Monday, November 27, 2006

Wait...what?

Defending conference champions, preseason favorites to repeat, the country's best young talent coming in to play, one of the top coaches out there, and a #1 ranking. Oh yeah, the football team is pretty good, too. That's right ladies and gentlemen, thanks to losses by North Carolina and Florida (not to mention a whole lot of hype, too), the Buckeye Basketball team is currently ranked #1 in the nation in the Coaches poll. The Associated Press Poll (Hey! It actually matters in this sport!...kind of!) has a tad more of an appropriate ranking for the Buckeyes at #3, behind UCLA (#1) and Pitt (#2).

This marks only the third time in collegiate sports history that a school has had both the football and basketball teams ranked #1 at the same time. The other two were UCLA and Notre Dame. However, I can't help but feel that this is the most overrated #1 team in college basketball in quite some time. The Buckeyes have been more than impressive with their young core of players so far this season, leading the Big Ten in scoring offense (87.0 ppg), Field Goal % (52.6%), assists (18.5 apg), steals (10.0 spg), defensive rebounds (27.0 drpg), 3-pointers made (10.5 3pt-pg), and margin of victory (26.2 points). However, let me remind everyone out there that the toughest opponents on the schedule so far have been Loyola-Chicago and Kent State, and it's unlikely that either of those two schools ever get their names mentioned by anyone for the rest of the season.

So far this season, the rebounding has been absolutely atrocious. Don't let the statistics fool you, just about each and every one of our opponents have been overwhelmed as far as size is concerned, and many times the rebounding differencial is much closer than one would be content with. Until Mr. ESPN The Magazine takes the court (Matta has confirmed he will not play against UNC, but from what I hear the new target date is 12/16 vs Cincy, however if I were you I would be keeping up to date with BuckeyePlanet's Greg Oden-watch), the issues in the paint will be unresolved. Othello Hunter is a nice compliment to Greg Oden, but he's nothing more than a role player, and Matt Terwilliger's name isn't the only reason he's known as "Twig" out there. If Oden's injury turns out to be one of those season-long nagging ones, or -- heaven forbid -- he doesn't live up to the hype, teams with any size at all will dominate in the paint against us.
However, the biggest positive out of the Buckeyes so far this season has been the excellent play of the "other" two 5-Star players from the Thad 5, Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook. Through six games this season, Conley seems to be living up every bit of the hype. I know it's incredibly premature to be saying this, but if he continues to progress through his career as he has through these six games, and he shows up in the big games, he will be better than Scoonie Penn, undoubtedly (we still love you, Scoonie). Conley is the kind of player that is all over the court, and has an incredible nose for the ball defensively for a freshman. His speed and passing ability bring a whole other demension to the game for his defenders to worry about. Also, although I don't have any statistics to back it up, Daequan Cook has got to be near the top of the nation in bench scoring this season, if not above everyone else. I was initially worried that with him playing behind two veterans in Ron Lewis and Jamar Butler, he wouldn't get the chances to show his stuff. Boy, was I ever wrong. So far as the sixth man this season, Cook is averaging 17.8 points per game, 7 rebounds per game, and is shooting at a 48% clip from beyond the arc. The one thing I would like to see Cook improve on, though, is his ability to hold onto the ball. He is averaging 2.2 turnovers a game, and has an Assist-Turnover ratio of .77:1. That kind of thing will only come with time, though.


Regardless, Ohio State has a big chance at validating that top ranking this Wednesday as they take on the Tar Heels of North Carolina. As I mentioned earlier, despite all of the rumors flying around, Thad Matta has deactived Greg Oden for the game, and his debut will have to wait for another time. Since that is the case, this gives Tyler Hansbrough and excellent opportunity to dominate and really show the country just what he is capable of. As the #1 offensive option and leading scorer for the Tar Heels, I expect Hansborough to have a huge game, and for the Tar Heels to win, which may be the best thing to happen to the Buckeyes. Until Wednesday, the furthest the Bucks have been from home has been Nationwide Arena. This will be a great learning experience for the young guys, because they need to learn how to lose before they win. I know it sounds crazy, but a win in a game of this magnitude so early in the season will only create a sense of complacency, or probably worse yet -- cockiness. Remember, this isn't football season. Early losses are expected, and they don't ruin national title hopes.

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