Commentary: Ohio State men's basketball's affinity for defense keeping Final Four dreams alive
Published: Thursday, January 24, 2013
Updated: Thursday, January 24, 2013 19:01
Hey, you! Yes, you, right there, Joe/Jane Buckeye fan. You go here because of the football team, right? I know, I know, we all do. It’s OK. School is secondary.
And, let me guess, since you go to Ohio State because of Buckeye football, you probably have a special affinity for defense. Brutal, violent, aggressive, stingy defense. Beautiful defense.
And, let me surmise, you look at the basketball team, with its inconsistent offense and those four losses and think: “Hey, it’s only, like, eight months until Urban Meyer unleashes his freshly non-bowl banned OSU football team on the rest of the country.”
Stop it right now. It’s not August yet. It’s basketball season. It’s Big Ten basketball season. And your Buckeyes are playing a brand of basketball I know you can appreciate. They’re playing basketball with a football mentality.
They’re playing brutal, violent, aggressive, stingy defense. Beautiful defense. Football defense.
Jared Sullinger is gone. William Buford is gone. The Buckeyes’ elite offensive abilities are gone too, and it’s showing. Against elite teams, OSU’s offense has sputtered for long stretches. The Buckeyes have made 3-point shooting look as difficult as solving a Rubik’s cube in less than 30 seconds (if only junior guard Aaron Craft could do the former as well as the latter) and they lack a go-to second scorer (Craft? Sophomore forward LaQuinton Ross? Junior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr.? Brutus Buckeye?) behind the offensive genius that is junior forward Deshaun Thomas.
Where would OSU be without Thomas? Hint: somewhere losing a lot of games by 20.5 points.
But guess what? It doesn’t matter that OSU is trying to set offensive basketball back to the peach basket days of Dr. James Naismith, the game’s creator. The team’s defense is good. Like, Final Four good. Don’t give up on them.
Craft is and has been the NCAA’s preeminent perimeter defender since he stepped on campus in 2010. He smothers guards. His scalp list the last three years reads like a “Who’s Who” of college basketball: Trey Burke, Jordan Taylor, Dion Waiters, Scoop Jardine, Tyshawn Taylor, Brandon Knight, Seth Curry, Erving Walker and the list goes on.
Point blank, he’s OSU redshirt sophomore cornerback Bradley Roby in sneakers. His competitors know by pregame they’re going to wear a Craft coat for the next 40 minutes.
Craft’s partner-in-crime, sophomore guard Shannon Scott, averages a hair under two steals per game and plays passing lanes like a seasoned veteran. Smith Jr., is a hulking 6-foot-4 menace who can physically overpower smaller foes. Sophomore forward Sam Thompson is a weak-side shot-blocking terror with staggering athleticism and a 476-foot vertical leap (approximately). If someone manages to penetrate the lane against OSU’s guards, 6-foot-11 sophomore center Amir Williams lurks in the paint ready to send any shot all the way back to his hometown in Detroit.
Any way you slice it, the Buckeyes’ top-20 scoring defense (out of 345 teams) gives them a chance to win any game, despite the offense’s struggles. Hmmm, actually that sounds familiar. Wait, are we sure Jim Tressel isn’t coaching basketball?
Don’t write off this season just yet. Sure, the offense might not be Sweet 16 worthy (or outside of Thomas, even RPAC worthy) but the defense is Final Four caliber.
It might not be pretty, but the basketball Buckeyes are taking a page out of Woody Hayes’ playbook and embracing a new, defense-first identity. As football fans, it shouldn’t be hard for us to do the same.