There haven’t been many teams in the country that are quite are difficult to get a grasp on as No. 14 Ohio State.
Early on, it seemed pretty simple, frankly.
With Aaron Craft being forced into being the second-option for Thad Matta’s club on the offensive end of the floor, Ohio State looked like they were a team that was, more-or-less, a one-man show. On the nights that Deshaun Thomas was hot, Ohio State probably had enough firepower to compete with anyone in the country and beat their fair share of good teams. On the nights he was off, OSU fans had to hope and pray that someone — anyone — else stumbled their way into a rhythm, be it Lenzelle Smith, LaQuinton Ross or Craft himself.
As the Big Ten season progressed, that theory appeared to be confirmed. The Buckeyes beat a couple good teams at home, had some ugly performances on the road, and looked every bit the part of a team destined to be a five or a six-seed come Selection Sunday. A 22 point loss to Wisconsin on February 17th, which was Ohio State’s third loss in four games, appeared to be the clincher.
But Thad Matta has turned this team around.
It started with a dominating, 26 point win home over Minnesota. It continued with an impressive home victory against then-No. 4 Michigan State. And after an ugly road performance at Northwestern, it was capped last night, as the Buckeyes went into Assembly Hall and dominated No. 2 Indiana on the defensive end, filling the biggest hole on their NCAA tournament profile in the most impressive fashion possible.
All it took was two weeks, and the Buckeyes look like a team that might be able to string together four wins in the NCAA tournament.
The biggest reason?
Deshaun Thomas, but not the way that you might think.
The Buckeyes are currently on a four-game winning streak and playing their best basketball of the season, yet they are doing it while Thomas has run into a bit of a slump on the offensive end of the floor. Over those four games, Thomas is shooting 35.4% from the floor and 21.7% from three while watching his scoring dip to 17.5 points in that stretch, down from 20.1 points in the first 25 games.
It’s not like Thomas is being used any less. He averages 16 FG’s on the season, and took exactly that number in three of the four games. He took 17 shots on Tuesday night. His usage rate has actually gone up, from 27.2% on the season to around 29% in those four games.
Deshaun Thomas has still been Deshaun Thomas, he’s just been bad Deshaun Thomas.
And Ohio State is still winning.
Well, it’s in large part due to their vaunted defense, which is playing as well as it has all season long. They’ve stymied three of the Big Ten’s four best offenses — and three of the nation’s top 25 offenses, according to Kenpom.com — during that stretch. They’ve also been getting some terrific play out of Aaron Craft, who looked every bit an all-american against the Spartans and the Hoosiers.
Thomas is too talented to be in a slump forever. Craft is too much of a [insert typical cliche used for media darlings here] not to show up in March. And Ohio State’s defense, which ranks 12th nationally, is always going to be tough to score on.
Maybe we need to start paying some more attention to the Buckeyes.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.