As I write this, Ohio State is getting ready to play Penn State at home to open up their Big Ten schedule. With a win, the Buckeyes will start the season 9-0 for the first time since 2013, when they started 15-0. A loss to Penn State would not invalidate this article, however it may cause us to pump the breaks just a bit.
Before the season began, I predicted the Buckeyes to be the fourth best team in the conference. Seemed pretty reasonable at the time, considering the amount of talent Michigan State and Maryland had coming back and how remarkably consistent Purdue has been over the past five years or so.
But a month into the season, the Buckeyes have blown us all away. Sitting at 8-0, they have a legitimate claim to be the best team in the Big Ten. They’ve blown out Villanova and North Carolina by 25 apiece, and squeaked out a hard-nosed victory over a gritty Cincinnati team in the season opener. They’re sitting at No. 6 in the AP Poll, but with a win against Penn State they would surely rise after both Michigan (No. 4) and Virginia (No. 5) suffered losses this past week.
If you love defense, this Ohio State team is for you. They’re surrendering a measly 52.2 points per game, which is the best in the B1G and the 3rd best nationally, behind Virginia and Liberty. And this isn’t a fluke, because they’ve done it to top tier teams. North Carolina was only able to score 49 points at home against the Buckeyes, and Villanova had 51. For pete’s sake, the most points Ohio State has given up all season was 57 to a 3-6 Morgan State team, and they still won by 33. What’s wild about OSU’s dominant defense is that it is sustainable. They’ve shown they can suffocate great teams time and time again, so why would this change going forward?
Morgan State on pace for a whopping 36 points on this fine evening as the Ohio State basketball team and football team continue to fight for who has the better defense— Gene Ross (@Gene_Ross23) November 30, 2019
But what about the offense, you ask? Surely we don’t want to be a one-trick pony like Virginia, who stifles teams on the defensive end, but then can’t buy a bucket when they need it most. At ease, Ohio State fans, because this offense has the potential to be one of the best and most efficient in the conference as well.
Ohio State is scoring a very respectable 77.8 points per game, which is good for seventh in the conference. They’re shooting 48.3% from the field, which is 4th in the Big Ten and 25th nationally. They’re in a virtual tie for the best 3-point percentage in the conference with Michigan at 39.6%. If Ohio State wasn’t blowing teams out so badly, the starters would see more minutes as well, and all of these numbers would probably be higher. The point is that the offensive numbers, just like the defensive ones, are sustainable. The Buckeyes are putting up these numbers against good teams, so what’s stopping them from keeping on that pace as we move forward?
During the past two seasons, Ohio State relied on one player more than any other team I’ve watched in my life. During Kaleb Wesson’s freshman and sophomore seasons, Ohio State looked lost without him on the floor.
Ohio State has now scored just 51 points and 50 points in its last two games, both double-digit losses on the road without Kaleb Wesson. The Buckeyes have scored less than 60 points in six of their last 11 games. https://t.co/K2po0B8VP0— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) March 7, 2019
Be it foul trouble or disciplinary issues, if Wesson wasn’t on the floor, Ohio State had no clue what to do offensively. He was their guy, and there wasn’t a backup plan to turn to in his absence.
This year, however, is different. Kaleb Wesson still leads the team in points (12.4), rebounds (9.3), and blocks (1.6) per game, as expected. But the Buckeyes have become impressively unselfish with the ball this season, as 8 players are averaging at least 7 points per game.
Ohio State’s second leading scorer, sophomore guard, Duane Washington Jr., hasn’t even started all 8 games this season. At 11.1 points per game, he’s just barely behind Wesson. Freshman guard D.J. Carton is third with 10.1 per game, coming off the bench. Kyle Young, CJ Walker, Andre Wesson, E.J. Liddell, and Luther Muhammad have all been “the guy” at one point or another this season, too.
For years, Ohio State basketball teams have had the issue of, “behind ______, who can we count on to get us a bucket?” One year, Deshaun Thomas was “the guy”. Another year it was LaQuinton Ross. Who exactly can you count on for points if your “guy” can’t do it? This year, Ohio State has at least 8 of those guys.
Regardless of the outcome of the looming Penn State game, it might be time we shift our expectations upward for the 2019-2020 Ohio State men’s basketball team. Michigan State has been inconsistent, Purdue has stumbled, and Maryland, despite being undefeated, has not played many quality teams. There are other talented teams in the Big Ten as well, but none provide a stronger argument to be the best team in the conference than the Buckeyes.
It might seem like we’re a year ahead of schedule to be flying this high already, but maybe not. Maybe Chris Holtmann has his team exactly where he thought they’d be. Maybe, and just maybe, we’ve got something special here. But one thing is certain, the Buckeyes have earned their spot among the elite teams this season. The only question is how much higher they can go.