Buckeyes Eager for Life Outside the Big Ten

By Kyle Rowland on March 17, 2014 at 9:15a
24 Comments

On Thursday afternoon, Ohio State will play an out-of-conference team for the first time since Dec. 27. It’s a welcome sight for the Buckeyes. For a dozen weeks, life in the Big Ten meant playing gladiators on a basketball court.

Now comes a respite for a team that’s been bloodied, bruised and battered. After all, they were 15-0 during the non-league schedule – and three of those teams will play in the NCAA Tournament.

A possible second-round matchup against Syracuse would pit the Buckeyes against a roster laden with future NBA players. But games in the tournament won’t impersonate Big Ten battles against the likes of Michigan and Michigan State, where pro scouts can outnumber media.

“This conference is the toughest conference you’re going to play in,” senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said. “Honestly, I’m looking forward to the NCAA Tournament. I’m excited to beat up on some other teams outside the conference. We’ve played some of the top teams in the country already, so I think that is going to prepare us a lot for the NCAA Tournament.”

Past history suggests Smith is correct. Throughout the Big Ten’s rise to prominence, coaches and players readily reference the league’s depth and toughness as an ingredient in deep tournament runs. Since 2005 – Thad Matta’s first year at Ohio State – the conference has had seven Final Four participants with four losing in the national championship game.

Still, none have won the title since Michigan State in 2000.

“I honestly don’t know [why],” Matta said. “It’s interesting.”

“I’m excited to beat up on some other teams outside the conference. We’ve played some of the top teams in the country already, so I think that is going to prepare us a lot for the NCAA Tournament.”– Lenzelle Smith Jr.

The Buckeyes probably won’t end that streak, at least not this season. But a team that lost consecutive games to Penn State and Indiana displayed grit and glimpses of grandeur over the past week not seen in recent months.

Scoring points has been LaQuinton Ross’s M.O. from the outset of the season, but the constant production and ability to fill the hoop at the basket is a new formula. He’s averaging more than 20 points the past six games, joining a long list of Buckeyes who’ve risen to the occasion during the year’s third month.

“It’s tournament time.” Ross said. “I know this team needs me to score, so I’ve just been aggressive and tried to drive more. I know when I get to the rack, I will either finish or draw a foul.”

Another blip is the bench’s recent surge. Going forward, Amedeo Della Valle and Shannon Scott aren’t likely to consistent forces in the postgame box score. Scott could find his value in guarding former teammate Jordan Sibert, whose Dayton’s leading scorer.

Motivation is of little concern. The consequences from a slow start are clear. But for a team that lacks any real consistency and identity, will a fiery pep talk or list of concerns really matter?

“We are who we are,” Matta said. “Can we be a little bit better when we take the court on Thursday or Friday? Yeah, I think we can. But this team is who it is.”

Who exactly is it? A team that looks in a number of directions for a second scorer, a group that continually struggles at the free throw line – a major warning sign at this time of year – and a team that remains an enigma.

There’s a reason fans become frustrated. There’s potential, but a lack of stability.

“We’ve got to be ready to play against anyone,” Scott said. “If we don’t play well in our first game, we’re going to lose and get knocked out. It’s win or go home now.”

Thanks to one of the top defensive units in the country, a deep run is a possibility. Not probable, but conceivable. So too is an early exit. Matta’s managed to stay even keeled throughout the proceedings because he sees a group of “great kids” that make up one of the best practice teams he’s ever coached.

“We compete like crazy,” Matta said.

To say or believe anything else would be foolish. They’ve displayed their resilience gene on multiple occasions. Unexplainable events frame the month of March.

“In our heart, we’re a tough basketball team. We’re a team that’s not going to give up,” junior forward Sam Thompson said.

Of all the inconsistencies plaguing Ohio State, the one constant remains its will to reach the finish line. In the postseason, toughness can trump talent.

24 Comments

Comments

mrspray's picture

Is it Thursday yet?

+4 HS
jumbo_shells83's picture

Hey Lenzelle, STFU and stop creating poster-board material. What the hell is he, of all people, doing saying crap like that.......with this season's team playing so up and down....

The American people sleep peacefully at night because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.

-5 HS
ColoradoBuck's picture

I had the same thought when I read his quote. Love the confidence, but we can't assume we'll "beat up" on anybody, Dayton included.

TMac's picture

Iowa and Nebrasketball are going to like playing someone other than a B1G foe this week too!

Go BUCKS!

ShowThemOhiosHere's picture

Anything's possible, I guess.  This is basically what TTUN did last year - went undefeated in non-conference play, got beat up in Big Ten play, pre-Sunday exit in the Big Ten tournament, then somehow fluked a 5 game run to the title game when people thought that run might be possible in early January, but not in March.

Class of 2010.

+2 HS
OldColumbusTown's picture

You are exactly right.  Michigan was a 5-seed last year in the B1G tournament.  Lost in the semi's.  Undefeated in non-conference play.  Struggled at times in conference play.  Yet, they persevered and even thrived once they got out of the B1G.

This OSU team CAN do it.  They've shown flashes of being a top 5-10 team.  Their problem has been consistency, and scoring droughts.  The Michigan game on Saturday showcased a team that can score some points.  All hands need to be on deck, but Syracuse is not as daunting as they once seemed.  Craft being all over Ennis, LSJ/Sam on Fair.  Cuse struggles to score at times, and have really been in a funk towards the end of the season.

Kyle Rowland's picture

I don't really see the comparison. First off all, Michigan had the best player in the country. In all, it had five NBA players last season. Ohio State has nothing of the sort. The seasons may mirror each other a little bit, but I don't think the two teams could be any different. 

Nick's picture

I think Michigan was really lucky vs us in the B1G tourny, without that 3 point shooting (they shot like 29% vs MSU) we would have won by 10.

+1 HS
OldColumbusTown's picture

I don't disagree at all that the rosters of the two teams are completely different types of rosters.  I was simply comparing season to season.  Plus, if you look at Michigan, how many would have thought (prior to the tournament run and this subsequent season) that Hardaway would have been the pro prospect that he became?  Did McGary have much upside prior to the tournament?  He didn't produce until the last two-three games of the regular season, and then had a monster post-season.  GRIII is mostly all potential - he really hasn't lived up to what many expected of him.  Stauskas has come out of nowhere to be the all-around player now, as opposed to a shooter only last year.

Point is, Michigan and its "pro roster" was not all it could have been last year during the regular season.  They showed flashes throughout the year, and it all came together in the tournament.  This OSU team has shown flashes of greatness, but too much inconsistency.  If they could somehow find a happy medium (much like we saw for a large part of the B1G semifinal, minus Michigan's white hot shooting), they can be a very dangerous team in the tournament, especially because their defense can lock up almost anyone to give them a fighter's chance to win.

daveyt11's picture

Thursday Noon...Either Dayton or OSU will have the dubious honor of being the first real team (I dont count the preliminary games) eliminated. That happened against Utah State back in 2001 or 2002. 

ScarletNGrey01's picture

It is possible (and HAS to happen) that someone aside from Ross will step up each game and be a second scorer.  Then, the rest of the players have to at least give us their season average.  Williams holding on to the ball and Trey stopping those silly fouls would help.  A great group of kids, would be awesome if they caught fire and got past Dayton then Syracuse.

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

Buckeyefan774's picture

I think lenzelle smith is going to be the X factor. If they play like they did in the big ten tourney, they're  going to need him to get out of the little funk he's in, and start hitting his shots. Would be huge for this team to have a viable second option outside of Ross

+1 HS
LexingtonBuckeye's picture

If by " little funk" you mean, "most of the season funk" then I would agree. I'm not a fan of his fading away from the basket jumpers either. He needs to jump into his shots. His line is fine, it's the distance that is off by a small margin. I have always been a streaky shooter when playing basketball, but getting back to basics almost always cures a slump.

beber1271990's picture

His season long funk is a "once it turns mid February, I'm bricking everything". LSJ is the only player that have less confidence than Aaron Craft's WNBA style shot. Every time he pulls back to shoot I know that if we're lucky he's going to just graze the rim. More than likely it's going off the backboard and then to the front of the rim. I do love his defense and hustle tho. Just don't shoot. I'd rather see Q put up a triple teamed 3 from NBA distance every time. I don't mean to hate on him tho. I hope he proves me wrong and goes off during the tourney

kevdale86's picture

I'm much more worried about getting by Dayton first. This is exactly the type of game this year's team would struggle in. If we get by them, I'm not at all worried about Syracuse and their zone. We'll be the underdog with nothing to lose. It will be a defensive game where each team should have trouble scoring. If we play and shoot the way we did against Michigan, except for the free throws at the end, we have a good chance. No added pressure this year of expecting a deep run like in recent years.

scrotieMcboogerballs's picture

I already miss craft...unfortunately, I think he has, at most, 2 games left (unless Cuse somehow gets knocked off in the first round like Bilas predicted)

"Who do you think you are?!?!...I am!!"  -Pete Weber, bowling legend and dominator of the English language

Nick's picture

Yeah I'd hate to play Cuse in Buffalo. Don't know how that happened!

MacG91's picture

The Buckeyes should make some noise as long as they dont face a team that shoots 55% from 3 in a game. 

Mac..yeah

+1 HS
mrspray's picture

Definitely - if they don't start on the bad end of a 15-2 run, and the opponent doesn't light it up behind the arc, they have a real solid sweet sixteen run in them.

+1 HS
ghalephoto's picture

You wait and see how non BigTen officials make the BigTen have to adjust mid game.  It happens every year, the BigTen struggles because what was left alone in the conf. is called in the NCAA tourn.  In the BigTen tourn they let everyone play thru contact.  NCAA's will clamp down on us like we just started playing.  Hope I am wrong...

scrotieMcboogerballs's picture

At the same time, OSU (and other BIG schools) have had to deal with some of the worst and most inconsistent officiating (Valentine, Burr, etc) in the country.  Maybe some consistency, even allowing less contact, helps more than it hurts...

"Who do you think you are?!?!...I am!!"  -Pete Weber, bowling legend and dominator of the English language

+1 HS
seafus26's picture

I've always felt at NCAA Tourney time Big Ten teams are hurt by the difference in officiating. Compared to the way the refs in the tourney, from other conferences, call it; it's almost no blood no foul in Big Ten play and then very ticky tack in tourney by different refs. It's tough to then change how you've played, all year.

Go Bucks and michigan STILL SUCKS!

CGroverL's picture

I get where some of you are coming from when discussing Zelle's comment about beating up on non-Big Ten squads. It sounds like an SEC football fan during bowl season (they always claim that no team finishes an SEC schedule unbeaten because they all beat up on each other). However, I feel the same way Zelle does. I think that Big Ten teams are going to play well during the tourney simply due to their horrendously and brutally tough in-conference schedules. Smith is right...it probably will feel nice to beat up on non-conference opponents, he just said it the wrong way. Besides, we'll see how tough the Bucks are in round 3 when they play Syracuse....if no upsets happen, of course.

I'm with Zelle...I say that the Bucks beat up on Dayton (which just happens to be my hometown) and follow that up by defensively tearing Syracuse apart. Go Buckeyes!!!! Beat them up with defense!!!

"I hope they're last in everything"

Thanks, Urb!