We are now seventeen games through Ohio State's current men's basketball campaign and this much is clear: Deshaun Thomas can't do it all by himself. The Buckeyes lost a close game at Michigan State on Saturday despite a valiant effort from the team's leading scorer. Thomas had 28 points, the next highest scorer for OSU was Lenzelle Smith, with six. This lack of scoring balance just won't work.
Last season, Ohio State had three players average double digits in scoring, and this year they barely have two (and only Thomas in Big Ten conference games). Thomas was in a comfortable place a year ago, with most attention centered in the paint around big man Jared Sullinger, and William Buford also commanding significant respect from opponents. Thomas was a well-kept secret most of the year who broke out in the NCAA Tournament and returned this year with a target on his back and minimal other offensive threats around him.
Aaron Craft is a solid point guard and tenacious defender, but his shooting is underwhelming. The team's shooting as a whole suffers a sharp drop-off after Thomas. Amir Williams has great potential, but right now lacks the size and aggression to really make a difference down low. Evan Ravenel is good in spurts but too often neglects to finish his half of the pick-and-roll, leaving easy points on the board.
This Ohio State team is not bad- they're still 13-4 with a quality win against Michigan and narrowly missed leaving Michigan State with a victory. They also had legitimate chances to win at Duke and at home against Kansas. With the strength of the Big Ten this year, big games will be the norm and ranked opponents the rule, rather than the exception. An answer needs to be found sooner rather than later.
The implications for this lack of scoring balance go beyond this season. Thomas, a junior, flirted with entering the NBA Draft after last year before returning to school. Later this Spring, when he is faced with the same decision, it would be easy to see him leave this time, should no one else emerge as a scoring threat. However, if the offensive output were to improve and Thomas decided to stay for his senior year, things could be looking up in Columbus. Evan Ravenel is the lone senior on the current team, and the prospects of returning a veteran starting lineup of juniors and seniors for 2013-14 could make OSU an early favorite to win the Big Ten. This all depends, of course, on the rest of the team stepping up and showing Thomas that a fourth year in school would be worth his while.
Only time will tell.