Chapin: Defense will determine Buckeyes’ fate

Ohio State’s men’s basketball victory Sunday over Michigan does not guarantee the Buckeyes can punch their ticket to the Final Four, just like previous close losses to Duke and Kansas did not mean OSU had no way of going deep into the tournament.

Much was made before Sunday over the fact that the Buckeyes seemingly could not beat a Top 25 opponent and just as much was made about their victory. The Buckeyes handed Michigan, the nation’s last unbeaten team, its first loss. The defeats to Duke and Kansas both were winnable.

In fact, the three games, when considered in total, simply indicate Ohio State can compete with the best teams in the country. When two outstanding teams play in a close game the result often comes down to one or two plays or a short decisive stretch of possessions late in the game.

The team that executes the best offensively and plays the best defense usually comes out on top. The Buckeyes have the defense part down. Even Deshaun Thomas, the Big Ten’s leading scorer and Ohio State’s only consistent offensive threat, has bought in to coach Thad Matta’s defensive approach.

The Buckeyes’ defense was praised by Michigan coach John Beilein after Sunday’s game, particularly the defensive pressure on the perimeter. With Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott, Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Sam Thompson, OSU has plenty of weapons capable of turning defensive intensity into transition offense.

Ohio State’s problems occur when the game slows to a crawl as Sunday’s game did when the Wolverines switched to a zone defense. Aside from Thomas the Buckeye shooters are either too inconsistent or lack confidence or both. And the inside game is still a work in progress with Amir Williams and Evan Ravenel.

On the bright side, the Big Ten schedule the rest of the season will surely include many close games against good teams. The young players on the team need to experience those kinds of games to toughen up for tournament play. Of course, as they gain experience the Buckeyes might lose a few games.

The loss at Illinois is a good example. It was a case of a good team coming off a bad loss — Illiniois — facing a good team not yet prepared for the intensity necessary to compete on the road in the Big Ten. That should not happen again

One puzzling piece to the Buckeye puzzle is LaQuinton Ross. The most ballyhooed of Matta’s recruits in recent years, Ross has not yet earned the confidence of Matta to play in close games. He sat out part of last season in order to meet academic requirements and was unable to get substantial playing time while fellow freshmen Thompson, Scott and Williams all gained some experience

If Matta can develop Ross, get him to embrace the challenge of playing defense, and improve his confidence overall, then he just might be the much-needed second scorer the Buckeyes need.

Otherwise, look forward to seeing more of what we saw Sunday, with the Buckeyes’ noses to the defensive grindstone as they battle their way through the Big Ten schedule.

Doug Chapin is a sports writer for The Vindicator. Email him at

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