The number 213 probably doesn't mean an awful lot to fans of Ohio State, but it should. The Buckeyes were 213th in the country last season in scoring offense, averaging a paltry 69.5 points per game. The team shot a dismal 32 percent from the three-point line and 69 percent on free throws, struggling on a consistent basis to put the ball through the hoop.
Through the minuscule sample size of two games this season, Ohio State is doing something it couldn't do last year: shooting the ball effectively. Yes, the competition hasn't exactly been on par with what the team can expect once the Big Ten schedule gets underway, but it is clear that this is not the same offensively inept Buckeyes of the past two years.
"This year, we know when we get the ball, we're going to attack every time," said point guard Shannon Scott following Ohio State's 74-63 win over Marquette on Tuesday night. "We're all attacking every time we touch the ball, and that makes it a lot easier for all of us."
Scott hasn't done much scoring himself, averaging just 8.5 points through the first two games, but his game has benefited enormously from the Buckeyes' newfound scoring ability. The senior has set career-highs for assists in back-to-back to games, dishing out 11 in the opener against UMass-Lowell and 14 against the Golden Eagles.
"I just have so many weapons around me, it makes the game a lot easier," Scott said.
Those weapons are hitting on all cylinders in the early going, as Ohio State leads the nation in field goal percentage at over 63 percent. The team's 83 points per game puts them 43rd in the country at present, and the 45.9 percent success rate from long distance is 27th (tied with John Beilein's Michigan Wolverines, if that tells you anything). The Buckeyes are sharing the basketball, making extra passes, and giving up good shots for great ones.
At halftime of the Marquette game, head coach Thad Matta reiterated the importance of shot selection to his team, saying he told them to "make sure we're going to get the shots that we want as opposed to the ones they want us to take."
Ohio State has just one player shooting under 50 percent from the field through two games, which is clearly not a sustainable level. It does speak, however, to the improvement on the offensive side of the ball. The Buckeyes have four players averaging double-figure scoring thus far, three of whom (Kam Williams, Sam Thompson, and Marc Loving) are hitting 60 percent or more of their shots.
"I think last year we played the same way at times, but players didn't know whether they wanted to shoot the ball or not," Scott said. "I think this year everybody knows that when they touch the ball, it's going to be their shot, and they've got to make the shot. I think everybody has a better understanding this year of what their role is."
While Ohio State's shooting is bound to come back to earth at some point, a fairly easy non-conference schedule should work to mask any major slumps through the next month. Only matchups with Louisville and North Carolina feature teams ranked higher than 149th according to Ken Pomeroy's rankings. After last year's Buckeyes reached Big Ten play undefeated before largely imploding, there is some concern that we won't know what kind of team this really is due to the perceived lack of quality in the non-conference.
Of note through two games, the Buckeyes have gone to the free throw line only 19 times, as compared to 37 attempts from beyond the arc. What's more troubling is that the team has made only 11 from the charity stripe, or 57.9 percent. The team also had 18 turnovers against Marquette, and is averaging 14 per game, a big jump over last season's 11.3.
"We're a different basketball team, we're playing a different way," Matta said on Tuesday. "But some of those, the travels, the errant passes, connecting the dots, those are the ones we've got to get corrected."
The Buckeyes figure to emerge from November unscathed, as upcoming tilts against Sacred Heart, Campbell, and James Madison close out the month. The matchup with Louisville on December 2nd will be the best barometer so far as to whether the team's offensive improvements are for real.
(Ohio State will be in action Sunday against Sacred Heart. The game tips off at 7 p.m. ET, and airs on BTN)