The Ohio State Buckeyes men's basketball team is off to a great start to the 2012-2013 season, going 11-3 in their first 14 games. It's no surprise that the team is being led by DeShaun Thomas, Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith, Jr., all juniors who have been around some incredible talent in the previous two years. The three of them play the most minutes, on average, and are an integral part in each Buckeyes victory.
Ohio State has only lost three games this season, one of them being a conference game. That brought their record to 1-1 in the Big Ten. Buckeye fans have been a little spoiled the last two years, winning 25 games straight in the 2010-2011 season (they lost just 2 games that year) and then losing just five games last season. Those are regular season figures, of course. In 2010-2011, the Buckeyes made it to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament before losing to Kentucky. Last season they made it to the Final Four before losing to Kansas. So while some may be on the line about how good this team is, remember that there are still 16 games left in the regular season.
Let's take a closer look at the three losses the Buckeyes have experienced so far: Duke, Kansas and Illinois. If you think about it, all three of those are acceptable losses. Ohio State goes back and forth with Duke on a regular basis. This year, they had the game in their hands and lost it at the end. Kansas is always a good team and tough to beat, even at home. Those two were five point and eight point losses, respectively. The one game that has most fans scratching their heads is the game against Illinois a few days ago. Illinois has a way of knowing exactly how to beat Ohio State. Whether on the turf or on the hardwood the Illini give the Bucks fits, so a close game is generally expected. What is not expected is a 19 point loss.
Maybe the Buckeyes should have gotten a clue when on their first two possessions of the game, Lenzelle Smith, Jr. turned the ball over and Illinois capitalized with five points. Ohio State struggled to make shots in the first half and wound up down 12 at the half. Their inability to make a basket plagued them through the entire second half, and while they were on the road, it was expected that they would at least keep it close. After all, the Buckeyes were ranked 8th and the Illini 11th at the time.
The Buckeyes are still on the road tonight as they face a mediocre (7-7) Purdue team that desperately needs a win. A desperate team is always tough to beat because they have nothing to lose. In order to get a win on the road, the Buckeyes need to improve in three areas: Offensive Rebounds, Turnovers and Free Throws.
During Ohio State's loss to Illinois, the Buckeyes had 30 rebounds. Only nine of those were offensive. In trying to count how many second chance points were missed during that game, it got kind of hairy. But it was way too many. The Duke game was much more even, having 18 offensive and 22 defensive rebounds. The Kansas game showed 17 offensive and 20 defensive rebounds. Those two games were much closer than the Illinois game. Second chance points will make or break any team in any game. If Ohio State wants to win and go for a National Championship, grabbing those misses isn't an option.
Turnovers are also something that needs addressed. Ohio State averages 11 turnovers per game. Against Kansas, there were 13. Against Duke, 7, and against Illinois there were 16 turnovers. An acceptable amount of turnovers is less than 10 per game. Now, that's not what previous Buckeye teams have averaged and it's not expected to get to that point this season, but it is still an area of concern that needs to be worked on. Having 16 turnovers in one game is completely unacceptable and will nearly always result in a big loss. Especially with the caliber of teams like Illinois.
The final area of improvement needed to not only win games, but make it deep into the NCAA tournament, is free throws. The Buckeyes currently average 67.6% from the free throw line. This is the one area of the game where you can get points with no time running off the clock. It's the one area of the game the players have complete control. It's the one area of the game they can practice alone. Even in the NBA there are players who have a less than 70% free throw average and it's amazing. How can these players, who have worked their entire lives to get where they are in basketball, be so horribly awful at the most fundamental part of the game? It's inconceivable. Thad Matta has got to put these guys through the ringer on free throws. They should be at 80% at a minimum as a team.
There is always room for improvement, no matter how good a team you are. The Ohio State Buckeyes are far from a bad team. Even with their number 15 ranking, they still have a lot of positives about them. They are a young team of mostly juniors and sophomores, most of which will return next year. They have fun on the court, they're fun to watch when they're hot and they're a well-above-average team. However, if they want to beat the likes of Duke and Kansas in the NCAA Tournament this year, they have to work on the three things listed above.
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