Surprise, surprise - the Buckeyes are for real

Ohio State's Jared Sullinger

US Presswire

Last night, Ohio State handled a very good Florida team–a squad that at least one astute observer has picked to win the National Championship–with relative ease. After a slow start, the Buckeyes led by as many as 16 points before finally winning by seven. Thad Matta’s team displayed the same strengths as a season ago–namely a high effective field goal percentage and a low turnover rate–but they also showed a new wrinkle: getting to the foul line. It’s extremely early, but Ohio State now has a free throw rate of 72 FTA per 100 FGA. For some perspective, the Buckeyes only eclipsed that number twice all of last season–and both times were against the hacktastic Hoosiers. Perhaps this increase in trips to the foul line shouldn’t be surprising given the players that are being replaced:

Free Throw Rate
Lighty 43.4
Diebler 27.6
Lauderdale 25.7

While these guys were all good players in their own right, none were great at getting to the foul line (though Lighty was solid). The primary replacements, Deshaun Thomas and Lenzelle Smith, have both done a great job of earning free throws so far. This will bear watching, as it could help the Buckeyes to again be the best offense in the land even as their outside shooting gets worse.

Elsewhere, Michigan State again defended rather well against a top 5 team, this time in a loss to Duke, but the offensive output continues to be troubling. The main culprit changed from shooting to turnovers, as the Spartans coughed it up on 28 percent of their possessions. Still, holding both Duke and North Carolina below a point per trip is an encouraging sign, and Tom Izzo’s team now has a chance to catch their breath and sort out their offense against creampuffs like Texas Southern and Arkansas Little Rock.

Purdue came a missed three-pointer away from losing at home to High Point, a team that isn’t even expected to make noise in the Big South. Were it not for a Herculean shooting effort from Ryne Smith (who hit eight of 15 from three), Purdue would have suffered their worst loss of the Matt Painter era. The offense was one-dimensional and jumpshot-happy, but the defense wasn’t so hot either, allowing a Big South team to score a point per possession. I have no doubt that Painter will get the defense to play better, but serious concerns remain for this offense. Other than Smith, Robbie Hummel, and Anthony Johnson, nobody wanted to shoot the rock against a team much smaller than any they’ll face in the Big Ten. Relying on jump shots worked last season, with E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson making an incredible percentage of them, but that’s generally not a formula for a consistent offense (ask Illinois fans).

Nebraska got a solid road win in double overtime at USC, leaving an undefeated nonconference record as a real possibility. To script, the Cornhuskers defended the lane like crazy–USC shot just 35 percent on twos–but struggled to score at the other end. LSU transfer Bo Spencer had a very nice game with 22 points on 16 shots.

Everybody else took care of business in expected fashion. Of note:

  • Fran McCaffery isn’t kidding about this uptempo stuff. Iowa is averaging 96 points and 80 possessions per game.
  • Penn State hasn’t faced anybody decent, but it’s encouraging to see them win comfortably. The defense has been forcing turnovers by the bundle.
  • Illinois has been ragged on the offensive end–probably to be expected with so many new faces–but the defense has been excellent. Meyers Leonard and Tyler Griffey just might give the Illini a solid front line.
  • Minnesota has played better teams than most (Michigan State notwithstanding), so two comfortable wins is a solid start. The backcourt play of the Hollins brothers has been encouraging.
  • Michigan’s offense without Darius Morris has been lackluster thus far, but a few more made threes would help. The Wolverines won’t shoot 24 percent from deep for the season.

Tonight is a bit of a light slate, but both Indiana (at Evansville) and Penn State (vs Long Island) could have tough games on their hands. Thursday, we get a very interesting Purdue/Iona matchup and Northwestern starts the Charleston Classic against LSU. Holiday tournament play is just about to get rolling, and we’ll start to see what these teams are really made of.

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