This wasn’t how the season was supposed to go – for Ohio State or Indiana. The two proud programs knew it’d be tougher without star players, but no one foresaw a dip this low.
It’s so bad in Bloomington that head coach Tom Crean would be just fine with a 9-7 Big Ten record and being swept by Penn State. The Hoosiers, who spent much of last season at No. 1 in the country, are just 16-12 overall and a dismal 6-9 in the conference.
|Indiana (16-12, 6-9)||Assembly Hall||4:00 p.m.||CBS (CBS Sports)|
The teams have similar shortcomings. Both suffer shooting the basketball, while Indiana lacks leadership and maturity. It’s not overly shocking considering the amount of experience the Hoosiers lost from last season’s team, which was stockpiled with veterans.
The Buckeyes issues boil down to the “little things,” as head coach Thad Matta defined it. He then rattled off a host of those things that could have resulted in a win at Penn State Thursday if Ohio State had righted its wrongs. In the course of a season, a few more rights can be the difference in multiple wins and losses.
“I could go forever. You get the gist,” Matta said.
Free throws, communication on both ends of the floor, better spacing, etc.
Said Shannon Scott: “Having two or three points back, we could’ve won the game. If we take care of the ball a little bit more, we rebound a little bit more, we convert on points in transition, we’re going to win games.”
Indiana is an enigma. Yes, the Hoosiers lost a crop of star players from last season’s Big Ten champions. But they returned Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey, and freshman Noah Vonleh is projected as an NBA lottery pick come June.
Ferrell has emerged as an all-around point guard and scoring threat, averaging a team-high 17.6 points and 3.8 assists per game. Sheehey and Vonleh score more than 22 points and 14 rebounds per game. Yet, a stagnant offense remains.
Head coach Tom Crean has regularly been criticized for his lack of creativity on offense and the drumbeat has never sounded louder than this season. A year ago, Indiana led the Big Ten in scoring, but it’s since taken a backseat to the action. Thursday’s win over Iowa was just the second conference game the Hoosiers cracked the 80-point barrier.
But it was too little, too late for Indiana. With one week left in the regular season, it likely needs to win out to even become a bubble team and would then need to reach the Big Ten tournament championship game – and probably win it – to reach the Big Dance.
“We just don’t bear down and do the things that we know we can do and we’re capable of doing,” Ferrell said.
The key to the Hoosiers’ postseason hopes could rest on Vonleh. The freshman phenom, equipped with a 6-foot-10 frame and 7-foot-4 wingspan, can take over a game. Vonleh’s rebounding prowess is an asset that contributes to a bevy of second-chance points. Throughout the season, he’s continued to improve his on-court play.
Vonleh’s mixed his rebounding and ability to score close to the basket with back-to-the-basket offense, jump shooting and ball handling.
“He’s getting more comfortable away from the basket with the ball not just with shooting the ball,” Crean said.
Terence Dials, Greg Oden, Jared Sullinger. Those are just three of the numerous big men Thad Matta’s been fortunate enough to coach at Ohio State. And when the offense became anemic or inefficient, the Buckeyes could always go down low to create points. But that isn’t the case in the 2013-14 season.
Gone are the days when the Big Ten’s top centers would provide instant offense and a reprieve when jump shooters were having off nights. Gone too is Deshaun Thomas, who could move in the paint and finish or reach the free throw line. In a season where struggles have piled up, the root of Ohio State’s offensive woes is the lack of a dependable inside presence.
“When in doubt, we could throw the ball inside and they could make something happen,” junior guard Shannon Scott said. “We don’t have a Jared Sullinger or Deshaun Thomas this year, but we know that we can still accomplish a lot of goals if we just do the right things.”
Amir Williams is averaging 8.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and nearly two blocked shots per game, but it’s nowhere near the level of production expected from the five-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American. His backup, Trey McDonald, has shown tremendous growth this season, but remains an unfinished product.
McDonald, who scored a career-high nine points at Penn State, still fouls too frequently and displays a raw, undisciplined skill set. He, along with Williams, missed far too many point-blank shots Thursday night to secure a road victory. They also were a combined 1 of 6 from the free throw line, fatal numbers in a two-point loss.
It doesn’t appear much help is on the way in recruiting. So Matta and Co. must solider on. For the remainder of this season, Ohio State just wants to tie up loose ends. The Buckeyes need to communicate better down the stretch and acquire an intense level of concentration.
When they watched the film from the Penn State loss, all the minor flaws jumped out like a children’s pop-up book.
“It cuts us deep losing another game, but we can’t really dwell on it,” Scott said. “It’s too late in the season to start dwelling on our mistakes. It’s not time for that right now. We’ve got to all be men and move on from that and make the most of our next games.”
They’re no less important. In reality, the final two games have taken on a more significant meaning. Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska will spend the final week of the regular season attempting to put a stranglehold on the fourth and final first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament. Two wins will do the trick for the Buckeyes.
“We know none of our games are going to get easier,” Scott said. “Indiana’s a great team. Their record doesn’t show how good they really are, so we all know that coming into the game. We’re going to be prepared for them and hopefully be ready to play.”
- Indiana leads the all-time series with Ohio State 101-76. The Buckeyes have won eight of the past 10 meetings.
- Thad Matta is 11-7 against the Hoosiers and 4-4 in Assembly Hall.