Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
The Ohio State men’s basketball team made the Final Four last season, and the Buckeyes came into this season with the expectations to get back.
The Buckeyes, however, lost two of their top three scorers from last season, and 11 games into the 2012-2013 season, they are really missing those players.
OSU, which came into the season ranked No. 4 in both major polls, have won nine of their first 11 games, but the two losses to No. 1 Duke and No. 6 Kansas are the only games they have played against teams currently ranked in either the Associated Press Top 25 or the USA Today Coaches Poll.
In those games, one clear issue that has held the Buckeyes back is a lack of players who can consistently score points and make shots.
Over the past two seasons, OSU was led by center Jared Sullinger, who was named an All-American both years. Sullinger, who left for the NBA draft after his sophomore year, averaged a team-leading 17.5 points last year, while William Buford, who averaged 14.5 per game as a senior last season, was among the Buckeyes’ top three scorers in all four of his OSU seasons.
With Sullinger and Buford gone, the undisputed star of this year’s Buckeyes is junior forward Deshaun Thomas. Thomas is their leading returning scorer from last season, and currently leads the team with 20 points per game. Thomas scored 16 points in each of the Buckeyes’ two losses.
Thomas’ play, however, wasn’t the issue in those losses. Duke and Kansas both keyed into Thomas being the Buckeyes’ only consistent scoring option – especially in the second half – and no other player was able to consistently hit shots, especially from the perimeter.
This was especially true Saturday, when the Buckeyes lost 74-66 to Kansas. In the second half of that game, the Buckeyes went absolutely cold from the floor, making just 25 percent of their shot attempts and only 2-of-18 from beyond the 3-point arc.
Sullinger’s presence is clearly missed this season: he gave the Buckeyes a consistent inside scoring and rebounding presence that they just haven’t gotten yet from senior forward Evan Ravenel or sophomore center Amir Williams. Ravenel and Williams have combined for just 10.8 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, compared to the 17.5 and 9.2 the Buckeyes got from Sullinger alone last season.
Although Buford was an inconsistent performer, especially in his senior season, his ability to score from anywhere on the floor might be missed even more.
Against Kansas, Williams was the only player to make more than 50 percent of his shot attempts for the game – and he only took three shots. The Buckeyes only made 30.8 percent of their shots against the Jayhawks, and five players had more than three missed 3-point shot attempts.
OSU has to find another player who can be a consistent scoring option, especially from beyond the arc, but it is uncertain whether that player is on the roster.
Junior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. is the team’s second-leading scorer with only 11 points per game, and in their two losses, he has made just one of 13 attempts from the 3-point line. Junior point guard Aaron Craft has 8.9 points per game and is a terrific defender, but has only made 36 percent of his shots this season. Sophomore LaQuinton Ross came into the season with high expectations and has 9.1 points per game, but hasn’t been able to score with any consistency, and scored just four points in nine minutes against Kansas.
The Buckeyes should be able to go up against any team in the nation athletically and defensively with players like Craft, Smith Jr., sophomore forward Sam Thompson and sophomore guard Shannon Scott. But without a consistent scorer either inside or from the perimeter outside of Thomas, OSU has not been able to beat the elite teams they have played, and likely won’t be able to in the NCAA Tournament either.
Perimeter scorers like Buford, Jon Diebler and David Lighty were just as important to the Buckeyes’ success as Sullinger and Thomas over the past two years. If OSU is going to make another Final Four run, at least one player is going to have to step up as a secondary scoring option to Thomas.