Analyzing Ohio State’s Drastic Turnaround, Plus Picking Four Monday Games
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Today, I will examine why Ohio State has exceeded even the loftiest preseason projections, and if Nebraska has a chance to hand the Buckeyes their first Big Ten loss. I’ll also handicap a few Big 12 games and a nationally televised Patriot League tilt. As always, follow me on Twitter @jorcubsdan for in-game and second-half thoughts.
I won’t name names, but one writer had Ohio State slated as the 13th best team in the Big Ten, ahead of only Rutgers. To say Chris Holtmann has exceeded expectations in his first year would be the understatement of the season. Why have the Buckeyes been so good this year? Let’s look at the four biggest factors.
It certainly helps that Holtmann inherited a talented roster from Thad Matta. KBD has played like one of the five best players in the entire country. His return to health has been the No. 1 reason why Ohio State has started 8-0 in Big Ten play. Bates-Diop, a double-double machine, has failed to score in double figures just once this year (Gonzaga). He owns a hyper-efficient conference ORtg of 121.3 despite the league’s seventh-highest usage rate and second-highest shot rate. KBD also ranks second in the league in defensive rebounding rate and seventh in block rate. Additionally, his length/athleticism combo allows him to mask some poor defensive instincts. KBD’s injury last year hurt more than most thought, which led to Matta’s departure.
I am, or was, a big Thad Matta guy. I was fairly vocal about athletic director Gene Smith making what I thought was a huge mistake. In retrospect, Matta’s health and the grind of college basketball took a toll on both him and the team. The Buckeyes are unquestionably playing with more energy and intensity this year. While Holtmann still has a lot to prove long term, he has clearly turned around the mentality of Matta’s roster.
Point guard play was my biggest concern for Ohio State coming into this season (and it still is to some extent). However, Jackson developed a jump shot, which has helped him become an effective point guard in Chris Holtmann’s offense. Jackson’s 41% 3-point percentage prevents defenses from playing 5-on-4 when he’s on the floor. While KBD is unquestionably OSU’s best player, you could argue Jackson is more important. As the only reliable ball handler, when Jackson struggles, the Bucks struggle. Jackson’s lowest individual offensive efficiency ratings of the season came in three of the four games tOSU scored under 1 point per possession (all losses).
The Big Ten is Down
Ohio State is playing good basketball, but the Big Ten is way down as a whole. The league’s +12.70 adjusted efficiency margin would be the worst mark since 2008-09, when only four Big Ten teams made the tournament, none of which were on the 1 or 2 seed line. Despite their 8-0 conference record, OSU’s only quality resume wins are Michigan and Michigan State (although the Stanford win continues to gain shine). The Big Ten is so down that it will surprise me if Ohio State does NOT enter the Purdue game on Feb 7 at 12-0. KenPom gives OSU around a 90% chance to win each of their next four games (all at home) against Nebraska, Penn State, Indiana, and Illinois before heading to Purdue. Let’s take a look at the first of those four games.
Nebraska at Ohio State -11
Nebraska could cause some issues for Ohio State, who has a quick turnaround from an absurd league game at MSG against Minnesota. The Huskers have underrated length and athleticism. And Tim Miles has always been willing to “think outside of the box” for a game plan. I’m sure he realized on film that Ohio State’s zone offense looked putrid against Northwestern’s 1-3-1 and that applying pressure on Jackson can disrupt the entire OSU offense. Additionally, former Holtmann assistant Michael Lewis has the scout for this game for Nebraska. He is certainly well versed in Holtmann’s tendencies from their time at Butler. I will say Miles might not go zone because he may be too worried about OSU on the offensive glass, as Nebraska already struggles on the defensive glass. I do have slight concerns about Nebraska’s pick-and-roll heavy offense since OSU has an outstanding pnr defense, especially with Musa Jallow on the floor. But this line just looks a tad high. PICK: Nebraska +11
Kansas State had a decent offensive team with an elite defense last year. However, this year, they struggle on defense and excel offensively, even with Cartier Diarra in place of the injured Kam Stokes. However, Bruce Weber’s general defensive philosophy could give Baylor issues. KSU hedges extremely hard on pick-and-roll and over helps on penetration. That leads to a lot of open perimeter looks, but Baylor has only shot 28% from 3 in Big 12 play. Weber’s motion offense efficiently utilizes his bigs way from the rim. Dean Wade is lethal in rub-and-pops, which makes the Wildcats a poor zone candidate (Baylor’s defensive preference). Having said that, Baylor thrives on putbacks, which spells trouble for a KSU team that struggles on the defensive glass. Additionally, shooting regression is coming for both teams. KSU will not keep canning 3s at 42%, and Baylor will improve from deep. Look for a big game out of Manu Lecomte, who shot 7-12 from 3 in Baylor’s last home game.
The Pick: Baylor -4.5
Even without Jaylen Fisher, TCU has a few advantages tonight against West Virginia. First, while Alex Robinson will inevitably turn it over some against the WVU press, he’s an electric playmaker (see 17 assists against Iowa State). He should help TCU score with great efficiency when they do break the press. Per Synergy, TCU scores 1.05 points per possession in their press offense (90th percentile nationally). Also, few teams have the luxury of a big ball handler like point forward Kenrich Williams in the middle of the floor against the press. While Fisher had an outstanding offensive game, TCU allows 0.04 fewer points per possession without him on the floor. I expect Jamie Dixon to run quite a bit of zone defense tonight against a West Virginia team that still has issues with spacing in the halfcourt, even with Esa Ahmad back. This is also the first home to road quick turnaround in league play for the Mountaineers, which effects them more than any other Big 12 team due to geography. WVU ran out of legs in this same situation last year in both Manhattan and Lawrence.
The Pick: TCU +(waiting to see if number rises)
Bill Carmody’s comments after Holy Cross’ loss to Bucknell hinted at some dissatisfaction with the collective attitude of his current roster. They head to American tonight in a nationally televised game against a team they swept last year. Both Carmody and Mike Brennan run a similar methodical Princeton motion offense. Defensively, Holy Cross mostly plays Carmody’s aggressive, morphing 1-3-1 zone, while Brennan runs a slow down, extended man-to-man halfcourt press. Neither offense is really equipped to handle the opposing defensive scheme. American lost a lot of height to injury, which could be problematic against Jehyve Floyd and Karl Charles. American’s talented sophomore point guard Sa’eed Nelson struggled as a frosh against Carmody’s tricky defense. But he has played at another level since returning from an ankle injury. I think he does enough to get American revenge from last year’s sweep.
The Pick: American -3
Photo via Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports