Team Preview: 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes
By: Nick Healey
2012-13 Record: 29-8 overall (13-5 in Big Ten)
Coach: Thad Matta (359-104 overall)
Over the last decade the Ohio State Buckeyes have been one of those teams that always seem to be in the conversation. Their lone championship came in 1960, and they were runners-up in 2007 on the back of a strong year from Greg Oden. Coach Thad Matta took over the team in 2004 after some violation-plagued years from Jim O’Brien, and the program has done quite well under his guidance. Matta led the team to appearances at the Big Dance in seven different years, including Final Four appearances in 2007 and 2012. And for some reason LeBron James has his own locker in the Buckeyes’ dressing room. Of course, King James never attended OSU—or any college for that matter—but he did give the team a special edition of Nike Lebron XI shoes. Apparently that warrants an honorary locker these days.…
Strongside: Mostly, this team is all about defense, but it’s a little weird since they don’t excel in some of the more traditional stat categories. If you look deeper at some of their numbers, though, you’ll see a picture being painted of a very steady defensive squad.
Through mid-December they allowed a mere 55.9 points against them, good for fifth best in the league. They also do a great job defending opposing shooters. They are third best in the NCAA in three-point defense, allowing opponents to score just 25 percent of the time from beyond the arc. Similarly, opponents shoot just .379 against them from field goal range (13th best in the league). Another strong point is that they tend not to foul very much, with just 183 total fouls through their first 12 games (15.25/game). They also steal the ball at a decent clip, averaging 7.58 steals per game so far.
As far as individuals go, there are no particular standouts lighting the league on fire, but as a group they’re clearly getting results. Senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. and junior forward LaQuinton Ross lead the way in scoring, averaging 13.1 and 12.8 points per game respectively. Amir Williams, Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott round out the starting five, and Williams does a solid job off the glass, averaging 7.6 rebounds per game.
Weakside: There’s not much not to like about this team. They play well overall, have a strong group of starters and a solid bench, and, as Louisville showed us last year, team defense really does win championships.
That said, it would be nice to see them do a few things better. Their .675 team shooting percentage from the free throw line is pretty poor, and their team three-point shooting (.355) is also a bit pedestrian for a team looking to make a deep run when the tournament rolls around.
More importantly, their coach’s name is “Thad,” which is something the team will need to deal with going forward. The popularity of the name has declined quite dramatically since the 1920s and doesn’t look like it’s going to improve any time soon. We’re not sure how the Buckeyes plan to address this, but it shouldn’t hurt their chances too badly in the long run.
All Told: You don’t get to be ranked as high as number three in the country without being a pretty competent team. The defense is solid and the coaching is there to give the team a good shot at a deep tournament run.
Before we hand them the conference title, though, we’ll see how things go when the going gets a little tougher. So far, the Buckeyes have had a fairly light schedule, with Marquette being their most serious opponent. In fact, over their first 13 games they’ve gone undefeated, and all but one of their wins were by double digits. Apart from squeaking out a comeback over Notre Dame in game 12—one they should have lost—the team has more or less been in cruise control. But a big game against Michigan State looms in the new year and will be a good test to see whether the team is for real.
Nick Healey is a Toronto-based writer/editor. He once met Dan Akroyd in a Dairy Queen. You can follow him on Twitter @nickjhealey.