No. 3 Ohio State kicked off their Big Ten season on New Year’s Eve with a 78-69 win at Purdue that actually more impressive than it sounds.
The Boilermakers are a good Big Ten team when A.J. Hammons comes to play, and on Tuesday afternoon he did. The seven-footer finished with 18 points, 16 boards, five blocks and four assists, and while it wasn’t enough to earn Matt Painter’s club the win, it did expose an issue that the Buckeyes could end up facing this season.
The Buckeyes don’t have much size up front. Amir Williams has played well this season, but it has come against mediocre competition. Against an NBA caliber big man like Hammons, Williams managed to stay on the court for all of 14 minutes because of foul trouble. Trey McDonald, his backup and the only big man coming off the bench, managed all of seven minutes against the Boilermakers. Sam Thompson and Marc Loving, the only other two players on the roster that can be considered front court players, played a combined 34 minutes off the bench. All told, Ohio State’s four “bigs” committed 13 fouls in 55 minutes.
What happens when Ohio State plays against the likes of Frank Kaminsky or Adreian Payne? What about an Elite 8 matchup with the likes of Julius Randle or Arizona’s massive front line?
The good news for Ohio State is that LaQuinton Ross is playing great basketball right now.
He went for 25 points and 12 boards Tuesday. He’s averaging 18.0 points in his last nine games. That’s huge, because Ohio State can really lock up defensively and when they get that kind of scoring from Ross, they actually have a go-to guy offensively.
But those issues against front court players will be something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
While a few teams did manage to hold special events for the official start of practice this weekend, most simply went about their business with drills and conditioning. One team that was the exception to all of this was Louisville, which held the first of its two intersquad scrimmages on Saturday. The Cardinals had a head start of sorts on the season, as they played six exhibition games in Puerto Rico this summer.
One hope heading into Saturday’s scrimmage was that guards Trey Lewis and Quentin Snider would have better chemistry than they did in Puerto Rico. But according to Jeff Greer of the Louisville Courier-Journal, that remains a work in progress for the Cleveland State transfer (Lewis) and rising sophomore (Snider).
They struggled in Puerto Rico, and they struggled again in Saturday’s Red-White scrimmage, the first public intrasquad practice since August. They played one half of the game together, paired with the presumed starting lineup with Mangok Mathiang out with an eye injury, a group that also included Damion Lee, Jaylen Johnson and Chinanu Onuaku.
That team lost the first half by 13 points to a younger group of Louisville players, and Lewis and Snider combined for eight points on 3-of-12 shooting, five turnovers, five steals, four assists and three rebounds.
“I thought (Snider) and (Lewis) did not play well together,” U of L coach Rick Pitino said. “They’ve got to get used to that. Neither guy made other guys better. That’s what they need to learn to do.”
As Greer also noted in his story the Cardinals have in recent years employed backcourt tandems in which both guards are capable of making plays for themselves and others. On the 2013 national champion team Peyton Siva and Russ Smith led the way, with Smith being joined by Terry Rozier or Chris Jones the following season and Rozier/Jones being the grouping last season before the latter was dismissed from the team.
Once Jones was dismissed Snider saw more time on the court, and his development was one of the keys for a Louisville team that fell one win short of the Final Four. Louisville needs him to take another step forward heading into the 2015-16 season, because even with Lewis’ experience at the Division I level Snider has more experience playing in Pitino’s system.
But while Saturday’s scrimmage didn’t go as well as anyone involved hoped, there’s still plenty of time for Louisville to work out the kinks before they open the season November 13 against Samford.
With practices beginning this weekend, not only are players looking to avoid the injury bug but their coaches are as well. And in the case of Memphis, the Tigers won’t have one of their assistants on the court for a little while due to a knee injury.
Assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, who returned to Josh Pastner’s staff this summer after a two-year stint at Arizona, suffered the injury during a recent workout according to L. Jason Smith of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. And Stoudamire will require surgery, which will put him on the shelf for a little bit.
“He was working out himself and I think he thought he was in his rookie year,” Pastner said. “We think he’s got a torn meniscus, which will require surgery and put him out for a couple of days.”
Stoudamire isn’t the only assistant coach working through pain either. Syracuse’s Mike Hopkins, who is also Jim Boeheim’s heir apparent as head coach, suffered a neck injury body surfing during a family vacation last month. Hopkins spent some time in a neck brace while putting players through workouts as a result of the injury.
As for the Tigers, they’ll have a mixture of experience on the perimeter and youth in the front court as they look to get back to the NCAA tournament after missing out last season. Among the newcomers are talented forwards Dedric and K.J. Lawson, with experienced guards such as Kedren Johnson, Trahson Burrell and Ricky Tarrant (grad transfer from Alabama) expected to be key contributors on the perimeter.