Turning the Tide with Treys

By Nicholas Jervey on January 25, 2014 at 6:00a
Craft could use some perimeter shooting. Via Ryan Young/Getty Images

The Buckeyes' offensive struggles are well known. According to the Kenpom rankings, Ohio State's offense is ranked 120th, the worst offense of Matta's ten years in Columbus by a wide margin. Perimeter shooting is a major reason why.

The men's basketball team ended a four game slump against Illinois on Thursday in a curious fashion: after a first half in which both teams shot enough bricks to add another floor to Orton Hall, Ohio State finished shooting 42 percent from three point range to pull out an eight point win.

Aside from the turnover issues that have hindered the team in Big Ten play, the Buckeyes' biggest area of improvement is three point shooting. It's also the best hope for the offense; if Ohio State become good at nailing three pointers, it gives their otherwise middling offense the variance to beat good teams.

Given that three point shooting is a major concern for the Buckeyes, how can they improve on it?

Whatever the plan was in the offseason, the team hasn't improved their outside shooting like they had hoped. Following the 2013 regional final against Wichita State in which the Buckeyes shot 31.1 percent from the field and 20 percent from three point range, the team vowed to spend the offseason getting better at shooting:

“Coach had a massive emphasis on shooting (during the offseason), not just for myself but for everybody,” guard Aaron Craft said. “The first few times we worked out individually, it was all shooting, trying to have us understand how important it is. When you make shots, it changes a lot of things in the game.”

Yesterday, at the team’s media day, Matta said, “I believe we’re a better-shooting basketball team. The percentages say we’re a better-shooting basketball team with what we’re doing right now.”

So far, there have been mixed results. The two point shooting has improved to 52 percent, but the three point shooting has declined to 34.4 percent, 168th in the country.

There are several schools of thought about defending three pointers, but one point of agreement is that a team's three point defense cannot be judged by the opponent's shooting percentage. We need not worry about how Michigan State, Northwestern, and Iowa will affect those percentages; for Ohio State, it's all about improving the quality of the three pointers they take.

The Shooters

The Buckeyes don't have a three point specialist; they spread the ball evenly. LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith are the best shooters, and that's reflected in them making fifteen and eight three pointers in Big Ten play. The trigger-happy Marc Loving has six, Shannon Scott and Amedeo Della Valle with five, and Sam Thompson and Aaron Craft have four.

The distribution of shots is pretty good. Sam Thompson is below expectations given his potential and Amedeo Della Valle doesn’t get enough minutes in the rotation to be a key scorer, but there's not much more room for optimization in who takes the shots.

Jack Up Shots

Via Kirk Irwin of Getty ImagesLenzelle Smith came into his own against Illinois.

Maybe the problem is that Ohio State doesn't have the necessary practice with three pointers. Why not go three-wacky and hope that the repetitions increase the efficiency?

The Buckeyes already take a fairly high percentage of their shots from three (36.2%, 87th in the country). For one thing, greater volume comes with decreased efficiency. When a team relies heavily on the three pointer, opponents play tighter and contest more shots, making them more difficult.

Instead, the current offense would be better off with more two point shots, which they are better at hitting. In theory, shooting more two pointers would cause opposing defenses to suck in, allowing for more open looks on the perimeter when they collapse.

Increasing the shots taken from the perimeter could also hurt the team in its rebounding. Ohio State is 208th in the country at offensive rebounding, the offense's worst category outside of free throw shooting. By taking more low percentage shots, the Buckeyes would forfeit a greater percentage of their possessions and second chance points.


In the other direction is the inside-outside game, in which Ohio State would pound the ball inside, force the defense to tamp down on the man with the ball, then quickly swing the ball out to an open man. In this system, the man close to the basket would be the center of the offense.

The problem with this is that Amir Williams is the only player on the team who has the size and strength to post up regularly, and he has notoriously bad hands. He may not be good enough a passer to carry the offense.

The other method of creating enough space for perimeter shooting is guard penetration. Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott are the two players most likely to do this, kicking out to Ross or Smith or Thompson on the perimeter. The problem with this is the slump both players have gone through in Big Ten play, turning the ball over frequently and killing possessions.

Burn the Redshirt

Another option is to burn Kameron Williams' redshirt. Williams averaged 21 points a game as a high school senior and is skilled at hitting jumpers. Were he to enter the rotation, he could bring an offensive spark that Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott haven't shown.

However, adding Williams to the lineup would make Ohio State even more guard-heavy on minutes. The Buckeyes already start three guards, and Amedeo Della Valle gets around twelve minutes a game. Williams would have to be a firecracker to take minutes away from Craft or Scott, who have shown themselves to be excellent defenders.

It's a moot point, since Thad Matta reaffirmed his commitment to redshirting Kameron Williams in this past week. Unless Matta rethinks that decision during the stretch run, the next time Williams takes the court will be in October.

Pairing Players

Unlike the list of three point shooters, the facilitators for those shots are distributed unevenly. Aaron Craft dominates, having dished out assists on 20 of OSU’s 42 made three pointers in Big Ten play. He doubles Shannon Scott, who has assisted on ten three pointers, and then follows Sam Thompson with seven and Ross and Smith with three and two assists respectively. In light of this, the best option may be to design set plays for pairs of players who have been productive together and run them frequently during the game.

Amedeo Della Valle and Sam Thompson have a special kind of connection. Though neither uses many offensive possessions, they've been quite effective in their limited time, with Thompson assisting Della Valle on three of his four three pointers. When Ohio State has to go with a small lineup, putting in Della Valle as a third guard and Sam Thompson as a forward could spark some offense.

Among the starters, the two leading three point shooters pair up with the Buckeyes' two primary ball handlers. Shannon Scott has assisted LaQuinton Ross on six of his treys, more than anyone else on the team. Aaron Craft's favorite target is Lenzelle Smith, whom Craft has assisted on five of his ten threes. When all four are in the game, Craft should focus on penetrating then dishing out to Smith, while Scott may be better served by running the pick and roll with Ross.

Conversely, there may be some players who are better off kept separated. Aaron Craft has only assisted on four LaQuinton Ross three pointers in Big Ten play despite playing more minutes than anyone; when Craft is on the bench, it might be better for Scott and Ross to be together on the floor.

Ohio State doesn't need everyone to hit threes like Jon Diebler to be successful; it can make it through the year without improving on offense and make a modest NCAA Tournament run. But if the goal is to make it to the Final Four, something has to click on offense.


Comments Show All Comments

mr.green's picture

I would burn that red shirt.  Don't see how he will be around for 5 years. This team needs something and more ADV-Slam I Am pairings on the floor would be welcome by me. 

wyatt's picture

Good write-up. You hit the nail on the head about the offensive struggles. It sure looks like a poor basketball IQ when they play. Bad decisions on passing, turnovers and general play. First time I've heard of redshirting a bb player at OSU not related to an injury. Thad has work to do this year.   

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

Great article Nick.  You've got some good suggestions on how they can get it turned around.  I sure how they can.  I think this team is right on the brink of being a very good team and an average team.  Just need someone to step up and take command during crunch time.  They are learning though.  So hopefully as we get down the stretch it will pay off with a few more Ws to get us into the Tournament.
Go Bucks!!

slippy's picture

I would like to see the numbers on rebounding and three point spotting. I haven't researched it but my eyes tell me that teams who shoot more threes are better on the offensive boards because there are a lot more long rebounds.

buckifishr's picture

With the way teams are packing in zones and saying us to shoot the three, not sure we can get more quality two point shots right now.

Bamabucknut's picture

We need an outside offensive threat.....and an INSIDE  offensive threat.Right now I see little of either.
Don't get be started on the rebounding battles we regularly loose.

BoFuquel's picture

Let's all go to The Nut House, and receive our Schott Treatments,and do our part. GO BUCKS!

I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then.

gwalther's picture

Loving is our second best shooter, but the fact that LSJ can be considered the second best shooter on this team underscores how poor a shooting team it is.

Class of 2008

okiebuck's picture

Basketball 101; you have to find a way to take the ball to the bucket. You do this in any number of ways; regardless of the type of defense your opponent is playing. Amir coming up top on a high screen and following the driver to the hole for a dish or rebound; pick and roll off the wing and back door cuts; if you don't make the basket chances are you are going to the FT line. And yes you also can kick it out for the three ball; what that happens everyone else has to hit the boards and rebound.
If you live by the three; you die by the three, period.  

"Fate has cards that it don't want to show"

gravey's picture

If someone on the team had a reliable 10ft pull-up jumper - that would really help unpack the zone defenses that have been so effective on us lately.  We've had that guy in the past.  Q would seem to be that guy, but he clangs those off the rim frequently.
They just look tight, like they're playing scared - the psychology that effects the last 5 minutes of games is a bizarre and powerful thing.  
Maybe Thad can hire a shrink, or hypnotist?

ScarletNGrey01's picture

LaQuinton Ross has one of the smoothest, silky jump shots you'd ever want to see, and on the other end of the spectrum Aaron Craft has one of the most awkward jump shots ever, I chuckle and kind of grimace every time I see that "push" delivery he has on his J.  Like everyone else in Buckeye Nation, love the kid, his heart and hustle, steals, assists, taking it to the hole and he has been clutch at times even if his shot is not pretty.  The buckeyes have a great group of kids, lots of veterans, very athletic, but no pure, consistent shooter other than Q when he is in the zone.  Hopefully Della Valle will become a three point threat and average double digits when he becomes an upperclassman.

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

Urban Ohio's picture

Thad, go to Hiland High School, Amish country. You can get a 3 point shooter out of there. They are in the state playoffs constantly, and have plenty of long range bombers. You could get a real basketball player out of there every couple years, instead of those brick layers you have now.

Newcomerstown Trojans between Woody and Beaver.

PhillyBuckeye27's picture

Can we trade LSJ for a box of donut holes and a 12 pack of anything?

Deadly Nuts's picture

Stupid comment is stupid. LSJ is the reason we beat Illinois.


RedQueenRace's picture

Ohio State is 208th in the country at offensive rebounding, the offense's worst category outside of free throw shooting.

'Nuff said.

tcm1968's picture

Not sure I would say we "ended our slump"? Did the same things we did the previous four games just against a lesser opponent so we got the W. Until Thad is willing to sit Craft and sit Scott and just have one of them out there at a time we will continue to struggle to put up points. Any team we play from here on out has enough athletes to just play zone and dare guys like Craft and Scott to shoot and cheat off both of them making it hard for the other guys to get good looks.
Give me 10+ minutes a night of Scott, Williams, LsJr, Ross and Loving and they'll score.
Even if that group is okay on defense for 10+ minutes who cares. Just about every NCAA final 8 game and beyond is about stopping teams on D at the end of the half and the end of the game. Got to be able to score points to win. You will NEVER cut down the nets being awesome on defense and ok on offense. Never.

Seattle Linga's picture

Breaking the losing streak was key but they need to continue to gel and play outstanding defense. If they can shoot they way they did in the second half and limit our turnovers - we will be fine in the back half of the schedule.

Knarcisi's picture

Why no weekend games the last 2 weeks?