The time has come to take what we used to believe about Ohio State and quietly discard it. This doesn’t require a lot of fanfare. We don’t need to rub the Buckeyes’ noses in it. After all, it isn’t their fault we thought they were better than they actually are.
But those of us who like to talk about college basketball do need to treat Ohio State not as one of the elite teams in college basketball, but as a solid member of the second cut.
Ohio State has lost to Duke, Kansas, Illinois and Michigan State, which means its record against the Top 25 is 1-4. Granted, that one win was over Michigan, which otherwise would have been No. 1. But the game was in Columbus, Ohio, and it’s an arch-rivalry game. You know how those things are.
I am not saying that win doesn’t count, but it doesn’t overpower the rest of the Buckeyes’ resume. Ohio State’s second-best win is probably a home win over Washington (12-6) on Jan. 23.
This reality is difficult to accept in Ohio State’s case for two primary reasons:
1) The Buckeyes look like a Final Four team, aesthetically. They have maybe the best scorer in college basketball (Deshaun Thomas). They have a 6-4 shooting guard who makes 42 percent of his 3s (Lenzelle Smith, Jr.). They have that classic 6-8, 250-pound forward everybody has to have. They look good.
2) Aaron Craft. Craft has become the darling of people who try to prove their nuanced knowledge of basketball by loving a player who is not statistically productive. This happens in every sport, every year. Sometimes the arguments are valid, sometimes they aren’t. We’ve discussed Craft in this space before, and I won’t repeat myself here, but his appeal to this part of the population is strong.
The Buckeyes do most things well, but nothing great. They’re fifth in the Big Ten in scoring, second in scoring defense, fifth in field goal percentage, second in field-goal percentage defense, fourth in 3-point shooting, sixth in defending against the 3, seventh in rebounding margin. They’re in the middle of the pack in blocks and steals. You get the picture.
This is a team with one great player, that plays solid (but not especially disruptive) defense, and usually loses when it plays somebody good.
These are the facts.
Here’s one problem: The Tigers are trying to play fast, but they just aren’t all that good at it.
This is a team that averages 76 points per game, which puts it in the top 50 nationally, but shoots just 44 percent from the field and averages just 14 assists, more than half of which come from point guard Phil Pressey.
As a result, Missouri has lost three times in the last month, including a 15-point loss at Ole Miss and a 31-point loss at Florida.
Here’s the other problem: They’re missing forward Laurence Bowers badly.
Bowers sat out last season with a knee injury and has missed the last three games with another knee injury. He’s their leading scorer (16.8 points per game) and second-leading rebounder (6.9 per game) and, secondarily, is a fifth-year senior who knows what he’s doing and runs the floor well.
He probably wouldn’t have helped the Tigers against Florida — they shot 6 for 24 from the 3-point line, 33 percent from the floor and turned it over 21 times 1 but it is clear this is a different team with him.
Bowers has a sprained MCL. Coach Frank Haith has said he won’t rush Bowers back, but he has to be getting a little antsy.
Big game in the Little Apple
If I asked you to guess Kansas State’s record, I bet you’d say something like 13-4, 12-5. Unless you’ve been seeking it out, you probably haven’t heard much about Kansas State since it hired Bruce Weber this past offseason.
But the Wildcats are 15-2. They are ranked 11th. And they host No. 3 Kansas on Tuesday in what is colloquially referred to as the “Sunflower Showdown,” Kansas being the sunflower state and all.
This is the most that has been on the line in this matchup since the 2009-10 season, when Kansas State was ranked 11th and Kansas was No. 2. The Jayhawks won both meetings that season, but the Wildcats made it to the Elite Eight, while Kansas lost in the second round.
The Jayhawks have a grip on the Big 12 conference, having won or shared the last eight titles, but their most consistent challenger over the last few seasons has come from just 100 miles to the west.
KU and K-State are the only undefeated teams left in the Big 12, so a win would put the Wildcats in the driver’s seat to win their first conference title since 1977.
60 – Points per game averaged by Missouri in three games without forward Laurence Bowers. The Tigers are averaging 79 points per game when Bowers is in the lineup.
6 – Turnovers committed by Gonzaga through 39 minutes, 56.5 seconds until Butler stole David Stockton’s errant inbound pass and raced in for the game-winning basket. It was Stockton’s only turnover.
They said it
“It gets pretty old because it’s the same record and the same way.” — Texas coach Rick Barnes, on losing to Kansas. Barnes is 6-15 against Kansas since he took over at Texas in 1998.
“I have a friend in coaching that tells me for every one of those that goes in, you’ve got one coming. So I guess I’ve got one coming right now.” — Butler coach Brad Stevens, on the last-second shot that gave his team a win over Gonzaga. (It’s worth noting, here, that Stevens was on the wrong side of such a shot in 2010, when Gordon Hayward’s halfcourt shot nearly beat Duke at the buzzer in the national championship game).
Player of the year watch
1. Trey Burke, Michigan This is a point guard who shoots 51 percent, averages 18 points and still gives out seven assists per game.
2. Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State It’s starting to look more and more like this guy bears the entire weight of Ohio State basketball. He’s way, way better than anybody else on his team.
3. Mason Plumlee, Duke There isn’t much left to say about Plumlee. He’s not some transcendent player, and certainly isn’t the best NBA prospect in college basketball this year, but you know the drill.
Conference power rankings
1. Big Ten The Top 25 rankings are reflecting a general slide for the Big Ten the last couple of weeks, but that’s probably more of a market correction than anything. This is still easily the strongest conference.
2. Big East The Big East has two teams good enough to win it all, which is as many as any other league.
3. ACC North Carolina State is the most frustrating team I’ve ever watched in college basketball.
4. Pac-12 How about those Ducks, eh? Arizona is the only team in the league that looks like it could get to the Final Four, but the Pac-12 looks a lot better today than it did a month ago.
5. Big 12 What we’re seeing at Kansas State is what happens when you give Bruce Weber good players to work with. So, uh, enjoy this season, Wildcat fans.
6. SEC I don’t get very excited about how strong the middle or bottom of a given conference is. It seems like a pointless thing to care about. That said, Ole Miss is No. 23 now, and that makes the league look a little better.
Ups and downs
Up: Ole Miss The Rebels are 4-0 in the SEC for the first time since . . . 1937.
Down: UCLA I have become fatigued trying to figure out this team.
Up: Kansas State Former coach Frank Martin had his flaws, but the guy elevated Kansas State’s talent the whole time he was in Manhattan. This is certainly not the most-talented team in the Big 12, but it’s a nice roster with one really good player in swingman Rodney McGruder.
Down: Missouri I think I can just re-use what I said last week: “Not really sure what that was all about on Saturday.”
Up: Butler I think there are more than nine teams in the country better than Butler, which is ranked ninth. But I can’t hold that against the Bulldogs.
In the game of the week, Kansas State’s Rodney McGruder leads the No. 11 Wildcats with 22 points, but the rest of his team shoots less than 35 percent from the field and No. 3 Kansas wins a close game.
Ole Miss beats Tennessee and Auburn to improve to 6-0 in SEC play, setting up one of the biggest weeks in program history. The Rebels play Kentucky and Florida next week.