Perfect Record Masks Imperfections of Matta's Buckeyes

By Michael Citro on December 26, 2013 at 4:15p
Thad knows where he wants his team to go. Getting there can be tricky.

The Ohio State hoops team is a perfect 12-0 heading into tomorrow night’s non-conference finale against Louisiana-Monroe.

But if that trend is going to continue into a Big Ten schedule that starts in just five days in West Lafayette, there are a few problems the Buckeyes will have to fix. The perfect record belies some imperfections that could cost Ohio State in one of America’s top basketball conferences.

The team’s swarming defense, collection of guards, better-than-expected shooting and the improvement of Amir Williams inside are all reasons to be optimistic.

But if we could invite Debbie Downer into the conversation for just a moment, she’d probably want to tell you about the things the Buckeyes need to clean up in order to earn a sixth conference championship and/or fifth B1G tournament title under Thad Matta — or make another run at a Final Four.

Interior defense

If you’ve watched an Ohio State game this season, you’ve no doubt seen Williams commit to a head fake, aggressively going for a block, only to have his opponent drive around him on the baseline for an easy reverse layup. Easy points in the paint in conference play can be deadly as games are decided by fewer and fewer points.

It’s not just on Amir though. LaQuinton Ross has been a liability defensively at times as well, and his consistency must improve on that end of the floor. The most notable breakdowns on the interior occur when the more nimble opposing guards drive the lane and get a step on Aaron Craft or Shannon Scott The help defense hasn’t been very helpful at times.

That’s fine against Morgan State. Not so much against Michigan State.

Thad's still looking for some answers with this year's squad.Thad would like more rebounds, plz.


For a team with good interior size, long wing players and active guards, the Buckeyes have not been a great rebounding team this season. In a pretty weak non-conference slate, Ohio State has won on the glass eight times. But only four times have the Buckeyes posted a significant positive difference — against Morgan State (+21), Wyoming (+13), North Dakota State (+10) and Delaware (+16).

On the flip side, Marquette out-rebounded the Buckeyes by 16 and Maryland grabbed 14 more boards than Ohio State. Bryant proved to be Ohio State’s equal on the glass and the Buckeyes barely edged Ohio, American, North Florida, and Notre Dame by 1, 3, 4, and 1, respectively.

That's not good enough to get it done in the B1G.

Bench Consistency

Ohio State has often built sizable leads this season, only to see them evaporate once Matta unleashed his bench. Sam Thompson has provided some occasional spark with his acrobatics, and has even put up a few decent games from the floor. But outside of Slam, bench production has been inconsistent.

Marc Loving has shown he is a special talent. He is confident in his shot and in taking on defenders. No moment has seemed to big for the frosh.  He’s averaging six points per game. But Loving hasn’t yet earned Matta’s complete trust, either.

Trey McDonald is aggressive, but he hasn’t defended as well as Williams. And he’s prone to fouls and turnovers. Amedeo Della Valle is extremely streaky and can be a liability on the defensive end. The primary four bench players have usually been paired with the sometimes offensively-challenged Scott, making points tough to come by while the starters rest.

No doubt Matta will shorten the bench in Big Ten play. But the key reserves must find more consistency to avoid a production drop when the starters rest or if they get into foul trouble.


Although it’s easier to get up mentally for Wisconsin or Michigan than Bryant or American, the Buckeyes have shown a worrisome tendency to come out flat or seem disinterested against some opponents. There are too many upperclassmen on this team for that to happen. Craft and Smith typically apply the right amount of leadership to avoid these letdowns, but they still happen on occasion.

In the rugged Big Ten, a team that comes out flat could find itself behind by 20 points by halftime. Players like Scott, Ross and Williams are all veterans who shouldn’t need to look to seniors Craft and Smith to hit the court with the appropriate focus — not that Craft and Smith are immune themselves.

offensive Consistency

The final area of concern is offensive consistency. Since his reawakening, Ross has been very steady. And Smith has been very even in his production outside of the first 39 minutes of the Notre Dame game. After that, all bets are off.

The B1G is made up of coaches who will find ways to take Ross and/or Smith out of the game and force other players to make up for the missing scoring. Craft has shown he can step up when he needs to. But what about Scott, Thompson or Williams? None of the three has been consistent enough as of yet.

And from a collective standpoint, the team has to be more consistent against defensive changeups, particularly the zone. With guards like Craft and Scott — both adept on the dribble drive – there is no reason the Buckeyes shouldn’t be able to penetrate a zone and distribute to zone busters like Williams, Ross and Thompson.

Despite the concerns above, the 2013-14 Buckeyes are a very good basketball team. Their defense will give them a chance in every game on the schedule. But if the problem areas are cleaned up, the potential for a truly magical season exists.



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BuckeyeSouth's picture

The recent game against ND put several of these on display.  Interior defense (especially Ross) was horrible, the team came out flat and lack of consistency on offense, in particular Smith, almost cost us that game.  Luckily the Bucks escaped with a win and hopefully Matta gets all of those things corrected before conference play begins.  I'm looking forward to another great hoops season and a deep run in the tournament.

Champions.  Undisputed.  

oregonianbuckeye's picture

Really solid article, Michael. I agree that this Buckeye team has a lot of growing to do, and that the weak schedule has masked some pretty big holes.  A few thoughts.
"LaQuinton Ross has been a liability defensively at times as well ... "
This is a bit of an understatement. Most teams have used a strategy of, give the ball to whoever Q is guarding. This was especially true in the ND game. 
Also, I'd like to see this team press more. Scott and Craft are two of the best on the ball defenders in the game, and L and Thompson are plus defenders as well. By pressing, I think we could increase our transition buckets, a key since we aren't great in the half court offensively. I also think that we could afford to press because we are deeper than most Matta teams, especially in the back court. 

Go1Bucks's picture

Nice analysis Michael.  Hit the nail on the head. Hopefully we will see more consistency in the paint and on the boards when we get to Purdue. One more warm up and some practice time will give us a good gauge.  If we cant handle the Boilermakers, then how are we going to handle the likes of Whisky or Sparty?
I guess time will tell, but here's t hoping Matta can analyze each our opponents well enough to give the team time to develop and maybe for someone to step up his game to bring in some needed consistent bench scoring

Go Bucks!

DeepSouthBuckeye's picture

I agree about pressing. Our transition offense has got to be one of the best in the country. Pressure defense can help lead to transition offense.
One more thing I am pleased to see: In the ND game, when everyone (myself included) thought the game was over, the Buckeyes kept battling. It was really good to see an upperclassman led team battle back on the biggest stage (of the short season so far). I know ND is not a dominant team by no means, but they are a very reputable opponent, and finding a way to win that game I (think) and hope will help this team later this season.   

Loving all things Buckeye from SEC country in Alabama.

"How firm thy friendship....O-HI-O"

ScarletNGrey01's picture

Spot on Michael, well done.  I've watched every game this year including one game in person at the Schott (against Delaware) and love these kids, a lot of upperclassmen veteran leadership and some great athleticism BUT yeah ... they have been a little shaky at times for sure.  I know this sounds like a cliche and is true for a lot of teams but Thad Matta teams CONSISTENTLY, year-after-year, tend to get better as the season goes on and often peak near the end of the season, which is exactly what you want of course.

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

bucksfan92's picture

I also think this is a very well written article.  I know we Buckeye fans have to find some grey clouds among the sliver lining :)  but I completely agree with the "disinterested" concern.  It has popped up a couple of times and it bothers me, especially with 2 seniors like Craft and Smith who have rarely ever been disinterested types.  I don't think we will have that problem in B1G play, but it can slip in if things start to unravel somewhere (like Madison last Feb).  I do like this team and I think they are going to be right there at the end for the B1G title, and until someone knocks us off, we are the odds on favorite to win the OSU Invitational (fka BIGT). I also think this team is very capable of a deep tourney run and a national title, but first things first - finish up the OOC on the upswing and then win the first 2 B1G games to set up a monster show down with Sparty in mid Jan.

AWalk3r1's picture

Great Article, Spot on.  
I think that pressing more would be great,  but with that comes more fouls, and liek pointed out it is hard trust that bench. 
I think from the ND game, we learned this team has heart, and can find ways to win. with that in that one span did we knock down a jumper ? that is what scares me, is when we need a knock down shot can we hit. 
That 2-3 zone is tough for us cause, we have to shoot are way out of that, and it takes the Flow out of the offense. We do not have the sharp shooter, we have had in th past. 
I like this team, cause i think no matter where they are ranked they will be the underdog all season . 
We will soon see how these Bucks, will fair and I think we can and will be in the thick of it. 


chowoon97's picture

We will get a bunch of losses in BIG. But we learn from them, and we will be in a great shape near the start of NCAA tourney. 

FLAMikey's picture

As pointed out in this article, there are some notable chinks in the armor (no Jeremy Lin reference).

  • Amir hasn't yet gone up against a quality big. He is decent as a defender as long as he can play from a relatively stationary position. If he has to move his feet, it's all over.
  • It's crucial that Scott's jumper comes along. If teams can play off Scott and Craft away from the basket, it will really hamper the O against elite teams.  
  • Teams are going to attack Q relentlessly with the best offensive player that he can be forced to guard.
  • I agree with the author's comments about Loving except that the game at MSG looked like it might have been too big. If a deep tourney run happens it will be dependent upon Loving becoming a grown a** man by March.