Rebuilding the Basketball Buckeyes Should Start With Establishing Chemistry

By Chris Lauderback on March 29, 2014 at 8:15a
Rediscovering team chemistry is job one as Ohio State looks to rebuild
37 Comments

The 2013-14 Buckeye basketball season ended with a 60-59 thud in a last-second loss to Dayton in the NCAA tournament but a quick exit in the Dance was hardly unexpected as Ohio State's warts were painfully evident throughout a 25-10 season featuring a 12-9 record against B1G competition. 

The Buckeyes were indeed a collection of poor perimeter shooters with too many wing players possessing similar skill sets while the guys in the pivot were woefully unpolished offensively.

Collectively, the bunch lacked killer instinct but just as important, the roster never seemed to come together, lacking chemistry, a trait typically found in a Thad Matta coached squad.  

Chemistry is often difficult to pinpoint when it's missing but this year's team provided a host of examples. 

First and foremost, how many times did guys on this team show a lack of hustle or want-to on the floor? Almost nightly Amir Williams would have spells in which he loafed back on defense, giving up easy buckets in transition. While he was the culprit most often, he wasn't alone as LaQuinton Ross showed a lack of desire at the defensive end and even senior Lenzelle Smith Jr. looked to give less than 100% in spurts. 

Just as telling, Matta quipped, when asked about Ohio State's shooting woes, "you've got to want to be a better shooter", hinting at frustration with his team's work ethic. 

There can be many reasons for a lack of desire within a player but one factor is certainly a lack of chemistry. The bottom line is that if a player unconditionally loves the guys he goes to battle with and knows they love him back, that player isn't going to dog it on game day because he feels an accountability to give his best effort. Even his practice habits will be different if he feels a certain love, loyalty and obligation to be the best he can be for his teammates. 

Aaron Craft, for all his greatness, hinted at a lack of togetherness this past season. The undisputed leader of the team talked about how he inadvertently failed to huddle his squad during stoppages in play from time to time and freely discussed how, despite loving his teammates, had virtually nothing in common with them. 

That doesn't make him a bad leader nor do all 12 guys on a roster have to stick together like glue on and off the court 24x7 but typically, elite teams feature players that are tightly knit.

Remember those Matta teams comprised of guys like Jon Diebler, David Lighty, William Buford and Jared Sullinger, among others? Remember Matta talking about how tight they were as a team and how accountable they were to each other? 

Remember how easily visible their chemistry and camaraderie was on the court? It was heartbreaking to see them lose because you could feel their togetherness just by watching in person or on television. I can safely say I didn't consistently witness similar behavior out of Matta's most recent squad. 

Now, with the program clearly in transition as the Buckeyes lose Craft, Smith, Ross and Amedeo Della Valle, Matta and upperclassmen Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson must seize the opportunity to infuse an improved chemistry. 

The importance of developing interpersonal relationships is even further magnified by the amount of true freshmen expected to play. D'Angelo Russell is likely a starter from day one while Keita Bates-Diop and Jae'Sean Tate should both make a push for minutes. Plus, Matta is currently shaking the transfer bushes in search of another baseliner that can play next season. None of this takes into account the larger role Marc Loving will be expected to handle. 

No question, it takes having talented Jimmy's and Joe's working in tandem with strong X's and O's to have a chance at being a great team but without solid chemistry serving as a team's foundation, cracks in the armor are eventually exposed. 

Hopefully, this fact isn't loss on the staff and players as they look to learn lessons then turn the page from a frustrating season by establishing chemistry this summer to serve as a building block for next season. 

37 Comments

Comments

Doc's picture

I believe next year is going to be a struggle. Hopefully the Frosh will build a strong foundation

"Say my name."

chili96's picture

I'm cautiously optimistic for next season. I'm hoping the young players will seize the opportunity be great.

+2 HS
BuckeyeJAK's picture

We also need the coaching staff to not allow lazy play. If you take plays off why do you start Amir ?  That behavior has a negative affect on teams.

Mark May is a mental midget

+1 HS
RedStorm45's picture

Because, sadly, he's the best option at the 5.  McDonald is athletic and plays hard, but he fouls a lot and is limited offensively.  And Bell coming in won't unseat either of them.

+1 HS
DenBuck's picture

I'm already pissed that we are stuck with Amir next year. Wish the dude would just leave. Lack of talent is far more tolerable than laziness.  

Buckeye For Life

-2 HS
whobdis's picture

When Craft missed the last shot of his career against Dayton..only Thompson went over to console him. Usually you'll have a few guys go over to help a guy. It's clear there was some issues for whatever reason.

We will certainly have some better shooters next year. Unless we get a transfer we'll still be weak underneath but as you can see in the tourney..good shooting can overcome a LOT of weakness. I know Bell is a project but honestly if the guy just gives effort I'd rather see him underneath. Just get some rebounds if nothing else. I expect he would have at least one basket against Dayton and that would have won the game

+2 HS
buckeyefan51's picture

I brought this young mans name up often that we should go after Michal Cekovsky a 7footer that can shoot back to basket mid range jump shots to the top of the arc.We should get in on this guy because he will not take visits until April. But he has 7 big time offers now.

+1 HS
rosycheeks's picture

How about we start by getting guys who can shoot, beginning with the guys in our own back yard? I'm tired of hearing about guys from Ohio that are playing or have played key roles on very good teams. Just off the top of my head -- Burke, Payne, Trice, and Lavert. I know you can't get everyone, but how about we get a decent percentage. Of the contributors on this past team, who's from Ohio? Craft, Amir, and Loving -- anyone else? Pretty sad if you ask me. This March Madness has been immensely enjoyable not just for the great games but because I have been able to watch teams who can score. This pains me SO MUCH to say, but Michigan is an awesome team to watch this year.

-2 HS
ScarletNGrey01's picture

Amir Williams is from Michigan.  Loving was Mr. Basketball in the state of Ohio (two times I think).  The bucks have a top recruiting class coming in, so I think help is on the way and next season (or at least the season after that) you will see a much better offense.

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

+2 HS
rosycheeks's picture

Correct, my bad on Amir. Ever since we missed on Payne and ended up with Amir, I have blocked certain details out of my mind about Amir, this apparently being one of them.

Not backtracking on my comment though. It's sickening hear the hometowns of all these players.

-1 HS
ibuck's picture

Yes, it's disappointing that Ohioans chose to go to other schools. But it is their prerogative to attend the school of their choice.  With only 13 scholarships, Matta and his coaches had to make decisions on whom to offer, and without benefit of the hindsight we now have.  Our coaches made some great choices of the players that have attended and for the system Matta runs. Not without some missteps, but Matta has recruited and coached more effectively than any OSU coach since Fred Taylor. He got 7 more wins out of this season's team than I expected. As an OSU alum, I'm real happy to have him. And my friends at Xavier would be glad to have him back.

Our honor defend, we will fight to the end !

+2 HS
KevinJ's picture

Good article Chris and yes when Lighty, Diebler, Buford, Craft, and Sully were on the floor it was great team basketball, this years team was on the other end of the spectrum. Terrible and frustrating!

+2 HS
Ashtabula's picture

Chemistry is overused and overvalued.  Give me 5 competitive, athletic guys who have a high basketball IQ and I will beat your "chemistry" team 9 out of 10 times.  Athletic, competitive players who understand the game don't even need to like each other..hell, I'd argue they don't even need to have practiced together.

-1 HS
IGotAWoody's picture

Tell that to Kentucky. The difference in that team from early Feb to late March is chemistry. They've come together, bought into the importance of each of their roles, and they are closing out games well. Chemistry is a cliche', for sure, but it matters.

I did NOT downvote you, tho. That was someone else.

 - License to kill gophers (wolverines, badgers, etc) by the government of the United Nations

+1 HS
Ashtabula's picture

I kind of figured somebody would bring up the Kentucky example.  I would argue they are simply playing harder because the games matter more to them now.  I think Kentucky actually proves my point, great players without chemistry can achieve great things when they are motivated.  When the lights come on, players play.

IGotAWoody's picture

I'm not sure why you have a problem with the word chemistry, but that's what's happening with Kentucky right now. Yes, they're gifted players, and they're all stepping up their games. But without doing so in the context of team play, it's not enough to get over the hump. A few more examples for you: the Yankees (year in and year out, always have the best talent, but don't always win consistently), the Spurs (year in and year out, not the most talented group of individuals, but ALWAYS play well as a team), Kansas (especially this year, always a ton of talent, but only occasionally get that talent to play well together).

 - License to kill gophers (wolverines, badgers, etc) by the government of the United Nations

+1 HS
Jack Fu's picture

I agree with Ashtab. In sports, "chemistry" is mostly overrated voodoo. There are myriad examples throughout sports history of capital-G Great teams that hated each other. The 2013-'14 team's problem wasn't "chemistry" - it's that they weren't as talented as most people thought they were, and their collective basketball IQ left quite a bit to be desired. They were a bunch of really athletic guys who just weren't that good (relatively speaking) at playing basketball.

-1 HS
IGotAWoody's picture

Ask Tom Izzo and Bo Ryan if they agree with your assessment. They would both laugh in your face.

OSU had PLENTY of talent to make a run, they just weren't consistent.

 - License to kill gophers (wolverines, badgers, etc) by the government of the United Nations

RedQueenRace's picture

There was definitely talent.  This team played in a league that put 3 squads in the Elite 8 and at least 1 in the final 4.

Despite their flaws

+1 HS
Jack Fu's picture

OSU had PLENTY of talent to make a run, they just weren't consistent.

If you define "talent" as athleticism, pure, physical talent, then sure, this team was super-talented. If you define it by skills, you know, things that basketball players are supposed to be good at, then no, it didn't have "plenty of talent."

IGotAWoody's picture

So, then, how did they manage to beat the Spartans in the last game of the season? They did so because they played smarter and more efficient down the stretch. For that matter, how did they manage to come back from 17 down the first time they played Sparty? By getting stops, and running effective offense. How did they manage to beat Wisconsin?

This team was capable, and had plenty of basketball IQ. In fact, their point guard was one of the smartest bball players in OSU history. But guess what, even smart players make mistakes. This team lost when they got away from playing team basketball.

 - License to kill gophers (wolverines, badgers, etc) by the government of the United Nations

Jack Fu's picture

By playing really good defense and getting transition buckets and free throws. Things that require effort more than skill.

IGotAWoody's picture

And chemistry, silly. It seems your argument did a 180. Great defense requires athleticism, playing your role and trusting your teammates.

"their collective basketball IQ left quite a bit to be desired. They were a bunch of really athletic guys who just weren't that good (relatively speaking) at playing basketball." - Jack Fu
 Except for when they were. So now we're back to why they didn't play up to their potential ALL the time. It's not that they lacked talent, "weren't that good (relatively speaking) at playing basketball", or lacked basketball IQ. It was a matter of inconsistency and that overriding force that bonds teams and gets their collective individual contributions to be greater than the sum of their parts: CHEMISTRY.

 - License to kill gophers (wolverines, badgers, etc) by the government of the United Nations

Jack Fu's picture

So voodoo. Got it. I guess they should have chemistry'd the ball into the basket more often.

IGotAWoody's picture

You are the most obtuse poster on this site. I don't understand why you enjoy being so antagonistic. It makes you look like an asshole. Especially since you sometimes seem to be pleasant and agreeable.

Whatever, dude. Voodoo, my ass. Most of us on here seem to understand the concept of chemistry. I wonder why it eludes you? I think you just like to take a contrary stance sometimes.

 - License to kill gophers (wolverines, badgers, etc) by the government of the United Nations

Jack Fu's picture

You are the most obtuse poster on this site.

I am not going to name names, but that is plainly untrue.

I don't understand why you enjoy being so antagonistic.

I don't. If I see someone say something that I think is wrong, sometimes I will say that I think it's wrong.

It makes you look like an asshole.

Meh. 

Especially since you sometimes seem to be pleasant and agreeable.

I am, most of the time.

Whatever, dude. Voodoo, my ass. Most of us on here seem to understand the concept of chemistry. I wonder why it eludes you? I think you just like to take a contrary stance sometimes.

I understand the concept perfectly well. I just think it's bunk most of the time and overrated the other 99% of the time. Sometimes a team of players clearly don't like each other and that clearly affects their play. In my opinion, that is extremely - extremely - rare. But mostly, I just dislike people deciding that sporting events are somehow decided by ephemeral things like "grit" and "will" and, yes, "chemistry." I prefer the tangible, the observable, and the measurable, rather than superstitions and ephemera.

IGotAWoody's picture

Right. Intangibles are simply "superstitions" and "ephemera". I guess the problem here is, since you can't SEE chemistry, then it must be voodoo. Good logic, there, Jack. For some reason, this is the logic I just wasted so much time discussing this subject with. That's on me, because I already knew that trying to have a discussion with you is pointless.
 

 - License to kill gophers (wolverines, badgers, etc) by the government of the United Nations

Jack Fu's picture

I didn't say intangibles were "superstitions." I said they were ephemeral. I then said that I don't like superstitions and ephemera clogging up the sports analysis I consume.

I think intangibles and some of the other ephemera people love to refer to in sports (the aforementioned "grit," "will," "chemistry," etc.) are crutches that lazy fans, commentators, and other analysts rely on in lieu of actual analysis. Because it can't be measured, recorded, or observed, people can use a "chemistry" angle to make literally any argument that they want, and it can't be disproved one way or the other. That's my opinion, in a nutshell, which I shared in my initial comment where I agreed with Ashtabula. You then responded directly to me. I did not initiate this dialogue.

I already knew that trying to have a discussion with you is pointless.

Only if you believe the entire point of a discussion is to try to change the other person's viewpoint.

IGotAWoody's picture

Like I said, lesson learned. I will truly just ignore you from here on out. Seriously, having a back and forth with you because you don't believe chemistry is a valid thing to analyze, is stupid on MY part. That's a viewpoint that deserves to be ignored.

 - License to kill gophers (wolverines, badgers, etc) by the government of the United Nations

Jack Fu's picture

Whatever floats your boat.

ScarletNGrey01's picture

Excellent point Chris.  Basketball really is a team sport, guys need to know each others' tendencies and feed off each other, but more than that when they become good friends they tend I think to be less selfish when they get out there on the floor.  Also, they don't want to let their friends down and focus and lock down more consistently.  Team chemistry is not a silver bullet nor a substitute for skills, determination and the willingness to perfect your craft, but it is a key ingredient that could make that difference in winning or losing a big game by a bucket.

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

+3 HS
IGotAWoody's picture

It's been very eye-opening, and comforting, really, to see MSU, TTUN and Wisconsin make it to the Elite 8. We got wins over two of those teams, and narrowly lost to Meatchicken in the B1G tourney, playing our 3rd game in 3 days. It just shows how close we were to being a top 10 team ourselves.

I agree, Chris, chemistry and comraderie were the difference between what we got from this team, and what they could've achieved.

 - License to kill gophers (wolverines, badgers, etc) by the government of the United Nations

+2 HS
buckeye70's picture

Does anyone know when the trip abroad is this summer and if the freshman can go?

BUCKEYE70

+1 HS
CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

The class Matta has coming in is ranked a top 5 class.  I also saw that Lee is coming to OSU next year from Temple and will be able to play.  Why can't we regain being the top team in the B1G?  We can.  It will be a challenge.  There are some great teams, but those teams are losing some players too.  I see no reason why the Bucks can't be a top 15 team next year and make a good run in the tournament.

Go Bucks!!

+2 HS
UrbanCulture's picture

IMO it is crucial for thad to get the freshman Russel Bates and Tate to stay more than one year

The Rill Dill's picture

If the BasketBucks don't get VERY serious about the weight-room, none of it matters.

+1 HS
Seattle Linga's picture

Knowing the ability with these kids, I would only assume that Chemistry won't be an issue.