The Buckeyes appear to be pretty good at self-analysis. They headed into Big Ten play ranked second in the nation and sporting a 12-1 record, but the consensus inside the locker room was that much work needed to be done.
Besides his usual penchant for excessive worry, Ohio State coach Thad Matta finds legitimate fault in his team. The Buckeyes have been good, even great at times, but as they learned in a four-point loss at Indiana in their second Big Ten game of the season, consistency is still elusive.
“We’ve shot the ball more with this team than any other, and we’ve been hard on them in practice, getting them to understand what is and is not a good shot,” Matta said. “We are starting to value shots and possessions more.”
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While ultra-talented, the Buckeyes remain one of the nation’s youngest teams. They have one senior and just one junior, and he is in his first year playing for Ohio State.
The call to provide stability and leadership goes out to that lone senior, guard William Buford. The normally quiet and reserved Buford is in an as yet uncomfortable role as the voice of the team. The Toledo native seems resigned to taking the leadership mantle, but it appears he will have to grow into the job.
“I don’t feel like we can replace the seniors we lost last year,” Buford said. “I just try to do what I can do this year. I just want to try to bring the intensity and be a leader, that’s about it. I just try to do whatever I can to help my team.”
Matta is allowing Buford to accept the helm of this team at a pace that is comfortable to the senior, who has a promising pro future ahead of him and could have jumped to the NBA following his junior year.
“He was working out after practice yesterday and he had a great intensity and focus about him,” Matta said about Buford, who has a shot at becoming Ohio State’s career scoring leader before the end of the season. “I stopped him and said, ‘William, this is how you have to play every possession of every game.’ The big thing with him is continuing to improve every time he hits the floor.”
Other members of the Buckeyes have acknowledged that they need to carry more of the load for this team, the preseason favorite to repeat as Big Ten champion. Sophomore G Jordan Sibert is putting some pressure on himself to be more productive in the conference games.
“I have been coming in and shooting with one of my managers, making sure I get up shots,” Sibert said. “In the nonconference games, I didn’t shoot as well as I wanted to. I’m just taking the extra time to make sure I get up shots instead of being complacent.”
–Sophomore PG Aaron Craft, one of the best set-up men in the Big Ten, was Ohio State’s leading scorer in a recent loss at Indiana. When the assists leader is the top scorer, the formula usually does not work out in a positive fashion.
–F Deshaun Thomas, an Indiana native and one of the top three all-time scorers in the history of Indiana high school basketball, hit a jump shot from the baseline to put the Buckeyes up 70-69 with under two minutes left in their Big Ten showdown at Indiana. The Hoosiers went on to take a four-point win.
–G William Buford is closing in on becoming the fifth player in Ohio State history to score 400 field goals, and play 4,000 minutes. After a recent loss at Indiana, Buford had 627 made field goals in his career and 3,883 minutes played in his 121 career games.
BY THE NUMBERS: 0 — In their Big Ten loss at Indiana in the first week of conference play, the Buckeyes failed to score any points off the fast break. Ohio State is often at its best when the Buckeyes are moving at high speed, and turning opposition mistakes into points. Without that production, Ohio State felt defeat for just the second time this season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “It was obviously a really difficult challenge. I thought we put ourselves in a pretty decent position. We didn’t finish the half like we needed to. We had a couple turnovers that led to baskets. Those are things you’ve got to play through.” — Ohio State coach Thad Matta on his team’s loss at Indiana early in Big Ten play
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL THIS WEEK’S GAMES:
–vs. Nebraska, Jan. 3
KEY MATCHUPS: The Buckeyes will focus their defensive efforts on G Toney McCray, who at 6-foot-6 is a difficult matchup for some teams. Ohio State will likely put senior G William Buford on McCray, who has scored in double figures in four straight games. Nebraska G Bo Spencer is the Huskers’ top long distance threat and he has attempted more than twice as many triples as anyone else on the team. He leads Nebraska with 15 points per game. Ohio State PG Aaron Craft, the team’s top defender, should shadow Spencer.
–at Iowa, Jan. 7
KEY MATCHUPS: The Hawkeyes have been pleased with freshman F Aaron White from Ohio, who had 18 points in the Hawkeyes’ stunning upset win at Wisconsin. The Buckeyes will likely put sophomore F Deshaun Thomas on White and hope the athleticism and length of Thomas slows White. Senior G Bryce Cartwright is vital to the Iowa attack and Ohio State PG Aaron Craft squares off with Cartwright.
FUTURES MARKET: The Buckeyes are going to lean a lot on their only senior, G William Buford. How Buford responds to that role is yet to be determined. He took the most critical shot in the NCAA tournament loss to Kentucky last spring and missed it, and in the recent Big Ten loss at Indiana, Buford threw up a 3-pointer in the closing moments when all the Buckeyes needed was a two, and it also failed to connect.
–PG Aaron Craft is among the 60 candidates for the Bob Cousy Award, which goes to the nation’s top point guard. The sophomore from a small rural high school in Northwest Ohio has proven to be mature beyond his years and one of the top defenders in the Big Ten conference.
–G Alex Rogers, who transferred to Ohio State from Christian Brothers University in Memphis, has made the team as a walk-on but will sit out the current season and have two years of eligibility remaining.
–G/F LaQuinton Ross, a 6-foot-8 freshman from Mississippi, was cleared to join the team just before the start of the Big Ten portion of the schedule. Ross had been in limbo while the NCAA resolved issues relating to his transcript and academic standing. In his first game with the Buckeyes, Ross hit his first shot, a 3-pointer and finished with five points in four minutes of play.