Deshaun Thomas scored 733 points for Ohio State last season. Dennis Hopson (958) and Gary Bradds (735) are the only Buckeyes who have scored more in a season.
Evan Ravenel averaged 4.9 points and 4.2 rebounds last season. His point total (181) was what Thomas might have called “November.”
Here is a question: Who will Ohio State miss more this season, Thomas or Ravenel?
It’s a heck of a question.
It was something to ponder last night at Value City Arena, where eighth-ranked Ohio State had to grope to find the inspiration to defeat American. The Buckeyes chased their opponent throughout the first half, then put the clamps down and drew away for a 63-52 victory in front of a crowd of 14,639. American had 27 turnovers.
It is cupcake season — Wyoming is up next, then North Florida, and mighty Central Connecticut State is looming — so it is premature to draw any firm conclusions about the Buckeyes (4-0). At the same time, the search for clues does not cease.
Heading into the season, it was fair to assume that Ohio State could make up for Thomas’ lost point production. Coach Thad Matta has a bevy of terrific guards and talented wing forwards. He has the flexibility to go small and press the pace — especially if LaQuinton Ross plays the way he did last March.
The bigger question is in the middle. Amir Williams does not have Ravenel to back him up anymore. The Buckeyes need Williams more than ever. They need him on both sides of the floor.
Last night, Williams went up against a fairly legitimate opponent, Tony Wroblicky, a 6-foot-10 senior. Williams set a career high with 16 points. Last week, he had 14 points and a career-high 10 rebounds against Ohio University. Through four games, he is averaging 9.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks.
That is solid production for a guy who is playing only 22.3 minutes a game. His teammates are even looking for him. They want to see his hook shot, which he can shoot with either hand. It has expanded his post game, which was once nonexistent.
“I’ve been working my tail off, in the offseason as well as in practice, to get some go-to moves,” Williams said. “It’s coming now. I just hope I can keep the confidence up.”
There it is — confidence. Williams was a McDonald’s All-American when he matriculated to Ohio State. He was touted to be the next in a line of dominant big men. He turned into easy prey for Ohio State fans during his first two seasons. He is not a physical force down low. His concentration came and went. His confidence waxed and waned.
“Amir has been really more engaged, more aggressive,” Matta said. “He has been dominant in practice. Guys are starting to get the sense that things are going to happen. … He’s one of the very best kids I’ve had in this program. These guys want to see him succeed. I like that he has stuck with it.”
We tend to forget that Williams is 20 years old, and most big men need time to develop. We might not notice that, right now, Williams is better as a junior than Byron Mullens was as a freshman — and Mullens was a first-round NBA draft pick.
“I think the biggest thing is he needs to keep challenging himself,” Matta said. “Sometimes, guys have success and then back off instead of attacking it. The best players want to continue to grow, and I hope that’s what his mindset is.”
It is possible — probable, even — that Williams will not live up to the expectations that were set for him when he arrived in Columbus. Yet the present reality is that Williams can help this team if he can merely steer clear of foul trouble, make free throws, block shots and chip in a few points in the paint. And that is exactly what he is doing right now in cupcake season.
Michael Arace is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.