Tonight the Ohio State University men’s basketball team plays its first Big Ten contest of the season. The Buckeyes take on Nebraska at the Schott.
It will be the start of what promises to be a very challenging Big Ten season. Michigan is undefeated and ranked second in the land, preseason favorite Indiana has lost only once and is ranked fifth, and Minnesota and Illinois each have lost only once and are ranked ninth and eleventh, respectively — and that list doesn’t even include perennial contenders Michigan State and Wisconsin. The consensus view of analysts is that the Big Ten is the toughest conference in the country.
What about the Buckeyes? They are 10-2, but they’ve lost the only two games they’ve played against powerhouse teams, falling to Duke away and Kansas at home. In both cases, a big problem was shooting the ball. Ohio State plays solid defense but struggles to knock down shots in their half court offense. Deshaun Thomas can be counted on to put points on the board, but the team lacks a consistent number two scorer. Point guard Aaron Craft is a defensive whiz, but he struggles with his outside shot and the lack of Jared Sullinger in the middle has affected his opportunities to drive to the basket. Guard Lenzelle Smith, Jr. is a hustler but his offensive production is streaky. Center Evan Ravenel — the only senior on the team — has decent offensive skills but is undersized.
That leaves Buckeye fans looking to members of Ohio State’s heralded sophomore class: guard Shannon Scott, forwards LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson, and center Amir Williams. All have shown improvement over their performance last year. Scott seems to be playing with much more confidence, particularly on the offensive end, Thompson has developed a jump shot to go with his awe-inspiring dunks, and Ross has showed signs of having the all-around offensive game that makes Buckeye Nation wonder whether he can become another Deshaun Thomas. Williams’ progress has been slower. He doesn’t have a dependable “big man” offensive move, yet, but he is becoming a disruptive force on the defensive end with his shot-blocking abilities.
If Ohio State is going to contend for the Big Ten championship this year — and that’s a big if, with the depth of talent in the conference this year — it will be because these members of the sophomore class step up, contribute on the offensive end, and play tough on the road. Their first test is tonight.