Behind the scenes here at LGHL, we have talked about this Buckeye basketball team, and some of the myriad question marks they bring to the table. Questions like, 'why can't Aaron Craft knock down 12-foot jumpers with any regularity', or 'does Thad Matta know that he can use some of those players in sweats seated near him'. But the biggest question (and one of the biggest questions before the season even started) was fairly straightforward, and ultimately difficult to answer:
Who is going to score the rest of the points for this Buckeye team?
We all know Deshaun Thomas is the GOAT of this team, and rightfully so. He's averaging better than 20 and 6, and is a threat to put close to 30 on an unsuspecting foe on any night (just ask Michigan State). If I'm Nebraska, my game plan for Saturday's tilt will revolve around trying to stop Thomas from being the superpower that he has been against almost every opponent this year. Thomas is one of the best scorers in the conference, and one of the biggest reasons why this team has 16 wins so far this year.
But there's still that lingering question, which seeks to figure out which Buckeye is going to score the rest of the points that Thomas doesn't. On some nights, there have been answers, as Craft, LaQuinton Ross or Sam Thompson have done enough helping to keep the Buckeyes on the favorable side of the scoreboard. But at times, it doesn't seem like there's a player to step up in that role.
This makes an opponent's job a lot easier in a lot of cases. Think back, if you love nightmares, to the 2007 NCAA Championship against Florida. Greg Oden had a monster game that night in Atlanta, a double-double scoring 25 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. But Florida let him do that, leaving the rest of that would-be-dream-team to clank one three-point attempt after another, eventually finishing 4-23 from beyond the arc.
Note: it should be mentioned that Florida shot the lights out of the Georgia Dome that night (10-18 3pt, 23-53 FGM-A%), and shot almost 90% from the line, which added to their advantage. But no other Buckeye could get hotter than Oden, and the result was (another) crushing defeat to Florida in a Championship Game.
Against Wisconsin on Tuesday, Thomas once again went big, scoring 25 on 10-17 shooting. But no one else really came to play on the offensive side of the ball other than Craft. The Buckeyes of course made Wisconsin deal with it when it was all said and done, but even after Thomas's superb night, there still that nagging question of who else can step up for the Buckeyes.
But maybe we've been asking the wrong question all along.
Contrary to what you might think, Ohio State doesn't need a second scorer. As long as Thomas is hitting, the Buckeyes are fine. Obviously, it would benefit OSU immensely if Lenzelle Smith, Aaron Craft, or LaQuinton Ross emerged as a scoring threat to take some pressure off Thomas, who is bound to have a few off nights. But the reality is that Thomas is unlike any scorer in college hoops. He feels no pressure and he gets his points relatively easily because the dude is practically a robot programmed to put a ball through a basket. Truth be told, a second scorer would probably just throw him off his game.
Titus goes on to say that Thomas need only stay hot for the Buckeyes to win because of their noted, stellar defense this year. The Wisconsin game is one of the season's best examples of that. The Buckeye defense held the Badgers to a paltry 36.5% performance, on 19-52 shooting, including going 11-28 (28!!) from deep. More importantly, the Ohio State defense held Wisconsin to those numbers without ever letting a Badger player take a free throw - which is probably the most impressive part of the Buckeyes 58-49 win.
The oldest cliche in sports is that "defense wins championships", which is both fair and true. NCAA basketball in particular is a game where perimeter defense is so often the difference between a winning side and a losing side. Ohio State has one of the better, if not the best, perimeter defenses in the country, quarterbacked by Craft and backed up by Thomas and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. And the group as a whole is starting to hit the defensive stride that might make up for the lack of a legitimate second scoring threat for this team.
But, like Titus suggests, it really comes back Thomas and the type of game that he has on any given night. Because on any given night, he could erupt and shower the opposition with mid-range jumpers, deep threes and above-the-rim assaults. His continued offensive presence is the most important part of the Buckeye team, and so long as Thomas stays hot, the Buckeyes will be fine on offense, second scorer or not.
But based on the last few games, it is more than clear that Ohio State must rely on its defense if it wants any shot at a championship.