Men's basketball: Scoring will settle Ohio State's fate
Thomas can put up points, but TV analysts say he needs help if Buckeyes are to win Big Ten again
Lenzelle Smith Jr. (10.2) is one of two Buckeyes scoring in double figures, joining Deshaun Thomas.
Ohio State has enjoyed more success than any other team during the past seven seasons of Big Ten men’s basketball.
The Buckeyes have won at least a share of the conference championship five times under coach Thad Matta, including each of the past three years. They have played in the Big Ten tournament title game six times, winning three.
The last team to win four conference titles in a row was Michigan State, from 1998 to 2001. A third of the way through this league season, Ohio State is 4-2 and tied with Wisconsin, one game behind Michigan State, Indiana and Michigan in the loss column.
The Buckeyes have been a mixed bag, benefiting from the offense of Big Ten scoring leader Deshaun Thomas and the defensive tone set by guard Aaron Craft. But they have yet to find a reliable second scorer behind Thomas and have sabotaged their search for more offense with a rising turnover rate.
We asked four network television analysts, who have broadcast or watched most of Ohio State’s conference games, if this is a team that has what it will take to win a fourth straight Big Ten championship.
Dan Dakich, ESPN
“Where I think Ohio State is going to be inconsistent all year is scoring. I was looking (during the loss Saturday at Michigan State) and Thomas has 25 (points) and the next guy has five. OK, that happens in a game. But, realistically, something like that could happen more often than not against good teams, and that’s hard (to win when it does).
“I think Thad’s a really good coach. Everybody gives (Wisconsin’s) Bo Ryan great credit for playing to a certain pace, but I think Thad has always done that with his teams very well. Because of that, and because they have a culture of winning, I think they’ll be in the race. But in my opinion, they’ve got to find somebody other than Thomas to go get some buckets against good teams.
“I’ve got to believe a guy like (LaQuinton) Ross is going to be a factor down the stretch against good teams. (Former Indiana teammate) Ted Kitchel told me when I was a freshman, ‘Hey, man, all coach (Bob) Knight’s toughness and defense stuff, that’s all bull----. If you can score, you can play.’ I’ve always kind of kept that in the back of my mind as seasons (pass) and scouting gets better and teams get more familiar (with each other). If you can score, you’re going to play.”
Clark Kellogg, CBS Sports
“It’s certainly possible (they can win), but it’s going to take close to perfection. They just don’t have the margin for error they’ve had in the past.
“They don’t have, in my opinion, the offensive firepower to be able to work through the kind of competition they’ll face in a Big Ten title quest. Indiana and Michigan can play through bad spells easier than Ohio State because they have offensive firepower.
“That’s the one thing that separates not only conference champions but national champions. Everybody talks about the defense you have to play to be a championship-caliber team, and that’s true. But to get all the way to the top, you have to be able to score multiple ways. Defense alone will not win you any championships in basketball.”
Scoonie Penn, Big Ten Network
“Some days, I think they can (win it) and other days, I don’t. But if I had to say, I don’t think they can. They can make a slight run, but I just think the fact that there’s only one scorer really hurts their chances.
“I thought at the beginning of the season, (other scorers) would come along, but to this date still, there’s only one guy really fillin’ it up. That’s tough, especially when you have to go to some of these gyms they have to go to. You’re not going to win a championship without winning on the road, and that’s very difficult with Deshaun scoring 25-plus points and everyone else single digits, or maybe 10. It just doesn’t work.”
Jim Jackson, Big Ten Network
“They have the components. (Against Iowa on Tuesday), you saw four guys (score) in double figures. That makes them tough to stop. When each guy is playing their role, that’s when they’re tough. I thought Evan Ravenel brought a lot of energy off the bench.
“I thought LaQuinton Ross came in and played well. The starters shared the ball, they had a lot of ball movement, they got in transition. That type of team, when they’re playing well, multiple guys are able to get touches and contribute.
“This league is wide open. I don’t think we’re really going to know (who wins it) until we get to March. The key with this team is being consistent.”