We interrupt this long football season for what’s either a reminder or a newsflash.
The Ohio State Basketball Buckeyes are pretty good, too. Whether or not they’re better than recent versions remains to be seen, but at No. 2 in the Coaches Poll, they’re at very least as highly regarded at this point of the season than they’ve been since the 2010-2011 campaign.
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At 10-0 with two games this week — highlighted by a Dec. 21 game in Madison Square Garden vs. Notre Dame — and three before the Big Ten campaign begins, Ohio State has quietly beaten mostly inferior competition with solid defense and offensive balance, two things that please coach Thad Matta.
There were 14 teams nationally still unbeaten entering Monday night’s games, and Matta sees nothing wrong with his team being one of them.
“Obviously I like the position we’re in,” Matta said. “We’re still a work in progress, probably like everybody else. We have a great group of kids. At this point, we’re pleased with where we are today but know we have a long way to go.”
Lenzelle Smith Jr. is leading the team at 13.4 points per game. LaQuinton Ross (11.8) and Amir Williams (10) are also in double figures, while Craft is just off that at 9.8. Craft has been his usual, efficient self in a two-point guard offense with Shannon Scott with 51 assists vs. just 20 turnovers. Scott has been good, too, averaging 8.6 points and leading the team in steals.
With seven assists last Saturday night vs. North Dakota State, Craft became Ohio State’s all-time assists leader with 581. The Buckeyes have shot 50 percent or better in their last five games, the longest such streak for an Ohio State team in Matta’s 10 seasons.
Also high in the newest rankings are familiar names in once-beaten Michigan State at No. 5 unbeaten Wisconsin at No. 6. Iowa and Michigan, last year’s national runner-up, dropped from this week’s top 25 poll but both have talented, experienced rosters.
Once Big Ten play begins it will not be like it was in football’s regular season. There will be few breathers.
The Buckeyes open Big Ten play Dec. 31 at Purdue, “and then the onslaught starts,” Matta said. “Hopefully we can stay healthy.”
Matta has repeatedly said that he’s not concerned about the rankings and is more focused on seeing his team make strides and continue to grow. One ranking he certainly likes, though, comes from Ken Pomeroy. The popular college basketball advanced stats website KenPom.com ranks the Buckeyes as the nation’s best defensive team.
After his team was routed by Ohio State last week, Bryant coach Tim O’Shea said the Buckeyes “play national-championship caliber defense. They’ve got the length, they’ve got the shot blocking, they’ve got the quickness.”
Freshman Marc Loving scored a career-high 12 points against North Dakota St. and is averaging 6.7 per game. He provides athleticism on the wing, and though he’ll have to prove he can handle the physicality Big Ten play will bring, the Toledo native is very much in Matta’s plans going forward.
“Loving has been tremendous,” Matta said. “I’m very pleased with his progress. He has a high basketball IQ and he’s made some big plays that have really helped us. Every day he gets more comfortable.”