The key to Ohio State’s season? Finding that third scorer

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UNCASVILLE, Conn. – When Deshaun Thomas gets into rhythm, there aren’t many players in the country that can score like him. After averaging 15.9 points as a sophomore, Thomas entered Sunday afternoon’s matchup with Washington in the final of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off averaging 22.0 points early on this season. The 6-foot-7 lefty did nothing to dissuade that opinion on him, either, as he hit nine of his first ten shots from the floor, scoring 21 of his 31 points in the first half, adding eight boards and four assists.

Aaron Craft showed off a bit of a refined scoring touch as well. He finished with 18 points, giving Washington fits with his ability to run off of a pick-and-roll while playing his usual brand of lockdown defense and running Ohio State’s offense like the veteran all-american he is; Craft’s stat-line on Sunday was rounded out with four assists, two steals and just a single turnover.

Do the math, and those two combined for 49 points on 17-32 shooting from the floor and 12-13 from the line in No. 4 Ohio State’s 77-66 win over Washington.

The rest of the Buckeyes?

28 points. 10-25 from the floor. 8-13 from the line. That includes 12 points on 4-5 shooting from senior center Evan Ravenel, a performance OSU can’t exactly become reliant; ‘Rav’ averaged a career-high 3.4 points last season and entered Sunday’s game with a grand-total of two points this season.

But Ohio State is going to have to count on those ‘unexpected’ performances this year; regardless of where it comes from, the Buckeyes need a third source of points.

The first two games of the season, it was Lenzelle Smith. Much was expected of the junior guard heading into this season after he put together a couple of explosive scoring performances during the regular season and a very solid NCAA tournament. Smith was pegged as one of the players to see an increase in shot attempts with Jared Sullinger’s departure, and the 16.5 points he was averaging entering Sunday are evidence that line of thinking proved to be prophetic.

But Smith struggled with his shot on Sunday, finishing 0-5 from the field without scoring a single point.

“I thought Lenzelle played a heckuva basketball game,” Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said after the game, and that’s probably a fair, albeit slightly exaggerated, statement. He had three assists and a couple of steals, he didn’t turn the ball over, he helped keep Washington’s talented perimeter attack in check until the second half. But he didn’t score, and at the end of the day, the winner of a basketball is determined by who scores more points. “He’s been 18 or 15 for us, and he knows he has to do that.”

Matta knows, however, that there are going to be nights where Smith’s shot isn’t falling. And he also knows that Shannon Scott and LaQuinton Ross aren’t exactly ready to be major contributors for this team; and that Sam Thompson, for all that otherworldly athleticism, isn’t much more than an athlete at this point in his career; and that his big men are more adept at taking up space than they are at being even half of the low post threat that Jared Sullinger was.

Perhaps most importantly, however, Matta knows that his team doesn’t need those five to be much more than role players that can consistently do their jobs. But on nights like Sunday, when Smith’s shot isn’t dropping, someone needs to step up.

“[Ravenel] had to do what he did,” Matta said, while also driving home the point that the rest of his bench still performed. “I thought [Ross and Williams] were very effective. Sam Thompson, once he started playing harder and challenging shots, Amir and Q, it’s still relatively new to them. This was a very good test for them.”

“Very excited about the way we played. I told our guys we learned a lot about ourselves in this game.”

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Jim Larranaga believes he’s ‘Coach-3’ in FBI investigation

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Despite losing key contributors Davon Reed and Kamari Murphy from last season’s NCAA tournament team, the Miami Hurricanes are expected to be a player both within the ACC and nationally this season. But instead of having the focus solely on the likes of JaQuan Newton, Bruce Brown and Lonnie Walker, Jim Larrañaga’s program is also having to deal with the impact of the ongoing FBI investigation into corruption and fraud in college basketball.

While no one connected to the Miami men’s basketball program was arrested last month, the program is referenced in the FBI report. On Monday, Larrañaga stated during a press conference that he believes that he is “Coach-3” in the FBI report. Larrañaga also maintained his innocence, saying that he had done nothing wrong while also being thankful that none of his assistant coaches were involved.

“It’s been a strain, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually,” Larrañaga said according to the Palm Beach Post. “It’s something that’s there. I have to deal with it. I have the support of my wife and a wonderful family. I have the support of the university, my staff and players.”

According to the FBI report, “Coach-3” requested that payments totaling $150,000 be funneled to “Player-12” in order to ensure his commitment to their university. It has been reported that “Player-12” was 2018 five-star prospect Nassir Little, who has also stated that he had done nothing wrong. Two of the schools recruiting Little at the time, Arizona and Miami, have been entangled in the FBI investigation to varying degrees.

While Miami has not had anyone connected to its program arrested, Arizona assistant coach Emmanuel “Book” Richardson was one of the four Division I coaches were were indicted. As a result Little removed both Arizona and Miami from consideration before ultimately committing to North Carolina earlier this month.

There’s no telling what the FBI investigation will ultimately uncover, which for the schools involved could take a heavy toll not only for the 2017-18 season but for future years as well. The FBI case has been comparatively quiet since the first set of indictments, with future moves likely to be influenced by what authorities learn from the ten individuals named in the first announcement.

Miles Bridges discusses being offered money during recruiting process

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With the FBI launching an investigation into corruption and fraud in college basketball last month, the entire sport has found itself under the microscope. Ten people, including four Division I assistant coaches, were arrested and there’s no telling just how long the FBI’s investigation will last or what information it will produce.

Michigan State forward Miles Bridges is considered by many to be the leading candidate for national Player of the Yeah honors, and he had the opportunity to turn pro after a good freshman season. But Bridges made the decision to return to East Lansing, and with that comes questions as to why he would do that as opposed to cashing in on his NBA potential as soon as possible.

In an interview with Brendan Quinn of The Athletic (subscription required) Bridges discussed a host of issues, including being offered money by people while going through the recruiting process.

“I mean, if you get caught, that might be the end of your career. I wanted to play in college really bad,” Bridges told Quinn. “I don’t know — materialistic things, they don’t really get to me. So when people were offering me money, I would say no right away, because I wanted to be able to live out my college experience. But really, I don’t know, it is hard, especially because I was so young at the time — 17.”

Given the ongoing investigation, high-profile players and teams will be on the receiving end of increased scrutiny even if they aren’t part of the FBI probe. It’s an unfair situation for a player like Bridges to deal with, as even in the actual cases of alleged wrongdoing the players themselves are essentially commodities whose services are being auctioned as opposed to the main characters looking to cash in.

Unfortunately, due to recent events a decision like the one made by Bridges will result in some questioning whether or not the player received something from the school or another entity/individual. And that’s a tough — and unfair — thing for a young player to have to deal with.

Broken hand sidelines North Carolina PG Joel Berry II

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North Carolina’s defense of its national title will likely begin without its most important player, as it was announced on Monday that senior point guard Joel Berry II will miss approximately four weeks due to a broken bone in his right hand.

Berry started at the point each of the last two seasons, earning Most Outstanding Player honors in April as the Tar Heels defeated Gonzaga to win the national title. As a junior, Berry averaged 14.7 points, 3.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game and started 37 of the 38 games in which he played. Berry shot 42.6 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from three, with the latter percentage being the best on team amongst players who attempted at least two three-pointers per game.

Berry was named an NBC Sports Preseason Third-Team All-American in late September.

With Berry out of the lineup, North Carolina loses its floor general as well as one of their top perimeter shooters. Sophomore Seventh Woods and freshman Jalek Felton become more important options at the point as a result of Berry’s injury, and the team doesn’t lack for perimeter shooters either with Cameron Johnson, Brandon Robinson, Kenny Williams and freshman Andrew Platek all being capable of helping to pick up the slack.

North Carolina opens its regular season on November 10 against Northern Iowa.

Bill Self’s stance on Kansas/Missouri series remains unchanged

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Sunday afternoon in Kansas City, bitter rivals Kansas and Missouri got together on the basketball court for the first time since 2012, with the Showdown for Relief raising $1.75 million for recent hurricane victims. In what was an entertaining game, the Jayhawks won by the final score of 93-87 with point guard Devonté Graham leading the way for the winners with 25 points and ten rebounds.

Kansas finished the game with five players in double figures, including Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman (17 points) and center Udoka Azubuike (16). On the other side freshman Michael Porter Jr. paced four Tigers in double figures with 21 points while younger brother Jontay grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds off the bench.

However despite the excitement for the two rivals being on the same court in any capacity, Sunday’s meeting was different given the circumstances. Following the game Kansas head coach Bill Self was asked about the possibility of the two teams meeting in a regular season game, and he maintained the stance he’s held since Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC.

“I’m not going to say never, but I don’t think there’s been any change in our position as far as the university goes,” Self said following Sunday’s exhibition. “I’m the spokesman, I guess, on this but trust me, I’m not the only one that feels that way.”

While it would certainly benefit college basketball if Kansas and Missouri were to renew acquaintances down the line, it is understandable that Self — and maybe some others on the Kansas side of things — would have reservations. The programs, even with the arrival of Cuonzo Martin in Columbia and the freshman class led by the aforementioned Michael Porter Jr., are in different places right now.

The Jayhawks have their sights set on a 14th consecutive Big 12 title and a run at their first national title since 2008, Missouri is looking to fast-track a rebuilding process after struggling mightily under former head coach Kim Anderson. Yet with that being said, the state of the two athletic departments during realignment likely has more to do with the teams not playing each other.

Missouri was a school with options earlier this decade before joining the SEC, but that was not the case for Kansas. Had the Big 12 broken up as some believed would be the case, where would the Jayhawks have landed? Fortunately for the school the Big 12 survived the realignment craze, losing four schools (Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC, Colorado to the Pac-12 and Nebraska to the Big Ten) and adding TCU and West Virginia to get their membership number to ten.

Given that, the best bet for college basketball fans who want to see this rivalry played during the regular season may be to hope for the programs wind up in the same in-season tournament. Even better, how about the same NCAA tournament region?

Top 100 Players Countdown

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Starting on Monday morning and continuing throughout the week, we will be counting down the top 100 players in college basketball on the College Basketball Talk twitter account.

Check back to this page – or to the CBT twitter account – throughout the week to get caught up on the rankings.

MOREThe Enigma of Miles Bridges | NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team
CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke
Big Ten Preview | ACC Preview | Big 12 Preview | Pac 12 Preview