Ohio State had a big test this past weekend against West Virginia, and, well, they just couldn't make a shot, losing 76-48 in a 60 possession game. I thought the Buckeyes might struggle against the pressure defense of the Mountaineers, but they actually acquitted themselves well on that front. But OSU just couldn't find the basket, shooting 40% from 2 and 11% from 3. Give credit to WVU's defense, but it's clear that Ohio State was just out of sorts in this one. Only two players were effective on offense for the Buckeyes - Jeremie Simmons and Dallas Lauderdale - the latter being limited due to foul trouble.
On the other side of the ball, Ohio State had its worst defensive performance of the season, giving up 1.26 points per possession to the Mountaineers. What's most concerning about this game is how West Virginia scored, owning the paint (they shot 60% from 2 point range). Heading into Big Ten play, it's hard to figure out this Ohio State team. Are they the team that locked down Notre Dame in Indianapolis, or are they the team that got smoked on their home floor on Saturday? Box score.
The Buckeyes got some more bad news on Saturday, as freshman Anthony "Noopy" Crater is now asking for a transfer. This one is a bit of a head scratcher. Apparently Crater was unhappy with his playing time and the style of play the Buckeyes were employing (it was too slow). Now, maybe Crater's gripe about PT is legitimate (although the early returns on Crater's play would indicate otherwise), but his complaint about the Buckeyes' tempo doesn't make sense. OSU has averaged around 65 possessions every year under Matta's regime, and that's right where they are now. Now, maybe Thad made some promises about increased tempo, but frankly, we should all know better.
This is a big deal on a couple of fronts. For one, with David Lighty already out with an injury, this shortens Thad Matta's bench even more. Secondly, the Buckeyes are a team without a point guard, and Crater's departure probably ensures that will be the case all season. It's true, however, that does not doom this team to mediocrity. Indeed, Purdue lacked a point guard last year, and that turned out okay. But the Boilers also had two gifted wing players, E'Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummel, who actually had assist and turnover rates of very good floor generals. In fact, in Big Ten play, these guys were as solid as any other point guard in the Big Ten. As it stands now, OSU will hope that Evan Turner and Simmons can fill a similar role this season.
Perhaps we should all stop wondering if Indiana has hit bottom, because every time we do, they seem to find new depths. The loss last night to Lipscomb (74-69, 66 possessions) has to be the toughest on the season so far. The Hoosiers were up by 21 late in the first half, only to allow the Bisons to charge back and turn it into a dogfight in the second half. Surprisingly, the problem in this one was not turnovers - the Hoosiers only had 13 of those (19.8 TO Rate - the first game with a sub-20.0 TO Rate against a Division 1 opponent this season). Offensively, the Hoosiers had one of their better days. No, the problem was Lipscomb's interior dominance. The Bison shot 58% from inside the arc, as IU's very small front line was no match for, well...the very small Bison. At 6-9, Adnan Hodzic represents the tallest player that saw action yesterday, and according to IU's roster, that's exactly the height of IU's Tom Pritchard. Throw in the fact that the Bison controlled the glass on both ends of the floor (IU had one more missed shot, but Lipscomb had 6 more defensive boards and 4 more offensive boards), and this game was a bona fide upset. Yep, IU got beat by an inferior team, and that's what is hardest to swallow about this loss. You can live with this team getting blown out by the likes of Notre Dame, and heck, even St. Joe's. But when there's a real opportunity to put one in the win column, and the team doesn't give their best effort - well, that's what kept Tom Crean up all last night. Not the way to hit Big Ten season. Devan Dumes led the Hoosiers with 18 points on 12 shots. Box score.
Michigan State took care of business against Oakland in Detroit on Saturday, winning 82-66 in a 65 possession game. So far this year, Michigan State has looked a lot more, styllistically, like Penn State - good offense and mediocre defense. The defense ranks 76th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, which is a bad sign for the Spartans. We've seen this good offense/bad defense trick before with MSU, most recently in 2005-06 and 2003-04, and they won only 21 and 18 games, respectively, in those seasons. To be fair, a big part of the problem has been free throw "defense," and that was again the case Saturday, as Oakland shot 15-17 from the line. But they were no match for the Spartans, who were led by the two-man show of Kalin Lucas and Goran Suton. Lucas had 15 points on 8 shots and 6 assists against 1 turnover. Suton led all scorers with 16 points on 9 shots to go with 9 rebounds. Box score.
More than once during the Iowa/Western Illinois game on Saturday, the commentators noted how Iowa's defense has been a strength all season. This really isn't true, Iowa's defense ranks a mere 68th in adjusted defensive efficiency. In fact, the team is much better offensively, it's just that they walk it up the court. Only one team in all of Division 1 players slower than the Hawkeyes, who average 58 possessions a game. This one was even slower than that at 55 possessions, but the defense actually had a better day than the offense, as Iowa prevailed 58-43. Jermain Davis led the Hawkeyes with 13 points and 8 rebounds. Box score.
Illinois phoned it in against Eastern Michigan, winning 62-53 in a 66 possession game. The Illini turned it over on 26% of their possessions, had abysmal offensive rebounding, and didn't make up for that with torrid shooting. But they did make their free throws (13-15) and pulled out a victory in their final non-conference game. In all likelihood, this was a team that was looking ahead to their next game (at Purdue, Tuesday), and just came out flat. Mike Tisdale led the Illini with 25 points on 18 shots, but the fact that he played a career-high 37 minutes was not a positive considering EMU made 56% of its two pointers (the Eagles had been making just 44% of their two point attempts entering the game). The interior defense will need to be better in conference play, as most Big Ten opponents won't cough up the ball on over 30% of their possessions. Box score.
Purdue was also flat last night, allowing Valporaiso to hang around before pulling away in the second half to win 59-45 in a 62 possession game. Purdue started out this season playing fast, like many of their Big Ten brethren, but have now fallen below the 70 possession/game line with some recent slow games. Sure, a couple of those were against slow teams (though not that slow. Valpo actually averages about 65 possessions a game, but this was even slower than that), but Davidson is a fast team, and that game was not. No, I think this is a case of a team slowing things down after some early season running. C'est la vie. Purdue's defense was present against Valpo, harassing the Crusaders into 17 turnovers, but the offense put forth a lackluster effort inside the arc. The Boilers actually shot 40% on a whopping 30 three point attempts (compared to 25 2 point attempts), but were only 32% from inside the arc. It didn't help that they were only 7-15 from the free throw line, either. E'Twaun Moore led the way with 14 points on 11 shots. Box score.
Minnesota finished its non-conference season with an undefeated record, smashing High Point 82-56 yesterday. High Point is one of the worst teams in all of Division 1, and Minnesota made them look the part, posting an eFG north of 60.0. Ralph Sampson III led the Gophers with 17 points on 10 shots to go with 6 boards and 3 assists. Box score.
Tonight, Michigan finishes off non-conference play against North Carolina Central University.