Those of you who follow on me on twitter probably know I'm a recovering Politico in addition to being a Buckeye fan. Over the past few years, I've followed PolitiFact with almost as much gusto as I did the Big Ten Network or SB. PolitiFact would evaluate how truthful various political claims were, from the claims during Presidential debates to those stupid chain emails your one dumbass cousin keeps forwarding you. The claims would be assigned various states of truthfulness, which would allow you to feel smug they agreed with you, and if not, you could ignore them and claim the fact checkers were biased. It was great fun, and not unlike most sports arguments.
The backlash over the Ohio State basketball team following their ignominious defeat at Illinois on Saturday reminded me of some of the hysterical claims from the election season. In the spirit of the fact-checkers, let's take a look at some of the claims you have already heard about the Basketball Buckeyes, and figure out what's true, and what's blowing smoke.
1) Aaron Craft needs to score more in order for Ohio State to be successful. Mostly False.
It's no secret that Aaron Craft's jump shot isn't so great. In fact, it's almost Eric Snow-ian. But to look at the box score and proclaim that Craft's performance is deficient because he isn't scoring a lot of points doesn't tell the whole story. There are a lot of ways to positively impact a basketball game without personally scoring points.
Aaron Craft is one of the best individual defending guards in the country. His dogged determination on that end of the court has not only produced steals that lead to easy transition baskets for the Bucks, but he's been able to force bad shots, or prevent opposing guards from shooting. He's also been a more than effective distributor, and even a decent rebounder for a point guard. When Craft is on the court, he's helping the Buckeyes in nearly every facet of the game besides scoring.
Craft just needs to make sure he isn't taking more off the proverbial table than he brings. He probably shouldn't shoot from downtown unless is he *completely* open, or the shot clock is running down. As long as he doesn't torpedo the team's offensive effectiveness by taking bad shots, his total contributions to the team more than make up for the fact that he won't be scoring enough. Craft isn't Trey Burke, or Mike Connely. We should be thrilled with what we have, and not pine for what we don't.
2) Ohio State's lack of a consistent offensive game outside of Deshaun Thomas will keep this team from living up to their potential. True.
The common refrain is that the Buckeyes don't have a second scoring option. I don't think this is exactly true, as Lenzelle Smith has scored in double figures 9 times this season, and is hitting 44% of his three point shots. That's not a bad safety valve. The real problem is that the Buckeyes lack both a dependable third scorer, or a guy that can get easy shots.
LaQuinton Ross was hyped as a possible NBA talent before the season. While he has the highest offensive ceiling of any other Buckeye, he's a bad dribbler, isn't careful with the basketball, and can't defend very well. Flyin' Sam Thompson, for all of his otherworldly athleticism, hasn't shown he can consistently hit not alley-oop shot opportunities. Shannon Scott is very similar to Aaron Craft, and poor Amir Williams makes Greg Ostertag look like Hakeem most of the time he has the ball.
Also, Ohio State is a terrible free throw shooting team. It's bad enough when you'll have to work for every bucket. Throwing away the free ones is an even bigger killer.
The Buckeyes can be perfectly successful playing one, maybe two guys who aren't great offensive threats at a time. One of those is always going to be either Craft or Scott. That means either Thompson or Ross have find their stroke quickly, or we'll see more Evan Ravenel and less Amir.
3) Ohio State's loss to Illinois is a sign of things to come for Ohio State. Mostly False.
It's easy to look at the clobbering OSU took on Saturday and declare that this could be a routine performance in a murderously tough Big Ten. It's true that Ohio State's offense struggled mightily outside of Thomas, and even he shot 3-10 from the floor in a forgettable first half. However, the Buckeyes were also out-rebounded by one of the worst rebounding teams in the entire Big Ten, turned the ball over seven more times than their average per game, let Illinois shoot around 50% for nearly the entire game, and saw Illini center Nnanna Egwu erupt for more than 10 points above his average.
Sure, Ohio State struggled with their weaknesses, but they also got their butts kicked in every facet of a basketball game. That's not inevitability, that's called having a horrible game. That happens to everybody.
Yes, Ohio State was overrated to begin the season, and yes, Ohio State is going to lose some Big Ten games, likely on the road, thanks to shaky offensive performances. There is nothing from their performance this season thought would have suggested they'd get KILLED by Illinois though. It's okay to adjust those expectations a little, but Ohio State is not as bad as they looked on Saturday.
4) Ohio State might threaten to miss the tournament/fall to a double digit seed. Pants on Fire.
See above. Right now, Ohio State is 11-3. The Buckeyes still have four more games against Nebraska, Penn State and Northwestern. No matter how bad you think Ohio State might be, it would be shocking if they lost any of those games, especially since Penn State and Northwestern will miss their best players due to injury. That's 15 wins.
Furthermore, Ohio State has home games against Iowa and Wisconsin. Winning on the road is awfully tough in the Big Ten, and while both of those teams are decent, they would be significant underdogs. That takes Ohio State to 17 wins, and would put them safely on the proverbial bubble. Assuming they beat Purdue on the road on Tuesday, that takes them to 18. If they won a game in the Big Ten tourney, those wins alone mean they're in the tournament.
Finally, OSU gets Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana and Minnesota all at home. Those are all very good teams, perhaps all better than Ohio State, but it would be unlikely that the Buckeyes lose all of them. Winning one means OSU dances even if they lost one of the previous games. Two wins means at least a 7 seed. This is also assuming OSU loses every single difficult road game.
The Big Ten is too tough for Ohio State to likely win, but with their perimeter defensive ability, there is no reason they won't be at least competitive in just about every game. Right now, baring injury, somewhere between a 3-6 seed seems likely.
The next three games for Ohio State are at Purdue, home for Michigan, and at Michigan State. If the Bucks get 2 out of those three, I think we can revert back to having decent expectations for this basketball team. Losing all three means we'll be allowed to panic about making the tournament.
Rumors of the demise of the Buckeye Basketball team, in my mind, are premature. There are more opportunities for data points and growth and improvement.
Flying off the handle spectacularly after one setback is the sort of thing that Dick Morris used to do during the election. PolitiFact almost always rated him "Pants on Fire". And for good reason. They usually were.