You wouldn’t know it from its 16-5 record (5-3 in the Big Ten), but Ohio State is not exactly having a stellar season. That’s why the win over No. 23 Indiana on Sunday was big in a lot of ways.
Please allow me to explain and clarify.
Ohio State arguing about its resume is nothing new for the people in Columbus. The Buckeyes campaigned hard to get their football team in the College Football Playoff and we know how well that paid off.
The Buckeyes do have a stellar RPI of 21 (according to KenPom.com), but that is a by-product of playing a tough schedule while not having any bad losses. Thus far on the season, the Buckeyes have lost to Louisville, North Carolina, Iowa twice and once already to Indiana. So, clearly they have no bad blemishes. Kudos to them for scheduling a tough non-conference slate.
Prior to beating Indiana, 82-70, on Sunday, Ohio State’s best wins likely came over Illinois, Minnesota, Marquette and Michigan. Those are solid squads, but those wins won’t impress the selection committee when it is awarding Ohio State’s seed. Indiana is Ohio State’s lone top-50 win. Thus, this was the importance behind Sunday’s win.
The thing with Ohio State, though, is it certainly passes the eyeball test. When you look at them up close, you see a very, very talented bunch coached by Thad Matta. This should not be argued.
Heading the charge for the Buckeyes is freshman phenom D’Angelo Russell.
Russell has been electrifying all season and is simply a breathtaking joy to watch. He leads the team in scoring with 19.3 points per game. Russell is a well-rounded player who can rebound and pass the ball effectively (seriously, look up some of his passes on Vine). He chips in 5.2 rebounds (which also leads the team), 4.9 assists and 1.8 steals per game (also tops on the team).
The lefty is shooting .470 from the field, .785 from the free-throw line and an impressive .453 from three-point range. With his range, he certainly evokes memories of another lefty assassin from Ohio State in Michael Redd. Russell has been superb of late, averaging 22.9 points, six rebounds and 4.6 assists in his last nine games. He, predictably, proved to be very instrumental in State’s win over Indiana, scoring 22 points (on 9-15 shooting) while dishing out 10 assists and hauling down six rebounds.
Russell has simply been scintillating all year and is quickly ascending up NBA draft boards. He has a game in the mold of ex-NBA star Brandon Roy. Russell is projected by NBADraft.net to be the sixth pick, while DraftExpress.com has him going fourth overall. So, enjoy him while you can Columbus. He likely won’t be sticking around much longer.
Between him, Maryland’s Melo Trimble and Indiana’s James Blackmon Jr, the Big Ten has a cache of super freshmen to showcase. Russell has been extra special, though, and should contend for national freshman of the year honors.
The Buckeyes also get great veteran stewardship from a trio of key seniors in Shannon Scott, Amir Williams and Sam Thompson. Scott leads the team in assists with 6.9 per game while also chipping in 8.1 points per game. Russell and Scott are a dazzling backcourt combination and they feed well off each other.
Williams provides a solid anchor down low and contributes 6.9 points and 4.7 rebounds per game while shooting an absurd .710 percent from the filed. Sam “Slam” Thompson is a high-flying athlete who produces 10.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game while being the Buckeyes main hustle and energy guy.
Ohio State is also getting a great sophomore season from 6’7 forward Marc Loving. Loving is tapping his raw potential and is making significant strides. While Russell gets all the love, Loving is one with plenty of upside and who should be in Columbus for the long term.
Of course, the Buckeyes should not be worried of exclusion from the NCAA Tournament as they look like a cinch at the moment. However, if they want to start being taken seriously as a bona fide top-25 team and Sweet 16-and-beyond threat, resume-building wins are needed. Again, that’s why their revenge win over Indiana on Sunday was a much-needed confidence boost.
The Buckeyes will be right back at it on Thursday when they host No. 13 Maryland. It will be another game where Ohio State will be tested and show us what it’s made of.
Regardless, with Russell only getting better with each game, this is a team you have to be mindful of in March. Russell may have enough magic in him to do what Carmelo Anthony did for Syracuse back in 2003. That might be high praise, but Russell looks like a special talent and the veteran supporting cast surrounding him is not chopped liver.