As Wins Pile Up, Target on Buckeyes Grows

By Kyle Rowland on December 12, 2013 at 9:15a
Ross, Scott and the rest of the team are one of two unbeatens in the Big Ten.

When the initial college basketball rankings were released in October and Ohio State was ranked 10th by the coaches and 11th in the AP poll, there were already murmurs of the o-word – overrated. Now the season has stretched into December and, lo and behold, the Buckeyes have climbed all the way to second and third, respectively. It’s quite a leap for a team that still attracts many doubters.

After Wednesday night’s 86-48 win over Bryant, Ohio State sits at 9-0 and is on its way to 13-0 unless Notre Dame trips them up at Madison Square Garden. Head coach Thad Matta thought his team might be able to go unnoticed for much of the season, but that hope has evaporated. The Buckeyes are now the top-ranked team in the Big Ten and with Michigan State and Michigan’s struggles, they are perhaps the team to beat in the conference.

That circle on the front of Ohio State’s jersey is not an “O” but instead a bull’s-eye.

“For me personally, I think we ignore it,” senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said. “At this point, I think it's still early. Teams are still trying to find themselves and find their identity and find who they are. I just think we need to focus on us and keep chugging away and trying to become a better basketball team each time we step on the court.”

A majority of the victories haven’t come against top-flight competition, though Marquette, Ohio University, Wyoming and Maryland are all postseason-caliber opponents. The win at Marquette was particularly telling. Ohio State flexed its defensive muscle by limiting the Golden Eagles to 35 points – 19 in the first half, 16 in the second – and a 19 percent shooting percentage. Marquette made 10 field goals and just one of 18 three-point attempts.

But the Buckeyes are now having their most successful offensive stretch in five seasons. And they’ve already won three games by more than 30 points. It helps when the player who was supposed to lead the scoring effort finally breaks out of what was a season-long slump. 

LaQuinton Ross has scored 69 points in the past four games, including 43 in two games last week, earning him Big Ten player of the week honors. How Ross goes so go the Buckeyes. While he made only 10 shot attempts in the first five games, Ohio State shot less than 40 percent from the field. Since his stroke reappeared, the Buckeyes are converting a robust 57 percent of their shots.

“I think him being a threat of shooting the ball the way he is right now, the percentage he is shooting, definitely is opening things up,” Matta said. “You’ve got to have a little bit more awareness of where he is, and the quick ball reversals seem to create more because he is pulling away from the bucket.”

Smith has been the biggest beneficiary so far. His point output over the past five games reads: 20, 10, 12, 17, 19. Matta opted for the term “complete basketball player” to describe Smith’s recent rise.

“I think the more people we can have giving us a balanced scoring threat on the court just makes it easier for everyone else,” Smith said. “It just takes a little pressure offensively off a couple guys’ minds.”

As becomes a yearly trend, Ohio State is finding out it’s name and ranking carries cachet. But they get each opponent’s best shot as they carry hopes of notching a signature win. Matta’s hope is it has the same effect on his team. Added incentive can sometimes be the difference between winning and losing.

“No. 2 brings a lot of pressure,” Smith said. “Obviously we know just being an Ohio State Buckeye we already know that we have a target on us every time we step on the court. But definitely becoming No. 2 or whatever spot you're at, teams want to knock you off. It’s more motivation for your opponent so you have to step your game up and match their intensity. You can’t take days off.”

From the looks of the statistics, that hasn’t been an issue for the Buckeye coaching staff. Points, assists, steals and even rebounds have soared. Ohio State is now entering the end of an eight-game home stand. A trip to New York will conclude the schedule before a week off for the holidays. The lull between games is what worries Matta.

He preaches that teams either get worse or get better during the off period. Matta welcomes the former. Strengths and weaknesses overflow, but continued growth comes with a sustained effort. 

“You go into the game, you come out of the game, you get a rest, you come back in you should have more energy than when you left the game,” Matta said. “I think we’ve shown some signs this year of having some possessions that are really, really good both offensively and defensively and striving for that. Never asking our guys to play perfect, I know we're going to make mistakes, I know we're not going to make every shot but just continuing to develop a mindset of every single possession we want something positive to happen.”

At 9-0 and ranked in the top five, almost everything for the Basketball Buckeyes contains flashes of optimism.


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TMac's picture

The Basketball season is more marathon than sprint, and where we are at this early stage isn't nearly as important as continuing to be a better team as the Buckeyes go forward.  #2, #12 - no real difference at this point, there is no expectation of going undefeated, so the ranking is going to change at some point, and likely several times.

ONE Not Done!

osu07asu10's picture

Agreed, but 25 wins will probably lock the buckeyes into a #2 at worst in the tournament. Getting to 13-0 is a nice start to racking up those wins.

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TMac's picture

We ought to be able to get to 15-0 going to East Lansing! And, Yes- that would be a great start !!

ONE Not Done!

BuddhaBuck's picture

9-0 and Matta is going 4-deep into his bench. I like it.

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BucksfanXC's picture

Matta will shut the bench down on New Year's. B1G play will mean 7 guys tops get minutes. Count on it.

“Any time you give a man something he doesn't earn, you cheapen him. Our kids earn what they get, and that includes respect.”  - Woody

st pete bch buckeye's picture

Valle, Sam and Loving will all see mins. Plus Mcdonald will get mins just because of foul trouble and being the only other big man on the roster.  So it will be a 9 man rotation.

slippy's picture

I think ADV's time will drop more significantly.  His level of D just isn't quite there.  McDonald we'll need to give Amir a break.

Oakland Buckeye's picture

Yep - I see more an 8 man rotation

hetuck's picture

Better to give players some time off than overwork them. I'm sure Thad remembers the disaster that ensued when he kept players in Columbus over Christmas and was embarassed on national TV by WVU. You have to strike a balance. 

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi

Barnsey69's picture

I was concerned that depth would be a problem this year, but as Buddha points out, Matta is already getting the bench some work, so that might not be as much as a problem after all. The only real concern at this point is rebounding versus bigger opponents, like MSU and Wisconsin. Great start though!

Thank the Maker that I was born in Ohio, cradle of coaches, US Presidents, confederate-stomping Generals, and home of The Ohio State University Football Buckeyes- 2014 UNDISPUTED National Champions!

chimes3899's picture

I think our defense is great  but I am not sold on our offense yet. I think long athletic teams that play zone will really give us trouble. Even though MSU lost I would still say they are the team to beat in the B1G this year. They just look like a more complete offensive and defensive team thus far. Hopefully we can split the home and home with them and hopefully we drop less other games then them to win the big ten title this year
Go Bucks

mh277907's picture

I was thinking the same thing. Long, athletic teams will not only give us trouble on offense but, because we are not a particularly good rebounding team, they very well may give us issues on defense as well. I still think the key will be Amir. If he is able to score consistently, as he has recently, teams will be forced to help down and that will open up space for our perimeter shooters.


Doc's picture

This team is really fun to watch.  It is nice seeing both Craft's and Slam's offensive game developing.  I'm curious to see the Notre Lame game to see how they stack up off of the Value City court.

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Zimmy07's picture

Rebounding is an issue.  It's getting better on the defensive boards but it's still an issue.

FROMTHE18's picture

One great (IMO) thing about basketball is that losing is inevitable and there are such things a good losses in basketball as the tourney is developed from commitee discussions. Really, what we look for is how this team performes game to game and hope we see development. Right now, this team looks like they are improving and Matta is creating a ton of depth by playing much of his bench for meaningful minutes. Will this trend continue? I hope so, because we will need depth throughout the B1G and in March. Glad this team has been focusing on team defense because that can go a long way in helping them achieve success down the line. Good start to the season and lets keep this rocking.

WezBuck28's picture

I think the only thing this team needs is a dominant scorer in the paint, or big man u could say, amir to me still looks awkward at times.. he is a great shot blocker, but offensively he needs to step his game up if they want to make a major run this season in my opinion..

KingsRite's picture

Not getting excited yet. I'll reserve that for the Big Ten schedule.

“I have yet to be in a game where luck was involved. Well-prepared players make plays. I have yet to be in a game where the most prepared team didn't win.” -Urban Meyer-

Seattle Linga's picture

The really nice thing that I am seeing with this team is that they are getting better with each game. By the time the Purdue game starts it would be nice to see this team playing even better.

OldColumbusTown's picture

No matter what happens, this team will hang its hat on the defensive end of the floor.  If their intensity on that side of the ball is high, they will get a LOT of stops, turnovers, and buckets in transition offensively.  They are improving as a whole on the offensive end, with much better ball movement, off the ball movement, and spacing.  They are even utilizing Amir in the post and he's actually been somewhat effective in that role thus far.
IF this team has any desires of making a FF run or even better, I believe two things must happen.  1) Amir must continue to improve and be a presence on the block (if for no other reason than to give space on the perimeter to the shooters for open shots and room to drive the basketball).  2) LaQuinton Ross has to continue to emerge as a consistent scorer.  I don't believe he has to average 18-20 points a game like DT last season.  However, getting a consistent 13-16 points from him where he is a threat to go off at any point is extremely important. 
OSU needs someone to draw attention from the defense, and I think Amir and Q are the two guys that can/need to do that.  By drawing that attention, it allows guys like Sam, LSJ, Scott, and Craft (not to mention ADV and Loving) to really, really thrive on the offensive end because they can attack the basket, which is their strong suit.  This is a team full of really good players, but not really many who can take over a game.  But, give a guy like Sam or Lenzelle one more inch of space because you are concerned about Ross or Amir, and they can absolutely go off.

Squirrel Master's picture

A few bullet points for those who are doubting this,

  • Amir has played more than 20 minutes in 5 of the last 6 games. He play 20 minutes or more in only 6 total games last year.
  • Marc Loving is the real deal on both offense and defense. Watch this kid blossom, he could be very useful at the 4 for long stretches. He can shoot and rebound but the thing I love the most is that he can drive the baseline and create.
  • Ross has learned he can drive perpendicular and hit that nice little hook. He is long enough for it to be unstoppable and I think he now sees it will get him going. He will start to break out soon, just watch.
  • Trey McDonald can play! He is a decent backup this year. I am very surprised about that. Not sure if the biggest surprise this year is him or Loving.
  • With Craft and Scott as the two starting guards, this defense is crazy good. They might not lockdown some of the better teams but even the best guards will have trouble with them. I think it will take a team that is shooting lights out or a really good one-on-one player to exploit them and do some damage. If a team is too reliant on a PG to distribute, it will be a long night for them.
  • Defense wins.
  • for a team that is supposedly not that great on offense, they aren't sucking either. Yes they are ranked 126th in PPG. Guess what, the 53rd ranked team (Kentucky) is scoring less than 5 PPG more. Not that big of a difference, and they don't play very good defense. What matters more to me,
  • Ohio State is #8 in overall point differential. 20.1 ppg difference. The teams above aren't even close to being a top 5 scoring defense. OSU is #3.

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

tennbuckeye19's picture

Great observations. I completely agree with ya, Squirrel.

DeepSouthBuckeye's picture

Best thing about the potential of this team is they have bought in to the fact that defense leads to offense. When we are creating turnovers, and getting one and dones, we will be very tough to beat. Our athleticism and speed on fast breaks is fun to watch.

Loving all things Buckeye from SEC country in Alabama.

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73buckeye's picture

The offensive side of the game will run hot and cold, but defense is dependent on hustle and toughness and work. If they continue to win with defense, the Bucks will be fine. I'm reserving my opinion till they get in a dog fight on the road in the Big 10 with someone they should beat. If they get punched in the mouth and are able to get through a close game with a win, I think they'll be fine in the long run.


steveinkc's picture

i think our offense is suspect at this point! we are shooting the ball pretty well but rebounding will be an issue. also, our schedule is pretty weak compared to some other teams who have taken on some tough foes. we have played no one so we really don't know how our weaknesses will show up...but they will!! number 2 in nation...i doubt it!!!


Knarcisi's picture

News flash ... We've been the team to beat in the conference ... For several years now. 

Knarcisi's picture

With our defense, we can play with anyone. 
And I'm one that prefers that we don't see super stardom from Q quite yet. Having a more balanced attack and demanding others to grow and contribute strengthens us offensively. 

bucksfan92's picture

I like the start.  I was questioning the rise in the polls, especially when we zoomed from 7 to 3 in one week, but after having seen some of the other top teams out there, we do look more consistent on both ends of the court.  Having 2 seniors helps a lot, and will help a lot more when we find ourselves in tight games on the road in February vs a hostile crowd.  The game @ Marquette was a defining moment for this team.  They slugged through the first half playing at Marquette's desired pace, but turned it around at halftime and just BTFO them on their home court in front of a sold out VERY raucous crowd. That was a great win.
I really like what I see from Marc Loving, he is going to be a legend here before he leaves, I think. It will be interesting to see how he handles the road in the B1G.  I also like how Matta is handling this team.  He kept encouraging Q to take shots even when he was in that slump, seems like a long time ago now, doesn't it? 
OSU is clearly right now the top program in the B1G, having won 3 regular season titles in a row and missed out on a 4th last year by 1 point. We also missed a 2nd straoght FF by basically 1 possession.  Add in our complete ownage of the B1GT, an event I call the OSU Invitational :) and the #2/#3 ranking is legit - this team is a known commodity.

osusteveb5875's picture

I'm glad I have the basketball Buckeyes... They will help me get through my current sports depression... Rough week