Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

November 30, 2011

How we should think about the Buckeyes now

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 12:50 pm

Ohio State clubbed Duke 85-63 in Columbus last night, and you know you’ve scored a convincing win over the Blue Devils when a storied Durham alum like Grant Hill is saying you’re the best team in the country.

The Buckeyes did look magnificent, and let’s go ahead and declare that if this team continues to make threes like they did last night (8-of-14) Hill has made a sound analytical assertion: they are indeed better than Kentucky or anyone else. After all, Thad Matta‘s team already does everything else. They already make their twos, get to the line, take care of the ball, and clean the defensive glass like no one’s business. A little perimeter accuracy would make an already outstanding team even more scary. Understood.

I am, however, equally conscious of two additional facts: these guys are yet to play a game outside the Columbus city limits, and there’s no earthly way they’ll shoot threes as well as they did last year. Therefore I declare the race for the national championship still open. Good news!

Speaking of good news, if you’re a Buckeye fan you’re delighted to see the coalescence of an estimable Big Four so quickly in this strange post-Lighty, post-Diebler world: Jared Sullinger, William Buford, Deshaun Thomas, and Aaron Craft. Here are some pertinent facts on this group.

Reload complete
Through games of November 29

          %Min  %Shots  OR%   DR%  FTM-FTA  Pct  2PM-2PA  Pct  3PM-3PA  Pct
Sullinger 73.6   24.1  10.4  30.0   40-48   83.3  44-67   65.7   2-7    28.6
Buford    78.2   29.1   3.8  12.0   20-26   76.9  35-72   48.6  12-23   52.2
Thomas    62.5   25.6   6.8  11.1   17-21   81.0  27-45   60.0   7-22   31.8
Craft     73.2   14.7   1.2  11.7   23-32   71.9  17-31   54.8   5-14   35.7

Sullinger and Buford are more or less where I expected them to be: outstanding. And if you’re surprised by Thomas draining 60 percent of his twos while carrying a big load on offense, you just haven’t been paying attention. While his defense hasn’t always been, uh, vigorous, it’s long been clear that Thomas is an offensive star in waiting, one who requires only minutes. His freshman year is therefore classified by hoops analysts in white lab coats as an example of the “Daequan Cook Phenomenon.”

The player that has surprised me is Craft, hitherto praised, accurately, as an outstanding defender (Seth Curry was pretty invisible in the first half last night, wasn’t he?) and little more. Previously I had rather thought the ceiling for Craft was 2009-vintage Chris Kramer, but that opinion is now undergoing renovation. Last night Craft was much more assertive on offense than he’s ever been in a game approaching this magnitude. If he can command some attention from opposing defenses already tasked with the unenviable challenge of guarding Sullinger, Buford, and Thomas, that is huge. Apparently Bruce Pearl was correct to covet this kid.

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BONUS olive branch to a Scotsman even taller than I am!
Former Illinois big man Robert Archibald yelled at me on Twitter this morning, which wounds my Illini soul in a way that perhaps only a fellow downstater like Will Leitch can comprehend.

Archibald’s 2001 Illinois team (Frank Williams, Marcus Griffin, Brian Cook, Sergio McClain, Cory Bradford, Damir Krupalija, Lucas Johnson, Sean Harrington, et al.) was a joy to watch. The sheer presence of that bunch of nascent NFL tight ends bled hope from opponents simply by stepping on the floor. I’m still bitter (seriously, I’m getting mad just typing this) that the selection committee in its infinite wisdom could look at an Arizona team with Gilbert Arenas, Richard Jefferson, Michael Wright, Loren Woods, Jason Gardner, and Luke Walton, and think “No. 2 seed.” In any normal year with a committee that could be trusted to handle complex tasks like opening doors and navigating stairs, that Illinois team would have hung a Final Four banner.

Robert’s mad at me because last night in the early stages of the Illini’s 71-62 win over Maryland in College Park I tweeted: “I am not in awe of Sam Maniscalco‘s decision making at the moment.” When I expressed my lack of awe the diminutive Maniscalco had just attempted a 1-on-3 fast break against the entire Terrapin front line with entirely predictable results. Naturally from that moment on the Bradley transfer proceeded to drain threes (24 points on 5-of-8 shooting beyond the arc) like a high school equipment manager in a viral YouTube video. Who knew.

Doubtless I should have followed up and noted that display, but Mark Turgeon‘s team isn’t exactly UCLA ’73, and anyway by then I was on to singing the praises of sassy new-look Virginia. So let me take this opportunity to say Sam Maniscalco, I doff my cap. You had the good judgment to get the ball to the guy with the hot hand: you.

And Robert Archibald, I salute you! Drop by the next time you’re in the NYC area. The first plate of haggis is on me.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here.

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