Well, it’s the last easy week for Buckeye Basketball before the real season starts. The Buckeyes start with Savannah State on Wednesday, followed by UNC Asheville on Saturday, with one final tune up against Winthrop before the Jayhawks storm Columbus. So what is there to know, what should we be concerned about, and what should we be hopeful for?
First and foremost, it’s horrific watching Aaron Craft struggle. You just want to give him a hug. One of the most beloved players in Ohio State’s illustrious basketball history, Craft was expected to have a huge season, his third, for Ohio State. Working on his offensive game all summer long, Craft has failed to live up to his lofty expectations. It hurts the fans just as much, if not more, as it hurts himself. Craft is a tireless worker, always putting the team before himself, and it’s on rare occasion that he struggles this mightily. While he is still very much the best on-ball defender in the country, Craft’s offensive game has taken on a bit of a sour note. Thus far, he is averaging just 11 ppg on 37.5% shooting, his lowest margin by at least 8 percentage points. Last year, Craft’s numbers were lower, but it was as a result of much less shot attempts. This year, Craft has nearly doubled his shot output, but his efficiency has taken a massive hit. I, along with the rest of Buckeye Nation, certainly hope that Craft can find his stroke before the Big Ten schedule comes along.
One of the most pleasant surprises this season, much to the opposite of Craft’s tune, has been sophomore forward Laquinton Ross. While Ohio State spent much of training camp looking for an offensive help, Ross has slowly but surely stepped up to the plate. In just 19 minutes per contest, Ross has averaged 10.3 ppg on 50% from the field and has shot 84.2% from the charity stripe. While it remains to be seen what Ross can do against some legitimate competition, from the glimpse he’s given us into his offensive talents thus far, we can certainly expect to see the same sort of output. If Craft’s struggles continue, more and more of the offensive load is going to be designated to Ross. Regardless of whether or not he makes them, Laquinton Ross will surely get the volume of shots necessary to make a good or bad impression on the Buckeye faithful.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. has been, by far, one of the most inconsistent Buckeyes on the roster. Averaging a career high with 11.0 ppg, and knocking down 48 percent of his three point shots, but sometimes seeming a little selfish with the basketball, Smith has had an up and down season for the Buckeyes. It’s not as if his selfishness is unwarranted, he’s making his shots, but especially against the Dukies, Smith’s chucking stagnated the Buckeye offense. The loss was not in any way, shape, or form the fault of Lenzelle’s, however, I would rather see a more flowing offense against the Jayhawks and into the Big Ten schedule.
There is one thing that is not surprising about these Buckeyes, and it’s DeShaun Thomas. The guy is a scoring machine. Averaging 20.6 per game, shooting 48.6% from the field, and hitting on 42.9% of his three pointers, Thomas, just as everyone expected, is one of the nation’s best scorers. While I’m sure that Thomas’ offensive output will continue, I don’t know if that constant scoring, and volume of shots, is going to be what the Buckeyes need going forward. There has to be another guy that’s going to step up. Whether it’s Laquinton Ross or Aaron Craft, if this team wants to compete, DeShaun is going to need a “Robin” to his Batman.
The Duke experience was a great one for the Buckeyes, but I can’t wait to see what this group will be capable of while facing a great opponent at home. The soft schedule has given us the smallest of peaks as to what this Ohio State team will look like come B1G season, so it’s certainly hard to tell what this group is going to come up with when that time approaches. In the meantime, we can only guess and assume what Coach Matta can pull together before he goes to battle against one of the toughest conferences, if not the toughest, in all of college basketball. Let’s hope the troops are ready to go once those challenges are at hand.