Blog

The 50-50 Squad: The Good and Bad of a Young OSU Basketball Team - James A. Baumann

1) What makes this Buckeye team so fun to watch?
It's fun to watch young, athletic, and talented players come together, and grow as a team. Want to enjoy this team? Consider every win an overachievement.  

Case in point, this year:  Kam Williams is turning into DeShaun Thomas, just shorter and with a mohawk. I'm hoping that somewhere he has a tattoo that reads "Shoot to get hot. Shoot to stay hot."
Daniel Giddens and Jae'Sean Tate are becoming fan favorites simply through the effort. Trevor Thompson has been a nice addition as well. Part of this may be fans still shaking off their Amir Williams hangover, but the development will be fun to watch.
The crowd gasps with about every move Mickey Mitchell makes. He still needs to slow down a bit and let the game come to him, but we've got the slackjawed yokels from the NCAA to thank for that.
You are going to have to look long and hard to find any college player quicker with the dribble than A.J. Harris is. 
I'm a huge Thad Matta fan and, even though he says he's not wearing a tie this year to avoid the temptation of hanging himself, I have faith in him coaching these players up.

2) What makes this Buckeye team so frustrating to watch?
It's frustrating to watch young, athletic, and talented players make so many ridiculous mistakes.

Case in point, this year:
The Indiana and Maryland games were embarrassing. I'm not sure that Maryland isn't 20 to 30 points better than Ohio State, but it's been a long time since you saw a team with that collective deer-in-the-headlights look. 
If you told me that JaQuan Lyle was going to get a triple double this year, I would have bet multiple Schottenstein Center $8 beers that one of those categories would have been turnovers. Already this year I have seen him dribble the ball off his leg and out of bounds before he crosses half court more times than I have seen in all my collective years of watching basketball. For every nice pass he has made, he's thrown another one directly into a defender's chest.His defense and outside shot is suspect at best. I'm typing this during Thursday's Purdue game and earlier Tate was bringing the ball up the court instead of Lyle. That probably means something. Of course, I'm the same guy who called Evan Turner "Evan Turnover" most of his freshman year. I'm still hoping to be proved wrong. (*Note: the second I typed that phrase, Lyle had his pocket picked while he was more than 30 feet from the hoop. So, yeah. That happened.)
Marc Loving and K'aite Bates Diop are being asked to do more than they probably are ready to at this point in their career. Imagine if D'Angelo Russell was still on this team and they could be number two scoring options behind him and be on the receiving end of a drive-draw-and-dish for wide-open three pointers. When there is less than 10 seconds on the shot clock, which Buckeye do you want to have the ball in his hands? I don't know. I'm not sure they do either.
Giddens is built like those plastic figures that blow around outside car washes, and sometimes seems to have as much control over his extremities. Again, he's only going to get better -- and those lanky arms and legs will also provide about a dozen more "holy crap, how did he do that?!?!" moments before this season is over. But once the Big Ten season kicked in, he's been in perpetual foul trouble.

What might be driving Thad Matta the most crazy, though, is the spotty team defense. There have been very few steals and deflections to start any fast breaks, which should be a strength of this team. There is little pressure on the ball on the perimeter. And, once the perimeter defender is beaten on the dribble, when Giddens or Thompson comes over for the block attempt, even if they cause a miss, nobody is rotating down, so their man is getting the easy rebound and put-back. In those two non-conference home losses, the other team's best play was to drive past Lyle, throw the shot off the backboard, and get the rebound.

3) The Buckeyes  slide into the big dance this year if....
First I don't see this happening. After the Kentucky game, their chances were at their highest point. But considering the Indiana and Maryland losses -- and the fact that the Kentucky win looks less impressive as they took a few more losses on the chin -- it's an outside shot at best. It would take a couple more signature wins in the Big Ten season and then, probably also playing on Sunday in the Big Ten tournament to earn any consideration. 

I'm not going to deny the prestige of continually making the NCAA tournament, but a deep run in the NIT tournament could give these youngsters two more weeks of practice than a first round loss in the big dance. 

4) Other points?
I wrote most of this during the Purdue game and, in retrospect, it served as a pretty good microcosm of what the year is likely to hold. They went on the road into a really hostile environment -- though probably not as hostile as practice has been the last few days after the Maryland whooping -- and fought hard. They were outsized, but had flurries of being hot from the field. They had a lead and a true chance to win the game, but down the stretch their youth reared its ugly head. Purdue made shots. Buckeyes missed theirs. It reminded me of the Memphis game earlier in the year. 

5) The Farmers Almanac predicts the 2017 snowfall and Buckeye basketball team to be above or below average?

Considering how the weather has been the past couple of years, everyone should just replace the almanac with a Magic 8 Ball. Related, I think the Magic 8 Ball would say of next year's Buckeye hoops team, "Outlook Good." Everyone will be back -- it would have been wonderful to have Kobi Simmons joining them -- and we know the best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores. So the team will be better and will win more games. Now, "good" is also relative to what happens with other teams in the league in terms of graduating players and those that leave early for the draft (look at Wisconsin this year).  So, long story short, 2017 will be the next step in this team's growth. In the meantime, I'm feeling that this year will be the one that real fans will point  to when we look down our nose at all the bandwagon jumpers in 2018.