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.