The Buckeyes’ 56-53 victory over unbeaten Michigan hammered-home what every team in the Big Ten knows; that it is very difficult to win on the road against three-quarters of the leagues’ teams. It is very likely that the Big Ten champion will have four to five losses when the season concludes, and Ohio State’s victory today, makes them one of six teams that are capable of finishing the season in first place.
The strength of Ohio State wrests with its superior perimeter defense. Led by last season’s Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Craft, who within the next week will become the Buckeyes’ career steals leader, Ohio State can defend 1-3 spots on the floor as well as any team in the country. Lenzelle Smith, Jr., Sam Thompson, and Shannon Scott are all above average on-ball defenders and present opponents with a challenge to score points.
The Buckeyes are tied for second in the conference in scoring defense (57.8 ppg), while holding opponents to a 37% FG%. The interior is well-defended too. Senior Evan Ravenel, while not blessed with height, is a very strong individual with long arms that allow him to play bigger than his 6’8” height and defend taller players. Amir Williams has progressed on a weekly basis and gives Ohio State a future shot-blocking presence.
What has become evident, especially in the Buckeyes’ three losses against then-ranked top 10 teams (Duke, Kansas, and Illinois), is their inconsistent offense. Despite ranking fourth in the Big Ten in scoring at 58.0 ppg and sporting the league’s top scorer in junior Deshaun Thomas (20.3 ppg), finding reliable scoring from another player or two has been incredibly difficult.
Smith, Jr. (10.3 ppg) and Craft (8.9 ppg) are the only other starters averaging more than eight points per contest, but are just as likely to score 15 points as they are two points. Thomas (41% FG%) and Smith, Jr. (42% FG) are the only players with decent shooting percentages. Sophomore LaQuinton Ross (8.2 ppg off the bench) may be the solution with his strong inside/outside game, but his playing time has been limited due to defensive inconsistency.
What has kept Ohio State afloat offensively is their willingness to share the basketball, evidenced by their overall balanced scoring, and their turnover margin, which ranks second in the Big Ten. Thomas is going to get his points, but as more teams structure their defenses to limit Thomas’ touches, the rest of the Buckeyes are going to have to step-it-up on the offensive end.
Coach Thad Matta has been outstanding in his career at making adjustments and finding ways to win, but the 2012-13 version of the Big Ten conference may be the strongest in his tenure as the Buckeyes’ head coach. Ohio State is strong enough to hold-court at home, but unless they find more reliable scoring, winning on the road could be an uphill battle.
This week’s conference slate starts with a matchup of unbeatens, as Wisconsin travels to Indiana on Jan. 15. The other marquee matchups of the week include Michigan @ Minnesota on Jan 17 and Ohio State @ Michigan State on Jan 19.
Big Ten Power Rankings
1. Michigan 2. Indiana 3. Minnesota 4. Ohio State 5. Illinois 6. Michigan State 7. Wisconsin 8. Iowa 9. Purdue 10. Nebraska 11. Northwestern 12. Penn State
Deric McKamey is a Midwest scout and correspondent for NetScouts Basketball and covers the Big Ten.