Yay! Turd in the punchbowl time!!
Yes, every other MWBer considers me the "pessimist" and they're probably on to something. Maybe. I contend that my "realism" often looks harsh when viewed in the soft-focus, vaseline-on-the-lens slobbering done by most residents of LEBO. Either way, you're probably not surprised at all, especially after a ridiculously poor effort in the way-closer-than-the-final-score win over Purdue on Saturday, to find out that I'm worried about the basketBucks and their ability to make a run late in the season, and especially in the tourney.
I feel conflicted about this, because we went several years pre-Thad without much talent and with even less winning. People like Charles Bass and (ugh) Brandon Fuss-Cheatham -- who I maintain never made a single jumpshot in his career at OSU -- were logging significant minutes in big games; shit, we even had a season where Tony Flipping Stockman was the #1 scoring option. Because of those lean years, I feel somewhat like I'm looking a gifthorse in the mouth when I criticize this wildly talented group of players. But criticize I will.
This team has "second-round loss to a 7- or 10-seed" written all over them right now. Why?
The main problem right now is the lulls. This team is displaying an infuriating tendency to simply stop trying for looong stretches of games. I don't know if it's because they think they're way more talented than anyone else, or if they get tired, or if they have really short attention spans, but if this continues, it's the Bucks' ticket out of The Dance. Even though I hate the man, I have to point out that Bill Simmons, who actually watches college basketball now (purely for NBA-related reasons, of course, because college sports don't exist to him, except as punching bag/occasional gambling fodder), shared some thoughts about the Bucks which were, in my opinion, pretty spot-on. I especially agree with him that OSU looks bored at times, and that this will likely be our undoing, if and when it comes, in March. The team keeps letting inferior teams hang around, because they're pretty sure their talent will eventually win out, or they think they can turn it on when they have to or whatever. So far they've been winning those games, and in my and Dids's opinion, that's about the worst thing possible, because they have no reason to think that they won't be able to win that way in March. All it'll take for this team to get knocked off in the second round is a relatively smart team that slows the game down and hits a decent percentage on threes. And it probably wouldn't hurt for them to get down by a little bit early, so the Bucks file the game away in the "W" column and start sleepwalking.
Of course, Simmons also talked about Oden, and he echoed just about everything I've said about him, on here or elsewhere (the only thing I'd disagree with him on: I do NOT think Greg has "excellent" footwork, at least not on offense). His offensive footwork is muddled, to the point where every time he grabs an offensive rebound, he looks like he really REALLY wants to travel with it. And he brings the ball down almost into a triple-threat position way too often, especially on offensive boards, negating his height advantage and allowing little guys to get to the ball. He's shown a pretty nice dropstep at times, but the problem is he lets defenders push him out to about 12-15 away from the basket (seriously, have you ever seen someone shoot so many jumphooks from 12 feet out?), where that move is useless. In short, he's too damn passive on offense, although there have been glimmers of an emerging nastiness about once a week for what seems like about a month now. I wish it would all come together.
On defense, Greg is much better. He's very ath-eh-letic, so he moves around well, and he's one of the select few shotblockers who at least moderately control their blocked shots, giving their teammates a chance to get the ball -- too many shotblockers are eager to slam the ball into the crowd, and that's great because the shot definitely won't go in, but you've also given the ball back to the other team to continue their possession. If you can swat it to a teammate, or at least keep the ball in play and create a loose ball situation, then you have a much better chance of effectively ending the opponents possession, and you may get a fast break yourself. Oden does much more of the latter than the former. I only have two quibbles with Greg defensively. One is that (and this sounds crazy) he boxes out too much. What I mean is, your the tallest damn person on the floor, so there's no reason to box your man out all the way to the three-point line -- yeah, your man isn't gonna get the rebound, but now you aren't either! Just stay in the paint, get him on your butt so that he can't get around you, and go up there and rebound the damn ball at the highest point that you can. The second is that he's still woefully bad at defending pick-and-rolls. He looks like he wants to switch every time, when a simple hedge will do the trick. And even when he hedges, he often loses his man and doesn't get back to him in time. Granted, he's gotten light-years better at this since teams were exploiting it mercilessly earlier in the season, but it's still a problem occasionally.
As for the rest of the team's defense, I'll just say that I don't see how we can possibly have the best "opponents points per possession" in the conference. We're an exact replica of North Carolina in 2005: apparently, based on the numbers, our D is pretty damn good, but actually watching the games, I just don't see it. I see us giving up wide-open looks on about half of our opponents' possessions, mostly thanks to the sounds-good-in-theory "hey, we'll overplay and trap all over the place and force turnovers, and even when our guys get beat, the other teams will basically run right into Greg" philosophy. The problem is that our "pressure" is mostly lackluster, and results in just as many wide-open jumpers as it does Oden blocks. I get the nasty feeling that our defensive numbers look the way they do because the Big Ten is pretty uniformly terrible. It goes back to the team looking lazy a lot of the time. It's damn frustrating.
Also, there's the problem of shots. There's no way around it: there aren't enough balls to go around on this team. Jamar Butler finally looks like he understands his role, but he should be getting more looks. Also, now it seems like he's forgotten how to run the offense, because when he takes over while Conley gets a break, the offense goes in the tank. He still seems to be in limbo, sorta. Ron Lewis pretty obviously hates life. He's saying all the right things about being a team player and not being interested in stats and all that, but his play and especially his body language during games tell an entirely different story. He's about 18 different kinds of frustrated, and he's forcing some pretty bad shots during games. David Lighty's lost all confidence in his shot; he needs to just suck it up, stop shooting, be the defensive stopper this year, and focus on remembering how to shoot in the offseason. I don't even know where Daequan is gonna find shots.
I know I sound like the sky is falling, but it's not. This is still one of the five or six best teams in the country, and they'll go into every single game they play with a better than good chance at winning (except if they play Florida again ... but that's a story for another time, and maybe I'll let Dids give you our feelings on them Haven't heard from him in a while). But they could be so much more than they are right now. At the moment, they're getting by strictly on being way more talented than every team they're playing, and the rub is that, well, most of the top 30 or so teams in the country are way better than 8 of the 11 Big Ten teams. I'm terrified of another rude awakening in March. I don't want to listen to the prognosticators after another second-round exit. I just want the guys to get their shit together and play hard and smart. As I said in November, I would probably hate this team if they represented some other university, because they're wildly talented but don't seem to have any desire to put it all together into a cohesive, intelligent package. Hopefully they can get there. Hopefully.