Sunday, December 03, 2006

Now You All Are In Big, Big Trouble

Quick football-related note: It's official, we're playing Florida. Complete thoughts to follow tomorrow, but in brief: 1.) Michigan got ripped off, which makes their fans angry, which makes me happy, regardless of what I said earlier today, and 2.) At first glance, Ohio State should win comfortably, but we'll examine that at more depth in the future.

But there's some big basketball-related news to take care of, first. How big? Seven feet, 280 pounds big. Yeah, I'm talking about the return of Greg Oden in Saturday's 78-58 win over Valpo. In his 23 minutes of work, he recorded a double-double, going for 14 points, ten rebounds, and five blocks. He wore a brace on his right wrist and essentially played the game one-handed, even going so far as to shoot free throws with his left hand.

One game isn't really enough data to perform much statistical analysis on, but even without equations and fancy numbers, his influence on the game was very apparent. For the most part, it was positive. He looked a little nervous and rusty in his first few minutes, but once he got going, he had an impact, particularly defensively. He proved Dick Vitale and all those other experts right, as just about all Valpo's trips to the basket were fruitless when Oden was in. During one notable possession, he started by blocking one shot from in front of the basket. A Valpo player recovered the ball near the baseline and attempted a second shot. Oden just reached out and blocked that one too. Five blocks in 23 minutes is impressive enough, but when you factor in the shots that were altered to avoid him and the shots that weren't attempted out of fear of yet another rejection, his impact was major.

Offensively, he was good, but his lack of a second hand was more apparent. You could tell that he wasn't as comfortable and had to think about things more, since he couldn't shoot with his right hand. But as he figured things out, he became more effective, and that was trouble for Valpo. When there's a 7 foot, 280 pound giant backing you down in the post, how do you stop that? You foul. And Valpo did. Oden's biggest impact, from a numbers stand point, came in free throws, as he made more free throws (15), than the Buckeyes attempted against North Carolina (13).

There were some problems though, mostly on the offensive end as the team tried to do too much through Oden. Who can blame them? When Dickie V is calling a guy the greatest thing to happen to basketball since the invention of rubber, it's only natural to want to get him the ball. As a result, it looked like the team tried to force things from time to time, rather than just working Oden into the flow of things. But I think that as they grow more comfortable with him on the floor, and as he continues to heal and improve, we'll end up with an inside-outside game like we had last year, except with more talent all over the floor. And that is scary for the rest of the Big Ten.

That's not to say that other Buckeyes didn't have good games. Daequan Cook led the team in scoring with twenty points, going 4-5 from behind the arc. Mike Conley had seven points and seven assists (to two turnovers). And the team as a whole shot shot well, 51% overall and 45.4% on their threes.

But in a game that was essentially over at halftime, the debut of Greg Oden is going to be the story, and rightfully so. When he's 100%, how do you stop this offense? You can't collapse down on Oden when the team is making almost 44% of their threes, but you clearly can't defend Oden one-on-one. And how do you attack them defensively? Venturing inside looks to be a foolish choice, but as a Thad Matta-coached team, they defend the perimeter well (opponents are making less than 29% of their threes). Oden's arrival is great news for the Buckeyes, and bad news for the rest of the Big Ten.

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