, but also partly due to taking what Wichita State was giving them.

Ohio State did try to go inside in the first half, but were repeatedly rejected or missed short jumpers and layups in traffic (owing to that packed WSU defense). As Thad Matta has said, if a few of those bombs had fallen it would have loosened them up the inside, playing into OSU's hands. Ross was able to get inside a bit (and also Thomas, a bit) after the break, when they had time to get in and make adjustments, but even so, everything was pretty heavily contested inside.

If I had enough free time, I'd love to take a look at tournament winners and see how their outside shooting percentage tracked during their six-game runs. My guess is that it would be pertty consistent.

OldColumbusTown's picture

Obviously the numbers are the numbers, and the fact the team averaged the same amount of three point attempts cannot be disputed. The point I'm making is while the first 2/3 of the season Ohio State seemed content to pass the ball around the perimeter before chucking up a contested three, during the winning streak they focused on attacking the basket, probing the defense in and out, and taking open threes. They were able to be much more selective, and even take more shots with players in better offensive rebounding position.

Overall, they were able to dictate the game rather than allow the defense to dictate. That fell apart a bit against Wichita State.

Buckeye Chuck's picture

That next-to-last paragraph is the key: Wichita stayed in that defense because we weren't making the open shots they were allowing. You could see early on it was going to be "one of those days" from deep. I would also add that for whatever reason, we chose not to push the pace off their missed shots, and the Shockers had a few. 

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

osubuckeye4life's picture

Basically, winning a national title in college basketball is really really really tough. 
Honestly, if I was a betting man I would not bet for the basketball Buckeyes to ever win a title in my lifetime (who knows how many coaching changes that will be).
I think Matta is one of the best coaches currently and his winning percentage is amazing. However, it is just so challenging on so many factors besides having one of the best coaches in the game. I mean Coach K is one of the best coaches of all time and he lost in the first round to a 15 seed last year. Obviously, Lehigh's coach is no Coach K. College basketball just has a ton of parody these days. 
Even if Matta keeps getting deep in the tourney it is purely wishful thinking that he gets a title. 

Patriot4098's picture

Just like football. Long range opens up the short game, and short game opens up the long range game. But what comes first? The chicken or the egg?

"Evil shenanigans!"     - Mac