As soon as Deshaun Thomas announced his decision to forego his senior season and enter the NBA draft, the 2013-2014 expectations for OSU took a hit. If you watched even one Ohio State game last year, it was easy to see the importance of Thomas. He could shoot from any spot on the floor, against any defense, at any time in the game. A scorer like Thomas is almost impossible to replace.
Despite the absence of Thomas, the Buckeyes were able to take advantage of a mediocre preseason schedule and go 15-0 to start the season. They peaked at #2 in the polls before coming back to reality and losing 8 of the next 15 games.
Ohio State is now unranked and looking at 7-10 seed in the NCAA tourney, what has gone wrong?
In my opinion, the blame falls on Amir Williams – he’s simply not getting the job done. He is 14th in the Big Ten in rebounds with 5.8 per game. Williams is a 6’11” former McDonald’s All-American, and he’s 14th in the league in rebounding. The result of a team’s starting center ranking 14th in the league in rebounds, is a team being out-rebounded in every game.
OSU ranks 9th in the Big Ten with a -0.2 rebounding margin. In addition to Williams’ less than ideal rebounding numbers, are his less than ideal scoring numbers. He is only averaging 8.3 points per game, and does not appear capable of performing a post move without traveling, stepping on the baseline or having the ball stripped.
He has not improved, he has actually regressed and shows no signs of being able to help this team win. Interior defense and rebounding are two of the most important aspects of winning in the Big Ten, Amir Williams is below average in each.
Another giant hole in this team is the lack of perimeter shooting, specifically Lenzelle Smith.
In the 22 wins this year, Smith has shot nearly 40% from behind the arc (37-95), which would rank him 8th in the Big Ten. In the 8 losses, Smith has only made 25% of his 3-point attempts (10-40). This is the reason why I believe Smith is the most important part of this team- as he goes, the team goes.
When he is making shots from the outside, it opens up the lane for Ross, Craft and Thompson to penetrate and create. When he misses shots, the defense falls into a zone and protects against penetration. Without Thomas, OSU has not had a “zone-buster” to make shots from deep this year, this is the role Smith needs to fill once the tournament starts. If Smith can shoot at least 40% from 3-point territory in the tournament, OSU has a chance.
In closing, I believe the hot-start was the worst thing to happen to Ohio State this season. Anyone who has followed this team over the last decade, knew 2013-2014 could be a “bad” year. Thad Matta has set the bar very high, and the expectations are not easy to meet every year.
Before the season, If someone told me Ohio State would sit at 22-8 on March 4th and a lock for the NCAA tournament, I would have been thrilled. The problem is, Ohio State started 15-0, so that 22-8 is deceptive and conceals the fact OSU is 7-8 over the last 15 games. The scorching start to the year raised everyone’s expectations and made the 7-8 stretch even harder to handle.
The good news is there are still games to play, and plenty of time to prove the 15-0 version of this team, was the “real” version of this team.
The greatest day of his life up to this point was the day of the 2003 OSU BCS win over Miami in Tempe, AZ. He was in attendance thanks to the OSU student lottery and will never forget that game.
He'll be getting married in September, so his wife will make sure he edits the prior sentence to become "the second greatest day of his life...."