The Undignified Epitaph

By Ramzy Nasrallah on March 26, 2014 at 11:15a
swoooooooon
52 Comments

Jealousy is the tribute mediocrity pays to excellence.

Ohio State exited as quickly as possible from this NCAA tournament. Deep down you saw it coming, but forced yourself to look away to avoid accepting it.  That's no longer possible, and with our boys sidelined permanently you've been subjected to team after team launching unforced, elegant-looking 3-point baskets. Denial is now jealousy.

Every other tournament team you see appears to feature players capable of shooting with accuracy and steady production. Every one. Ohio State should have shooters - hell, shooter - like they do. It did not.

If you can stomach this tournament you've also seen numerous big men playing like bullies without any sort of timidity or passiveness. They're unafraid of picking up fouls, being far more intent on demonstrably showing that entering the paint should be done at one's own risk. Their mere presence alone alters shots. Ohio State should have big men like that. It does not. Jealousy sings. Jealousy whines. Jealousy soars.

The postmortem for Ohio State's first 10-loss season in six years hasn't been dignified. It's both a testament to the greater expectations Thad Matta has delivered to the nation's seventh most-valuable program and to the abrupt departure from meeting them. 

The 2014 Buckeyes were LaQuinton Ross galloping to the basket, bracing for contact and usually not getting a whistle. He was the team's leading scorer and rebounder, but he simply isn't disruptive or dynamic enough to change a game plan. It's almost as though good teams conceded Ross getting his 15 points because they understood they could do so without compromising the game's outcome.

LQR FTW
LQR was a magnet for uncalled contact. That didn't help.

Ross was exactly who the Buckeyes should have needed him to be, playing totally within his ability. Think Scottie Pippen without you-know-who. That's LQR. He's Robin with Batman absent; not equipped to be the guy, but man oh man he'd be wonderful alongside him.

The 2014 Buckeyes were Sam Thompson's electrifying dunks, which at two points per did not go nearly far enough to cover the 247 points the Buckeyes left on the floor in the form of missed free throws.

Thompson was the smoothest, most fluid player on the team by a wide margin - and he's emblematic of how frustrating this team was. He scored 19 in his memorable takeover of the Minnesota game in February and reached double figures against Michigan State, Michigan, North Dakota State and seven other teams.

Yet Thompson was only fourth in scoring on the team, two full points behind noted last-resort shooter Aaron Craft. He disappeared for enormous stretches during the season and was inexplicably was the team's worst free throw shooter not named Trey McDonald.

The Buckeyes' second-leading scorer was Lenzelle Smith Jr., who shot a dismal 10-35 from the floor over the final five games of his career. He was a reliable double-digit scorer before March happened. If Smith had scored anywhere close to his average against Michigan and Dayton the Buckeyes win both games.

Amedeo Della Valle was brought in as as a 3-point specialist, garnering (unfair) Jon Diebler comparisons. ADV is now on his way to a professional career in Europe, and he did not have a single statistical advantage over Diebler - not in threes, field goal percentage, free throws, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks, minutes - not one. He wasn't even close.

ADV did average more turnovers than Diebler. He was also Ohio State's entire 2012 recruiting class, and he has left the building permanently. It's 2014.

A year ago Michigan freshman Nik Stauskas began his career pigeonholed as a sharpshooter. When he attempted to put the ball on the floor against the Buckeyes, Craft absolutely smothered him. A year later Stauskas is the reigning B1G MVP in a contest that probably wasn't that close, having diversified his game and emerging as a 3-point specialist, expert distributor and a threat to - gasp - drive to the basket. When was the last time an Ohio State player made an improvement like that in one season?

That's part of the reason there's so much pessimism around this 2014 season, and why you may be involved in a disquieting jealousy tribute as the tournament whittles its way down to a champion without Ohio State in it. The Buckeyes have nearly 14 feet and 8 recruiting stars worth of centers in McDonald and Amir Williams, and it would take unhealthy optimism to believe either of them will ever cease to be the glaring front court liabilities that they are.

There is no fear when either Amir or Trey are on the floor. Dayton's front court calmly attacked them and set the tone early with 25 of the Flyers' 33 points in the first half of Ohio State's only NCAA tournament game. The Buckeyes' two centers ended up combining for zero points. They are easily the least disruptive big men Ohio State has had in the Matta era (if there were less effective centers during his tenure they rarely or never saw the floor).

Amir and Trey combined for zero points against Dayton, whose front court scored 25 of its 33 IN THE 1st half.

The Buckeyes have plenty of farmers: A lot of nice cogs happy to make the extra pass but hesitant to be a scorer. Championship teams don't exist without farmers. They also don't win titles without scorers, and they barely flirt with contention without a viable front court. It's a small miracle Matta got this team to where he did without those necessities and a tribute to his coaching. Roster management is your glaring area of improvement at the moment.

Jealousy is the tribute mediocrity pays to excellence, and as 16 mostly-excellent teams continue their seasons it's important to remember - despite what your television may be signaling - that the tribute the 2014 Buckeyes paid was exclusively to their recent previous editions that were all still active at this point in the postseason. It has nothing to do with the teams still playing.

Ohio State needs another Sully, Ken Johnson, Diebler, Daequan Cook, Michael Conley, Ron Lewis - and so many other players of the recent past still in their 20s - who are unafraid, intimidating and capable of both farming and hunting with precision. Watching this tournament from the sideline is a dumb trap that can lure you into thinking Ohio State doesn't have these types of players.

It didn't this year, which categorically was an anomaly. So try not to get too used to it, and keep that in mind when your fragile, misguided psyche gives a soaring jealousy tribute to players on other teams. Matta's track record doesn't speak; it screams for itself. It will take another anomaly for you to be jealous again. 

52 Comments

Comments

nrbuckguy's picture

I really hope D'Angelo Russell reads this article. He needs to show up with confidence as a frosh. Kam and Marc should probably take a look at it too, we need scorers!

In Urban We Trust

+2 HS
TMac's picture

We need a 5 so much, but we could use an upgrade at the 4, 3, 2, and 1......Ceratinly there are kids coming in and up, but we're damn near starting from scratch.  (I'm assuming LQR is gone)

RedStorm45's picture

You're not starting from scratch at the 5....lol.

Maybe starting from scratch won't be so bad.  We did it in '06-'07.  And Sully and Craft's freshman year to a lesser extent.

Torpedo Vegas's picture

Don't forget, Sully and Craft's freshman year had Lighty, Diebler, Buford, and Fort Swatterdale already on the roster.  Heck even the 06-07 team had Jamar Butler, Ivan Harris, and Ron Lewis as returning players. Not great, but I'd take any one of those guys heading into next year.

+2 HS
Seattle Linga's picture

Putting 2013 - 2014 behind us can only be a good thing

RedStorm45's picture

I didn't forget.  No team, unless your Coach Cal at UK, completely starts from scratch.  Scott, Thompson, and Williams/McDonald will be back.  The way those teams ran their offenses changed though.  '06-'07 became Conley running the show and eventually Oden in the middle.  While '09-'10 still had those great shooters, it became Craft running the show and Sully in the middle really opened things up for everyone else.  You'll always have vets returning but those two years, the team's identity and offensive sets changed pretty drastically with the new personnel.

Torpedo Vegas's picture

Very true. I'm just not that high on Scott, Thompson, and especially not Williams/McDonald. Then again who knows, 4 years from now I may be extolling the virtues of all those guys' veteran leadership on a Final Four squad. If anyone can make it happen, it's Thad. Now, let's all focus on forgetting this past season as soon as possible. 

Donny T's picture

Thanks for not sugar-coating the obvious deficiencies of this year's team. Now we can move on.

+4 HS
RedStorm45's picture

Four star (Amir) + Three star (Trey) = Seven stars in the front court.

 

I think the 15-0 start blurred the reality of what this team was - a bunch of role players.  That's what made the final couple months so long and drawn out.  You could point to 15 straight wins, albeit against some pretty bad competition.  Heck, even the MSU 2nd half was incredible.  But those role guys aren't going to carry you every game.

-1 HS
Jack Fu's picture

I think Amir was a 5-star in some circles.

+2 HS
RedStorm45's picture

Four-star according to Rivals, 247, Scout, and ESPN.  Is there a different basketball recruiting site I'm unaware of?

Found this hilarious in Scout's write-up:

A long, lean post prospect, Williams, a native of Michigan, is oozing with talent and potential. He moves up and down the floor extremely well and gets off the ground quickly when attempting to block shots and reel in rebounds. Offensively he has a good set of hands, but he'll need to continue to develop his scoring moves and gain strength.

Had me in tears lmao

+1 HS
Jack Fu's picture

Wow. Just ... wow.

Bolt's picture

....and then the MonStars came and stole all of his "talent."

+7 HS
MikeEagleBuckeye's picture

You nailed it right on the head, Ramzy.  Is there any news about Anthony Lee?  We could desperately use another big guy.

+1 HS
Jack Fu's picture

The Buckeyes have plenty of farmers: A lot of nice cogs happy to make the extra pass but hesitant to be a scorer. Championship teams don't exist without farmers. They also don't win titles without scorers, and they barely flirt with contention without a viable front court.

I said some variation of this exact sentiment the second Deshaun declared last year, and I was decried as a "hater" and advised by large swaths of users that the '13-'14 team would be better than the '12-'13 one. Homerism is a helluva drug.

+4 HS
RoyWalley's picture

Wanted - Talent

Matta needs to step up recruiting.  It has been bad the last few years and it is showing on the court.

Bolt's picture

There was one bad year really...and when he was recruiting it, it was considered a top 5 class (that being Amir, Shannon, Q, S(l)am). Those guys just haven't panned out. So it goes sometimes. He swung and missed on a couple big name guys since, but such as life when you're trying to compete with the blue bloods of the world and these kids are wanting to team up to play together (and we only had 1 or 2 schollies to offer kids in the Amadeo class and last year's class respectively....we can't offer schollies that aren't there to offer). You can't help but have faith that Thad is going to bring the talent...he almost always has. It's not that he's not trying.

+2 HS
sb97's picture

A year ago Michigan freshman Nik Stauskas began his career pigeonholed as a sharpshooter. When he attempted to put the ball on the floor against the Buckeyes, Craft absolutely smothered him. A year later Stauskas is the reigning B1G MVP in a contest that probably wasn't that close, having diversified his game and emerging as a 3-point specialist, expert distributor and a threat to - gasp - drive to the basket. When was the last time an Ohio State player made an improvement like that in one season?

First, I think the question of when the last time a Buckeye made that kind of improvement is unfair.  It is extremely rare for any team.  How many times have MSU/Wisconsin, or nationally Duke/Kansas had players make that kind of leap after one season.   I would say the last time a Buckeye player did something close was Evan Turner.

-We all remember the player of the year version of Evan but we should also remember that as a Freshman, he led the team in turnovers despite being a 4th or 5th option on offense.  He was basically a guy that would occasionally slash in from the wings to hit some big buckets but was more of a role player on a team that featured Jamar Butler and Kosta Koufos.  I remember everyone in my section of the stands referring to him as Evan Turnover.  There weren't a lot of indications that he was going to become a dominant player. 

+1 HS
jamesrbrown322's picture

But NO ONE has improved or developed during Thad Matta's tenure right? He's so lost as a coach. No idea what he's doing!

Please note the sarcasm font...

"I can accept failure, but I cannot accept not trying." - W.W. Hayes

+3 HS
Ramzy Nasrallah's picture

I hate commenting on my stories but you've sucked me in.

This is a piece about jealousy. It concludes by explaining that the jealousy is misplaced; we're comparing the 2014 Buckeyes to previous, more successful editions, not the other teams still playing. I think this what you're getting at - the end sort of ah ha's that as a revelation.

Nutinpa's picture

Fair enough, Ramzy.  But I dare say it's more than jealousy.  This fan base has seen players on other teams and players improve over time even acknowledging guys like Stauskas and Diebler before him are anomolies. We've seen former Buckeyes improve.  What is head-scratching about this team is the perceived (and arguably real) lack of improvement on offense with the nucleus of this team.  I am not so sure that is jealousy...although you make a good case for it as a descriptive...I simply think many see it as pause for concern and ask "why" ?

+1 HS
d5k's picture

The answer to "why" is honestly that all the scorers Matta recruited (except Q) left for the NBA (Sully/Deshaun) or transferred (Sibert) and all the glue guys and upside guys stayed.  Unfortunately the upside guys did not come through on the offensive end yet.  I said this to someone but if Sully actually left after his freshman year we might have nabbed Tony Parker or some other quality big man in 2012 along with ADV.  Similarly with Deshaun to some extent last year, it was too late to add a replacement immediately.  So having a final four and elite eight team with guys that stayed a year longer than they needed to postponed the retooling effort until the 2014 class.  Kam Williams getting mono had a relatively minor but non-trivial impact as well.

+5 HS
Nutinpa's picture

Interesting point, 5K.. Well said... and hard to argue with.

sb97's picture

I hate commenting on my stories but you've sucked me in.

This is a piece about jealousy. It concludes by explaining that the jealousy is misplaced; we're comparing the 2014 Buckeyes to previous, more successful editions, not the other teams still playing. I think this what you're getting at - the end sort of ah ha's that as a revelation

Gotcha.  I may or may not have put in my reply before I finished the entire original post.

ibuck's picture

Jealousy may be a key emotion for fans, but another emotion affected this team. Thad, his coaches and players don't normally reveal the inner conflicts in and among them, aside from Amir saying Matta was "getting on my dick, er, back." Or Thad talking about "getting their minds right." In my guestimation, these Buckeyes didn't really trust their coaches, and I suspect Amir & LQR were the least trusting. Not that they were alone. As Zach Boren said, “The teams that don’t respect their coaches and don’t trust their coaches are the teams that go .500", and it applies to basketball as well.  The Buckeyes went .500 over their last 20 games. 

When coaches say poor free throw shooting will cost you games, they did not believe that was true enough to improve their mediocre FT shooting (247! misses). Nor did they believe in pull-up jumpers or in blocking out for rebounds either. Or playing hard for 40 minutes: how many times did they relax their defense after they made a bucket? Not trusting that these areas merited the time and effort to get better affected their game play and, subsequently, their confidence.

Note: strikethru not working.

Our honor defend, we will fight to the end !

If you can't win your conference, just quietly accept your non-playoff bowl game.

+2 HS
WC Buckeye's picture

Yes, absolutely YES. This team didn't have a talent problem, necessarily, but an attitude and chemistry problem.

The only thing that's new in the world is the history that we have forgotten.

Jack Fu's picture

No, they had a talent problem. The players just weren't as good as we've become accustomed to under Thad.

WC Buckeye's picture

They weren't as talented as past OSU teams, I will grant you, but I have to humbly disagree - they couldn't shoot very well consistently, but their chemistry issues definitely couldn't have helped that, either; too many passes, a lack of respect for our bigs, etc., had them taking shots they shouldn't have had to take. This team was more than talented enough to have won more games than they did. Look at the total points by which they lost the 10 games they did, and who was handling the ball last in the games they lost by 1-2 points. I love Craft as a defender, but he shouldn't have been the one handling the ball last in these situations, and the fact that he was the one couldn't have sat well with the others. That's not a talent problem.

The only thing that's new in the world is the history that we have forgotten.

Nutinpa's picture

You make a reasonable point, 97, but:  I think what people are concerned about...or even upset about is the perceived lack of development on offense of this team.  While statistically Craft, LSJ, Sammy and others showed improvement since their Freshman years, it did not alter the fact that this team (and their) weakness has been scoring as Ramzy painfully pointed out.

So....while Matta and his staff are not expected to do miracles...and that kids like Stauskas do not come along often, when you look at the collective performances (on offense) of most of the members of the outgoing 2013-14 team, and you acknowledge that Chris Jent has left and that Jeff Boals may not be far behind, there is reason to be concerned about this team going forward. That isn't bandwagon jumping...or stepping out to the ledge....it's simply justified pause for concern at the very least.

costinjr's picture

It's pretty awesome watching this sweet 16 teams with bigs that play their tails off and are totally engaged. Definitely took that for granted the last few years.

+3 HS
Raider85's picture

OSU recruiting is pretty good for 2014/2015 we just need one big man to dedicate himself to this team so we are able to play inside out that alone will open up the 3 ball. Too many of you have the sky is falling attitude and are not looking at the positives in the next couple classes.

Raider85

AndyVance's picture

The 2014 class is definitely a step in the right direction. Beyond that, we'll have to see. The 2011 class has turned out to be a bust, more or less, at this point, ADV was the entire 2012 class, and Loving and Kam Williams are essentially untested/unproven commodities at this point. The future is by necessity bright because the present is pretty darn dim by recent standards.

+2 HS
TossTrap's picture

The question that always begs to be answered. If you were a basketball player for a major university that had thoughts of a lucrative professional career and knowing that your weakness was shooting the ball, how many hours a day would you spend doing nothing but refining your shooting skills?

First and goal at the five and Arch is getting the ball.

+1 HS
Paulillo's picture

Not to be that guy, but it's a pet peeve of mine:

http://begthequestion.info/

 

+4 HS
Jack Fu's picture

Thank you. You're doing the lord's work, Paulillo.

+3 HS
chili96's picture

Great summary of the season. The fact that we won 20 something games this season is kind of surprising considering our deficiencies.

+4 HS
jamesrbrown322's picture

Agreed. There was a point at which I questioned their ability to get to more than 18 wins, and assumed that they were NIT bound.

"I can accept failure, but I cannot accept not trying." - W.W. Hayes

d5k's picture

Top 5 defense will do that for you.  See St Louis, VCU and Cincinnati for other teams that played way better on the other side of the court.  The small sample size of this year would lead you to believe that you need a reasonable offense to win in the tournament even if your defense is dominant.  But then you can point to teams like Butler in recent years.

Osurrt's picture

Great, accurate article. I said it from Day 1 that this team was not as good as that 15-0 start. There was absolutely no consistent scoring threat, and the offense tended to pass the ball around the perimeter for 30 seconds on each possession with 60-80% of the team never looking at the basket. The achieved what they did solely based on defense, but even that will fall apart with no true rim protector. This group achieved greatness in the past due to that one or two go to scorers (Thomas, Sully) that were missing this season. 

My fear is as I previous expressed it, this team will struggle to get over the NCAA hump until we have an athletic big man that protects the rim, rebounds and has a hint of scoring ability. It has been void over the last several years (Sully being the exception). Next year's projected line-up has 1 player over 6-6 in the starting lineup. We project a 4 guard line-up.

+1 HS
OSUFlash's picture

At times Craft played the 5 spot better than Williams or McDonald. During some mismatches underneath Craft was popsitively a grown ass man while still giving away 8".  And of course Mr. Everything David Lighty played any position and you didn't worry that he was under sized too.

My starting wish list: Scott 1, Russell 2, Thompson 3, Diop 4 and a surprise transfer 5.

osuflash

+2 HS
RCRoy45's picture

This season was very compelling as I am in the camp that believes Matta pulled off a minor miracle to get this team to 25 wins.  I felt our lack of shooting was akin to watching a MLB pitcher with a 30 MPH fastball and no curveball winning 20 games for the Red Sox.  Yet we had a winning record in the B1G and held our own in the conference tournament without having any offense other than drive and ally oop. I also think that the loss of Chris Jent cannot be underestimated.  Aaron Craft (as you said so well) was absolutely the shooter of last resort.  He lost all confidence.  It was like watching Steve Sax dred throwing a routine grounder to first base when he had is issue with the Dodgers.  Craft needed his shot completely retooled.. and all he could turn to was Greg Paulus who was the same player with slighly worse defensive skills... He was waiting for help.. that never came.

The funny thing is this is also a Mr. Roark season for me of sorts. During the Eldon Miller era.. with great shooting and no athletisim I often dreamed of a team where we had athletes... and I would surely give up the shooting.. and perennial top FT% in the country.  Well.. that is what I got this year, and quite frankly.. give me Ronnie Stokes dishing to Joe Conhcek and Keith Wesson and Granville Waiters battling for the rebound... much more enjoyable to watch.  Take a look at UVa.. basically the same team we have but they can consistatnly shoot from the outside and they can rebound on both sides of the court.  The defense is no better than what we have.

I don't think I have looked forward to a season as much as I am looking forward to 2014/2015 bball.  I'm sure once March Madness passes.. so will this feeling as football is around the corner.  But I am looking forward to this group of shooters to move in and learn how to play Defense the Matta way.  This team could surprise to the upside by the end of next year

Another great article Mr. Ramzy.. carry on and Go Bucks!

“And in the night of death, hope sees a star and listening love hears the rustle of a wing.”

+2 HS
Buckeye Chuck's picture

Keith Wesson had worse hands than Amir Williams. I am completely serious about this.

The most "loud mouth, disrespect" poster on 11W.

+1 HS
tennbuckeye19's picture

Keith Wesson. I haven't heard that name in forever. Ha. He was playing during the time I started watching OSU basketball.

RBuck's picture

I knew the FT percentage sucked but the number of 247 missed just blows my mind.

"It's just another case of there you are". ~ Doc (1918-2012)

+6 HS
RedStorm45's picture

What is it that Urbs says?  You get what you emphasize?  Hmmm.

-1 HS
Buckifan4Life's picture

If you shoot 100 freee throws after every practice over your career,  won't you get better by default? I'm not sure what is going on with these players, but I'm almost certain that free throws were not a priority this past season. Pathetic really. 

As far as Amir is concerned, II'd be embarrassed being that soft under the basket at 7 feet tall. I'm begging to have someone transfer in to the program that can take over the 5 spot. Maybe a true freshman can do it. Thad has to be so disappointed. He HAS to fix that problem.

45OH4IO's picture

If I wanted to watch a game with great defense and effort where teams rarely scored, I would be a hockey fan. More buckets please!!

+3 HS
poop's picture

Ohio State needs another Sully, Ken Johnson, Diebler, Daequan Cook, Michael Conley, Ron Lewis - and so many other players of the recent past still in their 20s - who are unafraid, intimidating and capable of both farming and hunting with precision.

I'd like another Greg Oden.

+6 HS
Knarcisi's picture

No shit, Poop. 

+5 HS
ScarletNGrey01's picture

I started reading the article without looking at the author's name and knew about half way through who wrote this excellent piece.  I especially liked this quote:

He's Robin with Batman absent; not equipped to be the guy, but man oh man he'd be wonderful alongside him.

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

+1 HS
Knarcisi's picture

Captivating

Illustrative

Objective

Perfectly captures the point and mood

Ramzy

Best

Writer

Out there. 

 

+2 HS