Last year's NCAA tournament game between Ohio State and the Wichita State Shockers wasn't really as interesting as the score indicated.
The score read 70-66, but the reality was that the Shockers mostly dominated the game, only allowing Ohio State to mount a second half comeback that ended up falling short in the last few minutes. And in fact, the last minute of that game would be a horrifying look into the future, like some kind of crappy shooting looking glass that sees all, knows all, and laughs at your futile attempts to do anything about it.
Ohio State had seven offensive possessions in the last sixty seconds of that Elite Eight game. Here's what they looked like:
- Aaron Craft missed three
- Deshaun Thomas missed jumper
- Shannon Scott offensive rebound (okay, maybe there are SOME anomalies), followed by a made two point jumper
- LaQuinton Ross missed three
- Evan Ravenel missed two
- Aaron Craft made three (???)
- Aaron Craft missed three (the universe rights itself once again)
Two players for Buckeyes, Deshaun Thomas and LaQuinton Ross, accounted for 63% of Ohio State's scoring. Aaron Craft had nine points, but was only 2-12 from the floor. Sam Thompson was on the court for 33 minutes and took three shots, two of which he missed. Deshaun Thomas missed on every one of his six three point attempts. Amir Williams had four blocks, three rebounds, and did literally nothing else in 17 minutes aside from picking up a foul. The team shot a whopping 20% from three, and 31% overall.
During that game Wichita State didn't shoot particularly well either, but they also managed to have four players scoring double in the double figures, and another player with nine points (all on free throws).
The Shockers were more well rounded than the Buckeyes, and it was obvious which team was more suited to win in an NCAA tournament that generally gives the advantage to teams with a large amount of flexibility and multiple shooters. This is why a little heralded team has been able to extend it's success from last season into this season, and why Ohio State has not.
Last season, Wichita State lost two of it's top three scorers (all who were averaging over 10 points per game), Carl Hall and Malcom Armstead. The Shockers responded in 2013-14 by having four players average double digits per game, and are currently ranked second in the country after finishing their regular season undefeated in the Missouri Valley Conference.
I'm apparently required by law to point out that the Shockers play in a garbage league with garbage teams filled with garbage players coached by garbage coaches, but the truth is that when a team is as efficient offensively as Wichita State has been all season, when a team rebounds and plays overall defense as well as they have, the Shockers have earned the right to shed whatever paper tiger label that fans of bigger name schools have placed on them in an effort to mask their own insecurities.
You know, like us.
Ohio State has taken a different track than Wichita State. We all know the details: can't shoot, can't rebound, overly reliant on one guy to carry the offense, etc. All of those things are bad, but what's really hurt the Buckeyes, especially in Big Ten play, is the team's continued inability to find a consistent second scoring option behind LaQuinton Ross. Matta remains an incredible coach, but his failure to develop even one extra shooter in the past two or three years has sunk this team in crunch time.
Earlier this week, The Lantern asked Ohio State players about this year's Wichita State team:
Craft had an answer for the next question too, an inquiry into whether he and the rest of the now No. 22 Buckeyes knew how good Wichita State would be this season before everyone else did, simply because their season ended at the hands of the Shockers almost a calendar year ago.
“It’s not a moral victory if that’s what you’re hinting at,” Craft said with a grin. “It doesn’t feel any better that they beat us now that they’re having this success.”
The thing is though that Wichita State didn't establish that success last season against Ohio State in that fateful Elite Eight game. In the intervening year between now and then, the Shockers were able to rebuild their offensive game into something formidable while also complementing things that they already did well. As a result, they're undefeated and a strong one seed going into their conference tournament.
Ohio State hasn't done any of those things. After starting their season 15-0, they've stumbled as their lack of player development has hurt them in a murderous Big Ten. They're turned out to be the real paper tigers in this story, and their last shot at changing the narrative will be to have the same kind of March that Wichita State did last year.