VALUE CITY ARENA
Outside of one slip-up against the pesky Ohio Bobcats, Ohio State's defense has been the best country in the country this season by far. Tonight, they put that defense to the test again against the Wyoming Cowboys.
Through the Buckeyes' first four games, the team has been pretty much as expected: strong defense with a well-rounded, albeit questionable scoring attack. However, it's been somewhat surprising who has led that attack thus far.
Shannon Scott is the Buckeyes' leading scorer at nearly 13 points-per-game on efficient shooting and passing, along with stellar defense. Scott's .664 TS% is 7th in the Big Ten, his 39.3% assist percentage is 2nd, and 5.8% steal percentage is 3rd. He has spearheaded an offensive attack that, at its best, has gotten out into transition much more than Buckeye fans are used to seeing in the past. Of course, the Buckeyes are only four games into the season; however, Scott is seemingly doing his best Ty Lawson impression, and the Buckeyes will continue to count on his ability to get easy buckets as the schedule ramps up.
Other than Scott, Aaron Craft has been his typical self with the unique ability to make things happen -- both good and bad sometimes -- on each end of the floor. Amir Williams has also been much stronger in the middle so far this year, holding down the paint both offensively and defensively (seriously, left-handed hook shots off of real post moves? What's going on?!). Finally, Sam Thompson's ability to run the floor and dunk the basketball has been both exciting and useful as the team attempts to get into transition more often.
Not everything has been perfect though, because LaQuinton Ross is not performing as anticipated. It's not unfair to say that Ross has been lethargic and a bit disinterested early this year. Getting his offense going is going to be an essential part of the Buckeyes' half-court offense. No one else on this team has both the size and skill to create out of offensive sets. If I was Coach Matta, I'd be looking to get him easy looks off of back door cuts in order to get him shots around the hoop. With guys like Scott and Craft to find him once he gets to the hoop, that seems like the best way to get him more involved. It's fair to say though that his seven points-per-game aren't going to cut it for the whole season.
As far as Wyoming is concerned, the most recognizable face will be that of Larry Nance Jr. out of Akron. Nance, like his famous father that played for the Suns and Cavaliers, is an athletic power forward that excels in both rebounding and blocking shots. His offensive game has also come along nicely in the past two seasons, as he's averaging nearly 12 points-per-game.
Even though Wyoming has had two consecutive 20-win seasons, I wouldn't expect much of a fight from this team. Their records have been largely inflated from weak early season scheduling. Last season's 13-0 start was fueled largely by nine wins against schools that 75% of people wouldn't realize are Division 1. The Cowboys have gone 10-20 the past two seasons in the Mountain West under coach Larry Shyatt, and I don't see that changing any time soon.
Numbers to Know
Ohio State's adjusted defense rating according to kenpom.com. They're been remarkably solid on that end, forcing turnovers and playing strong, 35-second possessions. This is potentially the best defense in the country this season.
Wyoming has only won 11 road games since the start of the 2009-10 season. Their only big conference win on the road during that time period is at Colorado in 2011.
Wyoming's true shooting and assist percentages in their first five games, both in the top 20 of the country so far. This is normally a sign of excellent ball movement leading to shots either at the rim or behind the three point arc.
Cast of Characters
The guy has a freaking .754 true-shooting percentage due to 14 made threes. Scott and Craft need to play tight on him in order to make sure he doesn't get space to get his shot away. At 15.6 points-per-game, Grabau is the Cowboys' leading scorer.
Larry Nance Jr.
Nance is their big guy in the middle who holds down the paint. Whoever wins the early battle between Nance and Williams will determine how long Wyoming is able to stay in the game.
He's been the table setter for the Buckeyes so far this season as mentioned earlier, and I'd look for him to continue his hot start against the Cowboys. His PER is in the top-10 of the Big Ten to this point at 26.8. Given that his defense has also been spectacular, it's not unfair to say he's been one of the strongest performers in the country this season.
The Buckeyes have got to find a way to get this guy going. With two table-setters like Craft and Scott, it should be easy to get him looks in catch-and-shoot situations, where he excels. His development with his off-ball movement needs to happen sooner rather than later.