B1G Game?

By Chris Lauderback on December 15, 2013 at 2:30p
Amir has scored 100 points through 10 games this season. He scored 129 points in 37 games a season ago.

Ten games through the non-conference slate with just three more remaining before the start of conference play, much has gone right for the basketball Buckeyes. 

Coming off an Elite Eight campaign that ended prematurely in a loss to Wichita State, the Buckeyes were forced to figure out how to replace nearly 20 points of offense provided by Deshaun Thomas and 17 minutes of post play from Evan Ravenel while seeking individual growth from all the returnees as Marc Loving was the only incoming freshman expected to contribute – sparingly at best – in an effort to retool for another run at a conference and potential national championship. 

Admittedly against a soft schedule, Thad Matta appears to be up to his old tricks. The scoring concerns have been addressed by committee with three guys averaging double figures and six scoring at least 8.5 points per night. Lenzelle Smith Jr. has stepped up to lead point seeking with 13.4 a night via 54% shooting including 49% from distance.

The man many expected to be main source of offensive production, LaQuinton Ross, has overcome a slow start and is now averaging 11.8 points per game. In the paint, rebounding remains a work in progress as the Buckeyes sport a rebounding margin of +2.1 against the noted weak schedule which brings us to the biggest surprise of the young season, junior center Amir Williams. 

Struggling to show much improvement from year one to year two which was a huge source of frustration for Thad Matta and fans alike, Amir is finally showing consistent signs of life early in his third season in the program. The jump in production has been stunning, quite frankly, to the point where I think even the insiders are secretly surprised at just how good he's looked through 10 games. The particulars, thus far, look like this:

2011-12 6.6 1.7 .25 53% 36% 2.1 .32 0.8
2012-13 16.5 3.5 .21 56% 56% 3.9 .23 1.4
2013-14 24.4 10.0 .41 70% 69% 7.3 .30 2.4

Scoring right at 10 points per game, Williams has nearly doubled his points per minute from last season which has been, by far, the most shocking piece of his emergence. In the first two years, Amir barely looked to shoot and frankly, his teammates barely looked for him in the paint, because they (1) had a bevy of better options and (2) there was surely a fear he either wouldn't be able to consistently catch the ball or he might lose it as he made a move thanks largely to a lack of strength and a confident sense of how to score. 

Williams still has a tendency to bring the ball down below his waist too often – negating his height and making his susceptible to strips from sagging guards – but improvement in his ability to catch the ball, his footwork and the development of a few moves has seen his confidence soar. 

The improved footwork has helped him carve out position in the post so scoring is even an option when he receives an entry pass and while it's still a work in progress, Williams has shocked many with the addition of a short jump hook that he's sparingly featured with either hand. With the more polished offensive skill-set, Amir is shooting a stellar 70% from the floor.

Impressively, after reaching double figures just once in 66 career games coming into this season, Williams has scored at least 10 points in six of Ohio State's first 10 games. 

Not to be overlooked at this end of the court, he's also added 13 percentage points to his free throw accuracy which is huge considering the increased touches and while he won't be compared to Bill Walton any time soon, the new and improved version plays more instinctive, allowing him to be a little bit better passer out of the post. The continued development of that skill, while nuanced, is key as the Buckeyes could continue to face a hefty dose of zone defense meaning the need for smart reversal and skip passes from the post to open shooters and cutters would be huge. 

They aren't a finished product but Amir's hands have looked more sure through 10 gamesAmir is averaging 7.3 rpg through 10 games

Defensively, Williams leads the squad in rebounds and blocks, allowing Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott, in particular, to play aggressively out top knowing they've got a bit of a security blanket if their man penetrates the lane. 

The caveat to all of this good news is that while it's great to see Williams finally produce consistently even if it's against weak teams, there's still no guarantee he'll be able to approach his current numbers, especially offensively, once conference play gets underway. Despite his impressive start, his worst three games have come against arguably three of the four best teams the Buckeyes have played. 

He shredded Wyoming for 12 points and 16 boards but totaled just nine total points on only five shots in wins over Maryland and North Dakota State. Defensively, his rebounding was up and down as he totaled 25 in the wins over Wyoming and NDSU but just four in the defeats of Marquette in Maryland. The blocks were more consistent as he averaged 3.3 in the four wins. 

Though the B1G isn't exactly loaded at center, the league does sport an elite big in Adreian Payne along with guys like Mitch McGary and A.J. Hammons of Purdue, among others, which begs the question, will Amir have the juice to be a factor at both ends against improved competition? 

It's hard to see him not getting torched by Payne twice though Williams wouldn't be alone in that category. Payne has the skill-set to post him up or drag him out near the three-point line and that's not where Matta wants Amir to be. As for McGary, Williams will only see him once during the regular season. 

It's likely Ohio State won't need Williams to score 10 points a game to challenge for the league title but he can't allow himself to constantly be pushed off the block. Doing so would virtually eliminate the short half-hook he's worked so hard to develop, jeopardize his ability to hit the offensive glass, and extend more defensive traffic toward the perimeter where Thad's skilled wings want to operate. Quite simply, Williams cannot allow his offensive game to totally regress once the competition ratchets up. 

Defensively, Matta needs Williams to continue to serve as an anchor allowing the wings to pressure the basketball without fear of losing their man leading to an easy bucket. If Williams can do, the likely dip in his offensive production will be easier to manage. 

Bottom line, Amir's overall play will be more important to the long-term success of this team than some may realize and without a track record of consistent results against tougher competition, there are still questions that need answered in the paint before Thad Matta and company can feel supremely confident about their chances of capturing another B1G championship and making a run toward the Final Four. 


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bucksfan92's picture

I like what I've seen from this team so far.  I was a little surprised how they rocketed up from #10 to #2, but after seeing most of the top teams now, I think OSU belongs there.  Amir has come along nicely, although last night was not a particularly good game for him.  He really let #42 get to him, right from the first defensive possession of the game.  He fumbled way too many passes last night, and I hope that was just an off night and not a sign of a slump.

Jonnferrell's picture

Seeing Amir coming on this season has been great.  He has what it takes and now he's putting it all together.  I will be interested in how he handles Big10 play.

"I miss Brady Hoke."

kareemabduljacobb's picture

This team has surprised me... after a couple early 'meh' games, they seem to be improving each game offensively, especially with Q and Lenzelle becoming more consistent scorers.  What we lack in star power we make up for in great defense which can carry us a long way.  I like how Thad's finally seeing how the use of the bench can be beneficial as we're going 9 deep in every game this year so far... and maybe 10 if Kam Williams ever plays?!  What's up with him btw, does anyone know?
Anyways, there doesn't seem to be a clear cut top dog this year in college basketball as a lot of the top teams have had their struggles and close calls with lesser opponents.  Prime example:  UNC.  Wins vs MSU, Kentucky and Louisville... losses vs Belmont and UAB.  Weird year so far.  I like the Bucks chances a lot better than I did coming into the season.  I thought they would get to the sweet 16 at the furthest but if the cards are right, I can see another final 4 run. 

Chris Lauderback's picture

Williams will likely redshirt. He missed all of preseason practice with mono and he's still not all the way back. Combine that with the glut of proven guys in the backcourt and there just aren't any minutes in the cards for him this year. 

skid21's picture

So if Kam is a RS we will have another highly ranked (4*) player in their first year next season. That will take some of the sting out of losing Craft and Smith.

Buckeye5000's picture

Kameron Williams had mono. He apparently caught it in high school and missed almost all of summer ball and fall camp. Last night Coach Matta said he has regained 90% of the wight he lost (apparently quite a bit) due to his illness. Matta also said a decision has not been made about a red-shirt yet. It does seem one is likely this year though (my thoughts).
I agree with the article that it is very important for Amir to continue to be a threat to score to keep teams from selling out on our guards and shooters.
Also "Q" giving Amir and Lenzelle some more help on the boards would go a long way towards competing with the bigger B1G teams we will be facing in the very near future. 

2014 Undisputed National Champions!

Chris Lauderback's picture

Completely agree about Q helping on the glass. Right now, he and LZ3 are dead even in rebounds per minute at .20 apiece with Ross fairing better on the defensive backboard and Smith Jr. on the offensive end.

Buckeye5000's picture

Thanks for your reply Chris. Although I am relatively new to this site and have not commented a lot yet, one thing I really like about 11W is the feedback from the writers. It allows for give and take from the reader and writer on readers questions, clarification of certain points in the articles, an exchange of opinions, and making the reader feel like he is truly part of the experience here at 11W and not just someone who reads the articles. Thanks again.

2014 Undisputed National Champions!

ScarletNGrey01's picture

Great article as always.  Williams is showing much more promise than I had thought he would, but yes he has disappeared a couple of games.  HEY GUYS ... just got back in town and kicking myself for not DVRing the Ohio State / North Dakota State game.  Looked around and didn't see a repeat (there was one on the BTN at 6 AM).  Anyone know where I could watch a replay (online would be OK) for this game?

The will to win is not as important as the will to prepare to win. -- Woody Hayes

Bamabucknut's picture

Amir said poor conditioning had held him back his first two years. I am very surprised  Matta let that happen and had to resort to team pressure to turn Amir around.

tennbuckeye19's picture

Let's all just hope Coach Matta stays on Amir's di...back.
Am I right?

DenBuck's picture

Amir is better and actually GOOD against vastly inferior opponents. It appears he gets intimated if the other team gets physical with him. The Maryland big men pushed him around and even in yesterdays game he seemed to regress. He seldom shows a sense of urgency or plays with a "chip" on his shoulder. We need more from him. Repeat, he is better than last year....

Buckeye For Life

Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

Amir had one of his worse games of the season last night....and it was still better than almost any game he played last year.  He is more aggressive and more confident.  He struggled a bit banging bodies and this is worrisome if when we matchup against ttun or a kentucky, or anyone else who has a big body.  He's made excellent strides and he must continue to improve if the team is going to make another run in the tourney.  All in all though, this is probably my favorite team in a long while.  

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Toilrt Paper's picture

Difficult for Amir to get "physical" when it doesn't come naturally, especially when Matta does not want him to get in foul trouble. Early in the year he spent time on the bench when he racked up fouls being "physical".

Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

I don't know what to say to that other than something will have to give in conference play.  You're right that Williams is not innately physical, but he's going to have to learn how to play that way for this team to transcend and make a run.  I just look at teams with big guys that are both physical and athletic and struggle to see us beating them because I think they can neutralize our defensive presence a bit by having their way in the post.

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thowen79's picture

I like what I am seeing with Amir but am not getting my hopes up. He still has a hard time handling the ball with anyone around him and like others have noted seems to have a difficult time with guys who are physical. He has improved though so we'll just have to see what happens during conference play.

NashBuckeye's picture

In my opinion, it comes down to his hands and catching the ball in traffic when it is thrown to him. He has definitely improved defensively and is better rebounding than he has been.  However, in the B1G, there will guys close to his size contesting rebounds and  entry passes to him, and last night his hands looked like the last two years.

I think this will be a very good team and I think it can be a True NC contender if Amir can play against elite competition without being a liability. We will see soon when the Conference schedule starts.

Seattle Linga's picture

The transition from playing the schedule NOW to the B1G schedule will make Amir even better - our conference has some big men that are very strong. With his improvement - he will get better and better with each game