If there were more than 40 minutes in a college basketball game, Thad Matta probably wouldn’t have minded utilizing a two-point-guard package more often a year ago that simultaneously used the skill-sets of Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott.
In reality, the Ohio State head coach instead had to settle for designing his offense around one of the best big men in college basketball.
With a player such as Jared Sullinger on the roster, Matta simply schemed his offensive philosophy around feeding the eventual first-round NBA draft pick, a strategy that paid off in a second Final Four berth in the coach’s eight-year tenure in Columbus.
Now, if Matta wants his third trip to college basketball’s biggest stage with the Buckeyes, he knows his team is going to take a different approach toward doing it.
“The thing is, everyone wants to play fast,” Matta said. “But like I tell our guys, everyone wants to play fast but nobody wants to run. I think from that perspective, I do want this team to play fast. I want to get out, I want to go and I want to utilize our abilities.”
Ohio State won’t ever completely turn its back on the inside-out game, but the team’s athleticism suggests an up-tempo game plan will best fit the personnel.
That’s specifically the case because the team’s top returning scorer, junior forward Deshaun Thomas, is versatile enough to be as efficient scoring while running the floor and capitalizing on opportunities as he is in a slower-paced game.
But Thomas won’t be the reason if the Buckeyes make the switch. Instead, it is what Matta has seen from Scott that makes a quicker-paced style seem like the team’s most viable option.
“From what I have seen now, I don’t know if there is a guard better at pushing the ball in transition than Shannon Scott,” Matta said. “He is as fast and quick with the ball as I’ve seen. He’s going to be good for us.”
Last season, Ohio State wasn’t able to utilize Scott on the floor much with Craft, the team’s proven starter at point guard, because that lineup didn’t work with Sullinger also on the floor. However, the OSU coaching staff warmed up to having Craft and Scott work together more when Sullinger was on the bench as the season progressed.
Analyzing the team’s 2012-13 roster, which is stacked with athletic guards and small forwards, Matta sees the opportunity for the two-point-guard lineup to flourish.
But being successful with Scott and Craft on the floor together will take time to develop, specifically because the team has long become accustomed to a slower-paced scheme.
“Shannon is fast, and I think from that perspective, I told the guys that he can’t push the ball and be the first one down the floor,” Matta said. “We all have to run.”
Scott’s role with the Buckeyes as a freshman was limited during the regular season while he adjusted to the college game.
A four-star point guard from Alpharetta (Ga.) Milton ranked by Scout.com as the No. 6 player at his position in the 2011 recruiting class, Scott seemed timid with the basketball early in his OSU career, which led to reluctance to shoot the ball even when the situation called for him to try to score.
But as the season progressed, he became more comfortable with his attacking nature before eventually playing meaningful minutes during Ohio State’s NCAA Tournament run to the Final Four.
The 6-1, 185-pounder played in four of the Buckeyes’ postseason games, averaging 11.8 minutes and 3.0 assists per outing. Scott’s best tournament performance came during an 81-66 win over Cincinnati in the Sweet 16 in Boston, as he tallied three assists and two points in 16 minutes.
“I felt like my time on the floor in the NCAA Tournament has made me more comfortable during the offseason,” Scott told BSB. “I feel like I have the confidence I need now where I can play the game more naturally and allow things to come to me. Thinking too much didn’t make me the basketball player I know I can be.”
During the team’s open gyms this summer, Scott often was forced to match up with Craft, giving the sophomore experience against what most consider to be one of the best defenders in college basketball.
Scott was up to the challenge on both ends of the floor, but what he did with the ball in his hands was what made Craft believe big things are ahead.
“He’s so fast and that really is good for us when we’re pushing the tempo,” Craft said. “We have a good group of guys that can run with us at just about every position. I like running with Shannon and we should really be able to put pressure on defenses together.”
While the Buckeyes will feature a different look offensively, Matta expects playing Craft and Scott together will pay dividends on the defensive side as well. Though Scott has a way to go before being held to the same standard as Craft defensively, he may not be as far off as most think.
“We all know that Aaron can defend, but Shannon, he probably had eight steals in a (recent) 40-minute workout,” Matta said. “Those two I think can cause a lot of havoc being on the floor at the same time.”
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