The Ohio State men’s basketball team has now ripped off 4 straight wins including a big neutral court victory over #10 Kentucky and solid W’s against Mercer (9-3) and Northern Illinois (9-2). During this run, their average margin of victory is a very comfortable 14 points and they’ve looked like a more mature team over this stretch. As they sit now, the Buckeyes are a tournament-worthy team, but some early season hiccups means they need a strong showing in conference play if they want to make their 8th consecutive NCAA tournament.
What have they done different over the 4 game winning streak and can they continue to build on this momentum? The Big Ten is a gauntlet this year, but the evidence suggests that the Buckeyes can keep it up.
For starters, the Buckeyes were one of the unluckiest teams at the beginning of the season. This isn’t just a claim from a casual observer; the stats back it up. Kenpom’s Luck rating is a statistic that measures the deviation between a team’s actual win-loss record and what one would expect based on their actual efficiency. Basically, the Buckeyes won in blowouts and lost in close games early in the season which suggests their losses were more influenced by the game-to-game uncontrollable variables than their wins.
The (good?) news is that the Buckeyes are still one of the most unlucky teams this season. You would expect luck to even out over the course of the season and for the Buckeyes to win more of their close games.
The next positive indicator is based more on observation. When they started the year, Ohio State was a very young team that was often out of position – especially on defense. Now their defense is their strength and on that end they are moving in sync with one another, communicating well, and their length is giving opposing teams problems.
The individual player growth has been dramatic, as you would expect for a team giving significant minutes to 6 freshman (5 now that Grandstaff has transferred). A.J. Harris is providing quality minutes at backup PG, Kam Williams has been on fire lately, Mitchell is working into the rotation, and Giddens is already a legit rim protector.
Most improved has to go to Trevor Thompson, though. After the UConn loss, a game in which the only stats Thompson recorded was a turnover and 3 fouls in 13 minutes, he’s been a beast. He’s averaging 9.25 pts/gm while shooting 50% to go along with 2.75 blocks and 7.75 rebounds per contest. He’s been a consistent presence defending shots at the rim and is finishing his opportunities on offense.
I would expect this team to continue to grow, even if they experience some rough patches against Big Ten teams.
Finally, Keita Bates-Diop has taken some of the scoring burden from Loving. KBD is taking 11.25 FG attempts over the past 4 games – almost 2 more than his average of 9.46. The timing has been perfect as Marc has been in small shooting slump over the last 5 games, only making 30.8% of his FGs.
Hopefully, KBD continues to fire away until Marc gets his stroke going. If both guys start shooting well, we could see a significant improvement in the offense’s efficiency.
Right now this team is trending positively as they gear up for a tough Big Ten schedule. Fortunately, they start slow with Minnesota and Illinois before things really get going. If they can continue building on this streak, this might be a tournament-bound team after all.