Bob Hunter commentary: Ravenel could be the key player today

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
High Contrast Normal Version

DAYTON — When Evan Ravenel’s name comes up, the word role usually surfaces and multiplies.

Ohio State coach Thad Matta talks about how Ravenel is “embracing his role.” Teammate Lenzelle Smith Jr. says “he fills an important role.” Deshaun Thomas says he “is playing his role and playing it well.”

It’s a nice way of saying that the 6-foot-8 fifth-year senior will give the Buckeyes quality minutes in his role as the backup center who really isn’t, the guy who enters after sophomore starter Amir Williams logs his six or seven minutes, and is often around at the end.

On a team in which Thomas is a points machine and annoying, ball-flicking guards Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott are the defensive stars, Ravenel is mostly charged with doing the blue-collar work that very few notice: setting screens, grabbing rebounds, getting an occasional basket and doing the defensive dirty work in the lane.

For his next mission, Ravenel will be asked to defend Kevin Love. Well, not actually Kevin Love, but 6-foot-7 Iowa State freshman Georges Niang.Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg previously worked in the front office of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves, who in 2008 acquired Love, an All-American for UCLA, in a draft-day trade. Love has gone on to become a two-time All-Star, and Hoiberg sees some similarities with Niang.

“When we were recruiting Georges, I talked to him about Kevin,” Hoiberg said. “Kevin, his versatility as a big man, is something that’s just phenomenal, and he’s such a smart basketball player. That’s what I saw in Georges.”

Niang isn’t Love, at least not yet, but this point is worth making: If the Buckeyes advance deeper in the NCAA Tournament, interior defense is likely to become a bigger and bigger factor. All of the pregame talk for today’s West Regional third-round game is about the Cyclones’ three-point shooting — Iowa State leads the nation with 9.8 three-point baskets a game. But Niang averages 12 points and his teammates are also good down low, so Ohio State’s interior defense could determine whether the Buckeyes advance.

“It really could because those guys are crafty,” Matta said. “They’re strong and they finish well around the basket. With the spacing, you’re going to be down there for a second by yourself. Position will be huge on the catch, and we can give support from there.”

This isn’t glamour stuff, but good teams often advance because of things that don’t get much attention, a job description that fits Ravenel. Even when he plays well, as he did in the first half of the Buckeyes’ win over Iona, it doesn’t always lead to more playing time. He scored eight points with four rebounds, three blocks and a steal in 10 minutes in the first half — and played only three minutes after that.

“Whatever they need me to do, that’s what I do,” Ravenel said.

It’s the kind of attitude you would expect from the team’s only senior, a player who knows he might not have a pro career in his future and is concerned only with winning.

“I want to keep playing as long as I can,” he said. “I don’t want to look for a real job — not for a while anyway.”

What kind of job is he looking for? Ravenel laughed again.

“I’m not looking,” he said. “That’s the problem.”

That was the playful Ravenel, the one Smith called “the most talkative person on the team.” That Ravenel seems suited to be the unheralded player who steps out of the shadows and makes a play that could be remembered forever. He at first dismissed the idea — “It’s a little late,” he said — then broke into a wide grin when told it really isn’t.

“You’re right,” he said. “The tournament definitely opens the eyes of many people. Some guys come in here unknown, and they leave out of here household names.”

Bob Hunter is a sports columnist for The Dispatch.

bhunter@dispatch.com

@dailyhunter

Comments

Please Share Your Zip Code

To listen to 97.1 The Fan or ESPN 1460AM we ask that you provide a zip code so that we may give you the best audio connection possible.

Please enter your zip code:

No thanks