The 2015 BTPowerhouse Recapitulation Series will look back at the season of each Big Ten team through a 10 point analysis designed to reveal what went right, what went wrong, and whether the team met expectations in 2014-15. The series will be released during early summer in reverse order of conference standings, meaning the last place team will be reviewed first and the Big Ten champions will be reviewed last.
Confused? See the advanced stats glossary here.
The 2014-15 season was simultaneously both a successful, but underwhelming year for Ohio State. Though the Buckeyes were able to knock off some key wins and make it back to the NCAA Tournament, they never truly competed on the national stage as many Ohio State fans had hoped they would be able to over the course of the season. Coming into the year, fans were hoping that several of the new recruits would step right in and make an immediate impact and thereby, make the Buckeyes a national contender. D'Angelo Russell was able to make a difference immediately, but the team never got enough other contributions to truly be competitive nationally, despite another NCAA Tournament appearance.
Let's look back at the season in its entirety.
1. Preseason Expectations
Coming into the year, there were some pretty high expectations for how Ohio State would perform in 2014-15, despite some question marks on the roster. Most generally thought that the Buckeyes would have enough of a combination of returning contributions and incoming talent to be a good team, but the unknown quality of some of the incoming players made the team a little more difficult to predict. They had players like Shannon Scott, Sam Thompson, and Amir Williams back, but nobody could put their finger on what players like Keita Bates-Diop, Anthony Lee, and D'Angelo Russell would contribute. Still, with the key players back and the sheer amount of incoming talent, I slotted Ohio State in at #3 in my Big Ten preview.
Here was my preseason storyline for Ohio State:
The biggest storyline for Ohio State this season will be the large roster turnover this season and whether the Big Ten's highest rated recruiting class can make an early impact. OSU arguably lost the team's best 3 players during the offseason and will largely rely on true freshmen to fill this void. Programs like Kentucky have shown this strategy can work, but can it work in Columbus? If Thad Matta and staff are able to work these young talents like Keita Bates-Diop and D'Angelo Russell into the lineup early and often, this has the potential to be a very good team. However, if the true freshmen struggle to be productive, this team might not have the depth to overcome its offseason losses. Matta has shown he can get production out of young players before, but this will be the storyline to watch this year.
The Big Ten writers were actually even higher on Ohio State than I was and put the Buckeyes in at #2 in the preseason standings behind Wisconsin and ahead of Michigan State. Though there were plenty of question marks, there seemed to be enough of a combination of known and unknown, but talented pieces that most believed the team would continue on their recent run of success. Thad Matta had been able to get significant early contributions out of newcomers before and were expected to do the same during the 2014-15 season.
2. Non-Conference Play
With high preseason expectations, Ohio State was expected to tear through a very forgiving non-conference slate. In fact, given the fact that Louisville, Marquette, and North Carolina were the only teams that looked challenging in the slightest for a team with Ohio State's talent level, a 10 win performance during the non-conference slate looked like a given and an undefeated non-conference performance was on the table if the Buckeyes could pull off an upset on the road against Louisville. Here is how things went.
Ohio State 2014-15 Non-Conference:
- Win (1-0): UMass Lowell, 92-55
- Win (2-0): Marquette, 74-63
- Win (3-0): Sacred Heart, 106-48
- Win (4-0): Campbell, 91-64
- Win (5-0): James Madison, 73-56
- Loss (5-1): Louisville, 64-55
- Win (6-1): Colgate, 70-50
- Win (7-1): High Point, 97-43
- Win (8-1): Morehead State, 87-71
- Win (9-1): North Carolina A&T, 97-55
- Loss (9-2): North Carolina, 82-74
- Win (10-2): Miami (OH), 93-55
- Win (11-2): Wright State, 100-55
3. Conference Play
The Buckeyes had avoided any upsets in non-conference play and scored at least one respectable win against Marquette, but really lacked any good non-conference wins and had lost against the only good opponents they faced in Louisville and North Carolina. The Buckeyes would need to play well in the Big Ten and particularly, take care of business against some key opponents early. Here is how things ended up playing out.
Ohio State 2014-15 Big Ten Play:
- Loss (0-1): Iowa, 71-65
- Win (1-1): Illinois, 77-61
- Win (2-1): Minnesota, 74-72 OT
- Loss (2-2): Indiana, 69-66
- Win (3-2): Michigan, 71-52
- Loss (3-3): Iowa, 76-67
- Win (4-3): Northwestern, 69-67
- Win (5-3): Indiana, 82-70
- Win (6-3): Maryland, 80-56
- Loss (6-4): Purdue, 60-58
- Win (7-4): Rutgers, 79-60
- Win (8-4): Penn State, 75-55
- Loss (8-5): Michigan State, 59-56
- Loss (8-6): Michigan, 64-57
- Win (9-6): Nebraska, 81-57
- Win (10-6): Purdue, 65-61
- Win (11-6): Penn State, 77-67
- Loss (11-7): Wisconsin, 72-48
Ohio State Regular Season KenPom Odds Performance:
4. Postseason Play
With Ohio State going 11-7 in Big Ten play, the Buckeyes were considered a virtual lock for the NCAA Tournament and a potential contender to move up with a successful Big Ten Tournament. Ohio State was able to grab the #6 seed in Chicago, but would have to face the winner of the Minnesota and Rutgers matchup in the 2nd Round. Considering Ohio State's lone regular season matchup with Minnesota went to overtime, it could be a tough game. Here is how things went:
Ohio State 2014-15 Postseason Play:
- Win (2nd Round - Big Ten Tourney), Minnesota, 79-73
- Loss (Quarterfinals - Big Ten Tourney), Michigan State, 76-67
- Win (Round of 64 - NCAA Tournament), VCU, 75-72
- Loss (Round of 32 - NCAA Tournament), Arizona, 73-58
Entering their opening game in Chicago, Ohio State would have to await the winner of the Minnesota and Rutgers game. Ultimately, the Golden Gophers would move on and the Buckeyes were given 68.5% odds to win the game according to KenPom. This was certainly not a "lock" type of game for the Buckeyes, but they were pretty solid favorites coming into their game against Minnesota.
Minnesota actually competed pretty well in the game and were right there around halftime, but Ohio State was simply too good for a flawed Minnesota team to pull off the win. The Buckeyes gradually took control in the 2nd Half and outside of a late run by Minnesota with about 5 minutes to go, were in pretty firm control. In fact, they had 75% in-game odds to win for the final 16 minutes of the game. As such, Ohio State won by a final score of 79-73.
In the Quarterfinals, Ohio State would get a tough matchup with Michigan State. The Spartans were starting to round into shape and it would literally be a pick 'em type game. Ohio State had 50.9% odds to win the game at tip-off and predictions were all over the place. Plus, with Wisconsin on the other side of the bracket, the winner of the game would likely be the forget to get to the Championship Game to face the Badgers.
Unfortunately for Ohio State, the Spartans would start red hot and jumped out to a 16-8 lead to start the game. At halftime, Michigan State led by a score of 36-28 thanks to some great play from Denzel Valentine, Marvin Clark, and Branden Dawson. The game was still winnable, but for two evenly matched teams on paper, that would be a tough deficit to come back from in the 2nd Half. The Buckeyes would close in at times, but never could really get in range to take control and by about the 8 minute mark, were trailing 59-43. It would be the end of the road for Ohio State in Chicago as they fell to Michigan State by a final score of 76-67.
With the loss to the Spartans, the Buckeyes would have to await their outcome on Selection Sunday. They were a safe bet to make the field, but they would likely be a lower seed with a tough bracket. They would certainly need some luck to set up a shot at a deep run. Eventually, once the field was announced, Ohio State was revealed to be a #10 seed with a Round of 64 matchup against VCU.
Coming into the game, the Buckeyes had a 54.7% odds to win. Yet again, they would be in essentially a pick 'em game with huge implications on the line. The game itself was legitimatelly all over the place. Both teams took control at points and the final 5 minutes literally swung back and forth. Ultimately, the game went to overtime and Ohio State was able to get enough to come out on top. To get an idea of how close this game was, just check out KenPom's in-game odds chart.
Ohio State-VCU In-Game Odds:
Literally, nobody could have claimed they had any idea who was going to win for roughly the last 8 minutes of the game and for about half of the overtime period. With the win, the Buckeyes would get the opportunity to face the #2 seeded Arizona Wildcats, who many felt should have been a #1 seed. The Wildcats were an excellent team and very well balanced with the #7 rated offense and the #3 rated defense. It would take a fantastic showing from Ohio State to be able to pull off the upset.
The Buckeyes actually played pretty well and got a lot out of seniors Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson. Unfortunately, just a 9 point showing from D'Angelo Russell and an ineffective frontcourt ultimately hindered the team from pulling off the win. Really, the game was lost early in the 2nd Half when Arizona made some key players. In fact, Arizona's odds to win jumped from just shy of 70% to just shy of 95% from the 3 minute mark in the 1st Half to the 15 minute mark in the 2nd Half. As such, Arizona would win by a final score of 73-58.
Overall, Ohio State had an up and down season, but had been able to finish with an overall record of 24-11 and a 11-7 record in the Big Ten and a Round of 32 appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The Buckeyes were nowhere near the #2 team in the Big Ten as some had predicted before the season, but were still a quality unit that did have some really solid wins on its resume.
Ohio State clearly was not one of the truly elite teams in 2014-15, but the Buckeyes did have some significant strengths that carried them throughout the season. Notably their general offensive performance, perimeter shooting, and their ability to work inside the arc made a big difference and took massive steps forward from 2013-14.
The Buckeyes my have won fewer games in 2014-15 than 2013-14, but one area where the team took a massive step forward was on the offensive end of the floor. In fact, Ohio State went from a middle of the road offensive team in the Big Ten to one of the better teams in the country on the offensive side. Just take a look at the comparison:
Ohio State Offensive Stats:
That's an incredible rise in just one season. In 2013-14, Ohio State was rated as #128 overall by KenPom, which came in at #8 in the Big Ten. They were literally in the bottom half of the conference. However, in 2014-15, they jumped 100 spots on KenPom and finished at #4 in the Big Ten in offensive efficiency. Again, that doesn't necessarily mean they were a better team, but it's certainly significant to take that big of a step forward in one offseason.
One of the biggest areas responsible for this rise was the team's improvement in shooting from 3PT range. In 2013-14, the Buckeyes came in at #263 nationally in 3PT% and #219 in percentage of team points that came from 3PT shots. Ohio State didn't actually get many more of the team's points off 3PT as a percentage, but the efficiency boost was tremendous. Just take a look.
2014-15 Ohio State 3PT Stats:
Once again, that is major process over an offseason. This was a team that really wasn't attempting that many more shots from 3PT range, but was making a good hunk more because they were simply more efficient. Obviously, considering the value of the 3PT shot, that's a huge boost to an offense.
The final area of the offense that really worked well for Ohio State was its efficient play inside. First, it warrants stating that the Buckeyes did not have a great frontcourt in 2014-15. In fact, of Anthony Lee, Trey McDonald, and Amir Williams, not one even played 50% of the team's minutes last season. Considering that not one of these players averaged either 7 points or 5 rebounds a game, that's not a great sign. However, even though none of the frontcourt players really became a dominant big man, they were still pretty efficient.
Not only did Lee, McDonald, and Amir Williams all finish with an offensive rating of 106.5 or above, but they also all shot at least 54.1% from 2PT range - Amir Williams shot an impressive 66.1% - and all had an eFG% of at least 54.1%. To put that into perspective, the team's best offensive player in Russell had an offensive rating of 113.6, a 2PT% of 47.9%, and an eFG% of 54.1%. There's no doubt that these players did not get used as much offensively as players like Russell, but when they got used, they actually did a decent job. Add in Jae'Sean Tate's 63.1% from 2PT range and Marc Loving's 116.3 offensive rating and the frontcourt filled a nice role offensively even though Lee, McDonald, and Amir Williams all had pretty low usage rates.
Of course, Ohio State had their issues last season despite having remarkable offensive improvement. Particularly, their struggles on the boards, in their ability to get to the line, and their ability to convert once they got to the line held back what might have been a top team in the Big Ten.
As mentioned above, Ohio State did not have a great frontcourt last season. This may be confusing considering the comments above, but just because the unit was efficient offensively does not mean they were a great unit overall. They filled their role, but preferably, they wouldn't be relegated to being an afterthought on the offensive end. For some perspective, here is how the Big Ten performed in defensive rebounding last season.
2014-15 Big Ten Rebounding Numbers:
The interesting thing here is that Ohio State holds up decently in this comparison, but once you realize that D'Angelo Russell is considered to be one of the top rebounders, it gets a little concerning, especially about the frontcourt's impact. Overall, the team finished at #222 nationally in defensive rebounding rate. If it weren't for Russell grabbing some key rebounds, it's scary to imagine just how weak the Buckeyes would have been on the boards considering they were pretty mediocre with his contributions there.
Another key issue for the team was its ability to get to the free throw line. Again, a significant part of this came from a frontcourt that wasn't using possessions or forcing fouls inside. The team ended up ranking #238 in free throw attempts compared to field goal attempts, which implies an inability to get to the line. Along with this, the team also struggled in FTRate, which is a player's ability to get to the line. Just take a look.
2014-15 Big Ten FTRate Stats:
Those numbers might not look exceptionally bad, but for a Top 30 offense that was one of the better offenses in the conference, that is a weak spot. Instead of simply being a really good offense, the Buckeyes could have really reached that next level if they took a step forward here. It would have taken pressure off Russell to create, put opponents into foul trouble more often, and got more production from a relatively unproductive frontcourt.
On top of this, not only did the team have difficulties in gettng opportunities at the free throw line, but they gave up plenty of points when they get there as well. Over the course of the season, they came in at #230 nationally with a 68.0% free throw rate. In fact, of players that attempted at least 25 free throws in 2014-15 for Ohio State, just 3 players shot at least 70% from the line. During conference play, the Buckeyes came in at #12 in the conference in free throw rate, ahead of just Rutgers and Michigan State. Again, those are literally free points just sitting there.
7. Top Player
Coming into the season, the role of "best player" was pretty open for Ohio State. The team's Top 3 players in total win shares from 2013-14 were gone and there figured to be plenty of new contributors. The question was largely whether a returning player would take the spot or a new recruit would fill the role. Perhaps the most discussed player was incoming freshman D'Angelo Russell, who was expected to contribute early and often for the team.
Let's take a look at how the players compared.
Ohio State 2014-15 Stat Leaders:
- Minutes - D'Angelo Russell
- Field Goal Attempts - D'Angelo Russell
- Points - D'Angelo Russell
- Rebounds - D'Angelo Russell
- Assists - Shannon Scott
- Blocks - Amir Williams
- Steals - Shannon Scott
Russell also held up very well in the advanced stats.
Of course, advanced numbers may not necessarily be a perfect reflection compared to how a player performs in big games and whether he can push them over the top. To help assist in this, KenPom does an analysis of an MVP in each game and awards it to the best player during the game. Here is how Ohio State stacked up.
When you look through all the stats, it's pretty clear that Russell was far and away the best player for Ohio State last year. He had the most raw contributions, the best advanced stats, and easily had the most MVP type performances over the course of the season. He was truly a special player for Ohio State and accomplished some feats that Buckeye fans might not see again for quite some time.
8. Sixth Man
The Buckeyes certainly did not have the deepest or most talented bench in 2014-15, but they did have a lot of rotation upfront and used several different lineups during the year. Over the course of the season, Ohio State came in at #231 nationally in bench minutes.
Last season, Ohio State's most started lineup was Marc Loving, D'Angelo Russell, Shannon Scott, Sam Thompson and Amir Williams. This was certainly not the lineup for the entire season, but these were the most started players, which is the measure for this comparison. This left the top bench contributors as Keita Bates-Diop, Anthony Lee, Trey McDonald, Jae'Sean Tate, and Kam Williams. Here is how the bench players broke down.
Ohio State 2014-15 Bench Leaders
- Minutes - Jae'Sean Tate
- Field Goal Attempts - Jae'Sean Tate
- Points - Jae'Sean Tate
- Rebounds - Jae'Sean Tate
- Assists - Kam Williams
- Steals - Jae'Sean Tate
Here is how they held up in the advanced stats comparison.
This selection pretty easily goes to Jae'Sean Tate. He had a really nice freshman season and continued to emerge during the year. By the end of the season, he was one of the biggest contributors on the team and is set to be Ohio State's top returner for 2015-16.
9. Top Storylines
The storyline of Ohio State's 2014-15 was one mixed between success and an inability to build off potential. The Buckeyes were a good team in 2014-15. In fact, they were borderline great, but their failure to capitalize on winnable games during the regular season and their inability to provide enough production outside of Russell limited the team. Their performance really compared to the movie Scarface. Overall, the movie was pretty solid, but its long-term impact will forever be too reliant on Tony Montana's "say hello to my little friend" scene to ever truly be a great piece of cinema. Ohio State's season was solid as well, but it was far too reliant on the success of Russell to every truly have been a great season.
Before the season started, there was some variation on expectations, but most believed this was going to be another great year for Ohio State where they challenged in the conference and nationally. Maybe the Buckeyes would fall short to teams like Wisconsin, but they should have more than enough firepower to be in the Top 25 and in the discussion for an Elite 8 and maybe even a Final 4 berth. The return of key players like Scott and Thopmson and entry of players like Russell and Tate would give the team enough to compete with the top teams.
Ohio State scored a lot of wins to start the season, but their inability to score any good non-conference victories was the first red flag for the unit. As they continued through Big Ten play, they eventually secured the marquee wins they needed for the NCAA Tournament, but could never quite turn the corner and become a top team in the conference. They were able to beat VCU in the NCAA Tournament, but came up short against an elite Arizona team they probably wouldn't have faced until later had other players outside of Russell really stepped up.
Another NCAA Tournament appearance and postseason win took some of the sting out of a 6th place finish in the Big Ten during the regular season, but for a program with such high expectations, it was an underwhelming year. The interesting thing was that fans become so interested in Russell's exceptional play that many of the struggles were overlooked. Overall, this was a good team that had some solid achievements, but lacked the playmakers outside of Russell to really put a great finish on the season.
(Photo Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)
10. Final Verdict
Ohio State's performance during the 2014-15 season failed to meet preseason expectations. However, an NCAA Tournament appearance and a postseason win over VCU certainly isn't a season that most are going to consider "bad" under any analysis, but it still was so close to being so much better.
Despite the raw achievement of making the NCAA Tournament, this was a team with experience, depth, and exceptional talent that finished 11-7 in the Big Ten and was a #10 seed to the Big Dance. The Buckeyes finished at #21 in overall KenPom rating - 4th highest in the conference - but again, they also finished 6th in the Big Ten. That conference finish shouldn't be all encompassing, but it's hard not to think that this team should have finished better not only in the regular season, but also in the NCAA Tournament seeding as well.
Still, despite what was very likely a disappointing finish in the regular season, this was still a good team that made the NCAA Tournament after losing arguably its 3 top players from 2013-14. There might have been more on the table than Ohio State ended up taking, but it was still a pretty solid season for the team. The Buckeyes certainly should avoid the lower grades, but their inability to reach that next step limits them from the highest grades.
Season Grade: B-