It's hard to see the non-conference season has been anything but successful in Columbus. Not only are the Buckeyes currently 13-0, but they also are ranked in the Top 5 of both national polls and projected to be seeded among the nation's elite in March. Certainly, there are challenges still on the horizon and things are going to get a lot tougher before they get easier, but at the end of the day, 13-0 is still 13-0. A lot has happened in these few short months, but let's look at some of the top takeaways from Ohio State's non-conference slate:
The Buckeyes' Defense is Elite
There are a lot of good defensive teams across the nation, but Ohio State truly brings something special to the table on the defensive end. At this point in the year, it is not even remotely out of line to argue that OSU may have the best defense in the country. In fact, KenPom thinks so. Currently, the Buckeyes are #1 in the nation in adjusted defense on KenPom and lead by a fairly impressive margin. Ohio State has a score of 85.7. That may not mean much on its face, but only one other team in the nation even has a score in the 80s (Virginia with a score of 89.9). Just think about that. The scores on KenPom currently range from 85.7-119.3. This means that on a scale that currently ranges 33.6 points, OSU leads the entire nation by 4.2 points, which is 12.5% of the entire range. If that's not elite, I'm not sure what would fill the bill.
Now, as we all know, advanced stats do not tell all. KenPom loved Wisconsin and Florida last year and neither team made the Final Four. However, in the case of Ohio State's defense, almost all the data loves the Buckeyes. Basketball Reference does not have OSU as the #1 defense, but they do have them rated #2 in the country. Ohio State is also 2nd in the nation in points allowed, 1st in 3 pt percentage allowed, and 5th in field goal percentage allowed. Aaron Craft has always been well known for his play on the defensive side, but one player does not get you these type of rankings. The Buckeyes are using their length and athleticism to stop the ball and keep opponents to low percentage shots. Part of this is a pretty weak schedule, but OSU has played some quality teams like Marquette and Notre Dame and still maintained these marks. This defense is good. Real good.
Amir Williams Is For Real
One of the biggest questions of the offseason for the Buckeyes was how the frontcourt would perform. Sure, there were some proven commodities, but with the loss of Evan Ravenel and Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State would have to find someone to fill the gap. Now, Thomas was not a guy who would consistently play down low and Ravenel only had limited contributions, but a lot of minutes were going to open up in the frontcourt. The player many pointed to in hopes to fill the void was Amir Williams. For the most part, he has met the challenge.
Not only is Williams leading Ohio State in rebounding (7.2 rpg) and blocks (2.1), but he is playing more minutes and remaining pretty efficient. He is 2nd on the team in efficiency (Kam Williams excluded), 2nd in offensive rating, 1st in total rebounding percentage, and tied for 3rd on the team in total win shares. He did not put up any crazy stats against Marquette, but he did put up 13 points and 6 rebounds against Notre Dame. Also important, Williams is only averaging 2.5 fouls per game despite his 24.5 minutes. That is going to get harder against Big Ten opponents, but he has only been in significant foul trouble in 3 of 13 games this year. For the team's leading big man, that is a very good sign. Williams may not be like Jared Sullinger or other great centers, but he has the skills to get the job done and play efficiently enough to keep OSU among the nation's elite.
The Offensive Weapons Are Inconsistent
As much as Williams may have exceeded preseason expectations, a few players have seemed to match what most expected coming into the year. Without Deshaun Thomas, there were major questons about how the Buckeyes were going to produce offensively. The answer to this question has been murky. OSU is getting offensive production, but not as much and not as consistently as some may have hoped. Now, OSU is still #63 on KenPom in offensive rating, so it is not as if the offense is a trainwreck, but many were hoping for a big improvement from Lenzelle Smith, Jr. and LaQuinton Ross and early returns have been a little mixed.
This should provide a little perspective. Think about this, OSU has played in 13 games this year. Ross has scored 15+ in 7 games this year, but scored 10 or less in 5 games this year. Smith has also had some pretty big nights such as 20 against Wyoming and 19 against Bryant, but fell flat against Marquette and Notre Dame with 7 and 9 points. Factors on consistency are all about perspective, but given OSU's competition so far this season, this is not the best sign. These guys can absolutely light up the scoreboard, but they also can have nights like they had against American where they combined for 8 points in 42 minutes of play. The good news for the Buckeyes is that even if one or both of these guys are struggling, they have answers elsewhere and can get enough on the defensive end to carry them throughout.
This is a really good team. We are probably going to have to see a bit more in conference season before we can truly say OSU belongs among the elite (considering they really only played 2 quality teams), but they undoubtedly have some nice aspects to their squad including a stellar defense and an experienced big man. There are some offensive concerns about consistency, but with that kind of defense and the potential in some of their wing players, the Buckeyes are in a good position coming out of the non-conference season.