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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Ohio State Basketball: Today's Loss a Wake Up Call?

As the Ohio State men's basketball team suffered their second defeat of the season today, this time at Purdue, one thing became painfully obvious: the Buckeyes have some serious work to do if they want to cut down the nets in Houston this April. This was perhaps the worst game the Buckeyes played all season, committing more than 15 turnovers en route to a  76-63 defeat.  The loss may knock them out of the top five in the polls for the first time in over four months, but that should be the least of their concerns.  Because as good as The Ohio State University men's basketball team is, there is still a lot of room for improvement for Thad Matta's squad as they prepare for March Madness.

One thing in particular that stood out in the loss today was the reluctance of the Buckeye guards to attack the basket when down by 8 or more in the second half, preferring to take the open jump shot instead.  As a matter of fact, it should almost be an instinct for point guard Aaron Craft to drive to the basket on every OSU offensive possession, with the result being he draws a double team that allows him to kick it back out to an open guard or fellow freshman Jared Sullinger in the low post.  Even Jon Diebler could benefit by attacking the rim more often, as he has shown at times he has an ability to drive to the baseline.  But Diebler's reluctance to do so has opponents playing so much man coverage on him that he has gotten very few outside looks the last three games.

Another person who needs to work on his game if the Buckeyes are to go deep in the tourney is Deshaun Thomas.  Thomas was held scoreless today, missing all six shots he attempted.  If he even makes half of those misses maybe the Buckeyes are in a better position in the waning moments of the second half to send the game into overtime. This afternoon it seemed part of Thomas's problem was an inability to take the ball strong to the hoop, something that seems ironic when talking about one of the more highly regarded power forwards to come from the state of Indiana.  But Deshaun Thomas must use that 6-6, 230 pound frame not only to finish strong but also to become a better player when posting up against a defender.  If he can even become half the post threat that Mr. Sullinger is already the Buckeyes will be very tough indeed next month.

Finally, while there will be much bellyaching about all of the turnovers committed by Ohio State today, there is another area that should be more worrisome for the Buckeyes: free throws.  Overall the Buckeyes shot really well from the charity stripe.  Yet guard David Lighty was an awful 5-10 from the line, and that does not bode well for the team, especially considering he is the one guard who actually attacks the basket on a consistent basis. It shouldn't be forgotten that John Calipari's Memphis squad, featuring freshman phenom Derrick Rose, lost the national title game not more than a couple of years ago due to the Tigers inability to hit foul shots down the stretch.  One would think that Lighty, now in his fifth year with the Buckeyes, would understand how important making free throw is to the success of his team.  Shooting 64% from the line on the season would seem to suggest otherwise.

There is certainly no reason for fans in Columbus to panic just yet, even though the Buckeyes did suffer their first double digit loss of the season.  If anything, this could be the catalyst needed to propel Ohio State into the NCAA championship in April.

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