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Thursday, December 19, 2013
Weekend Homework: Ohio State elite again

By Myron Medcalf

Thad Matta assembles top-10 squads most years. The only thing missing from his pristine tenure at Ohio State, which faces Notre Dame on Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York, is a national title.

In 2013-14, like most seasons, that goal seems attainable. The Buckeyes haven’t played a great nonconference schedule, so they’re still a difficult group to accurately judge right now. We’ll know soon enough, though, as they’ll play Michigan State in East Lansing, Mich., on Jan. 7.

The Buckeyes are statistical juggernauts right now. That can’t be ignored, even though their résumé lacks a win against a team that’s currently ranked in the top 25.

The Buckeyes held Marquette to 35 points and have held seven opponents to 60 or less. They’re ranked first in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings.

Louisville was ranked third when it won the national title last season. Kentucky was eighth during its title run in 2012.

The rules have changed, but Ohio State’s ability to constrict offensive flow has not. Aaron Craft, LaQuinton Ross, Shannon Scott and Lenzelle Smith Jr. put a lot of pressure on perimeter players. The Buckeyes are ninth in defensive turnover percentage, per Pomeroy. Former McDonald’s All-American Amir Williams (2.4 BPG) is third in the Big Ten in block percentage.

That’s a dangerous defensive group.

Most of the concerns and questions about Ohio State center on its offense. With Deshaun Thomas gone, scoring by committee is Ohio State’s approach this season, which isn't a bad thing.

Too many teams earn exaggerated praise for scoring in bunches. That doesn’t necessarily suggest that they’re good, though.

Plus, the Buckeyes are a solid offensive team (31st in adjusted offensive efficiency). They’re just anchored by their defense.

Ohio State doesn’t have to win a shootout over the weekend to prove folks wrong, but a victory over the Fighting Irish might be more valuable if Mike Brey’s squad continues to shake its early rust and excel in the ACC.

The Buckeyes don’t need a guy who can score 25 per night to be viewed as a great team. Their defensive approach proves that they are.

They’ve scored 80 or more three times this season, but those tallies came against subpar competition.

Level of competition won't be an issue in the Big Ten. If the Buckeyes continue their defensive prowess, they could end the season at the top of the Big Ten and with a slot in Arlington.