Ohio State’s Fatal Flaw Has Danger Lurking in Columbus

Full disclosure: I really like Ohio State’s basketball team this year.

Fuller disclosure:  Coming from me, that means a lot…because in general, I absolutely hate Ohio State.

thad-matta-ohio-stateImage source: Dan On The Street

Don’t get me wrong, they have some of the most loyal AND knowledgeable fans in all of college sports.  I definitely respect them as a whole (unless they are playing an SEC team in football…then they are a laughingstock).  But in general, I despise them.

So for me to say that I really like their team this year – you know it’s not something that I WANT to say.

Jared Sullinger is the most complete big man in college basketball.  He’s a beast in the post, a great passer out of it, and can even knock down the outside jumper.

William Buford is a great catch-and-shoot scorer.  He’s a senior, and he adds an element of outside shooting to the group.

Deshaun Thomas is a great slasher, and despite his immaturity, he does a decent job at creating his own shot.

Aaron Craft is one of my favorite players in college basketball.  In my opinion, he is the best on-ball defender in the entire nation.  He’s smart, he’s crafty, but more than that, he’s just good.

However…(you knew it was coming)…when Ohio State gets into a close game, they have problems.

Ohio State’s Fatal Flaw

To be fair, the Buckeyes are still 15-3, and they lost all three games ON THE ROAD to some very good teams (Kansas, Indiana, and Illinois).  In the Big Ten, it’s very hard to beat good teams in their own building, and you know how hard it is to win in Jayhawk Country.

With that said, if Ohio State wants to be elite – one of the top two or three teams in the country – they will need to fix their potentially fatal flaw and close out games better.

And why do they have problems closing out games?  Because they don’t have THE GUY that will take over down the stretch.

Ohio State is built to blow you out.  Give it to Sully early, knock you around, force you to scramble, and then start raining some threes.  If they can get a twenty-point lead (which they are able to do at a startlingly efficient rate), they will run you out of the building.

But when games stay close, Ohio State has nobody (currently) that is both willing AND able to take over.

It’s one of the biggest fallacies in basketball thinking – that a team can win without a star as long as they all play well together.

False.

Even Hickory had Jimmy Chitwood.

Even Milan had Bobby Plump.

So who is that guy for Ohio State right now?

William Buford, the lone senior, would seem to fill the role.  And in games versus IU and Illinois, he has tried to take that role.  He is WILLING, but he has not been able.

Buford’s problem is that he can’t really create his own shot.  He is very similar to Christian Watford from IU.  He’s a great shooter that is difficult to block because he is so long.  However, both players play OFF the ball much better than they play ON it.  In fact, their size often times ends up giving them problems when they try to dominate the ball, because their ball-handling is so suspect that smaller defenders are often able to poke it away.

In the last few games, Buford has made some VERY questionable decisions down the stretch, and it’s all because he’s trying to do something he can’t really do.

Ask him to run around screens and knock down open jumpers…that’s right up his alley.  Ask him to score for you down the stretch…you will be disappointed.

So if not Buford, then who?  Sullinger is the most talented player on the team, but he’s a big man.

How many teams run plays for the big man down the stretch of games?  Unless he has a single go-to move (Kareem’s sky hook, Dirk’s fadeaway, Hakeem’s Dream Shake), it is often a lost cause.  Why?  It’s simply too hard to consistently get the ball into the post when teams step up their defense.  Even if you CAN get it into the post, it’s usually in an unideal place.  There is a reason that Kareem, Dirk, and Hakeem ALL started their go-to moves fifteen feet from the basket – it’s because YOU CAN’T get it closer.

If you don’t believe me, look at the last ten college basketball champions, and then notice who each team’s “go-to” SCORER was.

  • UConn – Kemba Walker
  • Duke – Nolan Smith/Kyle Singler
  • UNC – Tyler Hansbrough/Ty Lawson/Wayne Ellington
  • Kansas – Mario Chalmers/Brandon Rush
  • Florida – (The best college team of the last 20 years)
  • UNC – Rashad McCants/Raymond Felton/Sean May
  • UConn – Ben Gordon
  • Syracuse – Carmelo Anthony
  • Maryland – Juan Dixon
  • Duke – Jay Williams/Shane Battier

There are only two big men in the group – Psycho T and Sean May.  Both players played on teams that had MULTIPLE go-to guys.  Also, Psycho T scored most of his points through the face-up game and Sean May was a beast on the boards.

Ten of ten teams relied on outside scorers to lead them down the stretch.

So what does that mean for Jared Sullinger?  He is ABLE to do it talent-wise…but he isn’t really ABLE to do it basketball-wise.

Ironically, Deshaun Thomas is probably the player that is best equipped to take over the “closer” role down the stretch.  Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, he is not only a sophomore, but he’s the third sophomore in line when it comes to leadership.  Sullinger and Craft really run the show with Buford being a steady leader behind the scenes. Thomas isn’t the answer, at least he hasn’t been.  Only one guy is left.

Aaron Craft.

As much as I love Aaron Craft’s game, I don’t think that he’s talented enough to carry this role.  Craft is a good shooter, but like Buford, he rarely creates his own shot.  He hits most of his threes off of kick-outs and ball-rotations.  He is also too small to consistently get to the basket.

This is bad news for the Buckeyes because in reality, you REALLY want the ball in Craft’s hands late in games.  He’s your smartest player, and he CAN create things for them.  Unfortunately, he’s a complete non-threat for teams as far as scoring the basketball.  Teams have figured this out, and have started to play him “to pass” late in games.  This enables them to focus more attention on Buford and Sullinger, and it increases the Buckeyes’ scoring difficulties.

Buckeyes Similar To Hoosiers – Except In One Key Way

When you really think about it, Ohio State and IU are eerily similar.

Sullinger and Zeller are both talented big men that can also bang around, get some rebounds, and play above-average defense.

Buford and Watford are basically twins.

Oladipo and Thomas both play the athletic slasher/scrappy defender/crowd favorite role to perfection.

Aaron Craft and Jordan Hulls are both white.

BUT WAIT!!!!  Hulls and Craft are DIFFERENT.

Jordan Hulls can create his own shot.  He was Mr. Basketball in the state of Indiana.  He has the quickest release in college hoops.  He is deadly from up to thirty feet.

Late in games, Jordan Hulls is dominating the rock for the Hoosiers.  Because you have to respect his jumper, and defend him further out, the entire floor is opened up for the rest of his team.  He can hit Oladipo slashing to the basket.  He can run the pick and roll with Zeller.  Watford has more room to operate off of screens.  If you try to defend all of that, Hulls can still go one-on-one and kill you at the end of the shot clock.

The Hoosiers, simply, are built to win close games.  They have the right guy to run the show.

Ohio State doesn’t.  At least not now.

And if somebody doesn’t step up, one of my favorite college basketball teams of 2012 will go home early.  Again.



About Jon Washburn

Jon Washburn grew up in Indianapolis, IN and as such, is a diehard Pacers, Colts, and Cubs fans. When it comes to college, he cheers for Notre Dame football fan and Purdue basketball. Yes, this sounds shady, but since he grew up without cable, he learned to love Notre Dame - the only team on TV. Glenn "The Big Dog" Robinson was at Purdue when Jon was in his formative years, so he latched onto them as well. Did that make him a fair-weather fan at the time? Sure. Give him a break...he was 8...and he has stayed with those teams ever since. Currently, he lives in Charleston, SC with his wife who grew up in Cleveland. Although he is no longer physically in the Midwest, his heart will always be there. Jon goes by the name "Twitch" because he has Tourette's Syndrome. Hit him up on his twitter @jwtwitch.

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