Ohio State basketball: Who Is Thad Matta's alpha dog this season?

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Early offensive struggles prompt questions for Buckeyes as the non-conference schedule moves along.

Watching the Buckeyes squad so far this year has prompted a lot of questions, specifically about the team's offense. Though it's only been five games, that's already over a tenth of the season in the grand scheme of things. If the team is unable to answer any of these questions over the next month, the beginning of Big Ten play will be as anxiety-ridden as Ohio State fans have experienced in several years.

Yes, the Buckeyes are averaging nearly 70 points per game, but that number is a bit skewed by the 89 they hung on Morgan State in the opener. Subpar performances against Ohio, American, and Wyoming are concerning.

Marquette is much more similar to the teams Ohio State will see in the Big Ten, and the offensive production in the 52-35 win back on November 16th is likely a better indication of what to expect.

Watching this team play thus far, it is fair to ask, who can get their own shot? Who is the alpha dog that this team is going to lean on when they absolutely must have a bucket?

The two most obvious answers coming into the season were LaQuinton Ross and Aaron Craft. Both have started slow, with Ross in particular a concern.

Ross is the infamous mystery-wrapped-in-an-enigma. In terms of pure basketball talent, he may be the best player the Buckeyes have had since Evan Turner, or even Michael Redd. But where Ross differs from his predecessors, and at times infuriates fans, is that he doesn't always seem to be tuned in to the game. There has been a lot of talk about him stepping into Deshaun Thomas' role as the #1 offensive option for the team, but through these first few games, there has been no indication that he has accepted that role. Yes, Matta has indicated that the 6'-8" forward from Mississippi is banged up, but he has looked passive and disengaged. How many go-to-guys average just over 6 points per game against supposedly lower quality non-conference opponents, or end up with a scoreless line in a big game, as Ross did against Marquette?

We all know Craft is as fierce a competitor and as good a leader as Matta has ever had, but his struggles shooting are also well-documented. It's true, he sunk Iowa State last March, but how confident can Buckeye fans be about a player who has changed his shot mechanics every off-season without any marked sign of improvement?

At this point, the team's leading scorer for the season has changed after each of the past three games. Lenzelle Smith is currently the top man, at 11.6 points per game. He is followed by Shannon Scott (11.4), Craft (10.4), and Amir Williams (10). Right now, it is looking like Ohio State will be going with "the guy by committee" approach. Without a true go-to guy, the Buckeyes are likely to struggle to score in a tough Big Ten.

The best case scenario for this team, it seems, is Ross getting healthy and truly embracing his role as "the guy," and filling most of the scoring hole left by Deshaun Thomas. Coupled with Williams becoming the interior intimdator he has the talent to be, and a big, consistent jump being taken in terms of offensive production by either Scott or Sam Thompson, the Buckeyes can lean on their superior defense and steadiness of seniors Craft and Smith to hang with anyone in the Big Ten, reaching March Madness as a 2 or 3 seed.

The worst case is that inconsistency plagues the team and Big Ten defenses clog the lane in the face of inadequate outside shooting. The Buckeyes more closely resemble Wisconsin, having to grind out games in the 40s and 50s, and drop from their recent elite status in the conference. March brings along a middle seed, somewhere in the 5-8 range, and the team goes no farther than the Sweet 16.

At this point, it is too early to tell where the Buckeyes will fall along this spectrum. The pieces and potential are in place for this to be another successful season for Matta and company, but a lot of questions on the offensive side of the ball need to be answered before that can happen.

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