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January 1, 2013

Basketball New Year's Resolutions

Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The start of 2013 not only marks the beginning of a new calendar year for the Ohio State basketball team, but the start of a new chapter in its season in conference play. As Buckeyes head coach Thad Matta and his squad heads into what is one of the toughest Big Ten schedules in recent memory, here are some New Year's resolutions that would suit them well in 2013.

Point guard Aaron Craft: to continue to affect games
It's hard to remember a player's offensive game coming under more scrutiny than Craft's has in the past month. After emerging as the Buckeyes' second scoring threat next to Deshaun Thomas, the junior point guard went a whole month in-between double-digit scoring efforts following OSU's loss to Duke on Nov. 28.

While Craft may never be the consistent scorer that Buckeye fans want him to be, it remains imperative that he continues to leave his footprint on games, regardless of his point total. Whether that means shutting down an opponent's top scorer, distributing the ball, or even pulling down rebounds may depend on the game, but even the most optimistic Ohio State fan- and Craft and Matta- would agree that the Buckeyes need the Big Ten's reigning Defensive Player of the Year to continue to remain a factor in games any way that he can.

Center Amir Williams: to focus on every game
Williams can be an impact player when he wants to be. His efforts against Syracuse last season and Duke and Kansas this year have proven as much. The problem is that his focus- or a lack thereof- as prevented him from being the player that most imagined the former four-star recruit would be.

Big Ten play should bring plenty of games for the 6-foot-11 center to pa attention to. In fact, the Buckeyes are counting on Williams to show up for match-ups with Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, and Illinois. But in games that will receive less attention, such as showdowns with Nebraska, Northwestern, and Penn State, that's where Williams needs to show up. Because if he doesn't, the Buckeyes three-year reign as Big Ten regular season champions could be in doubt.

Guard Lenzelle Smith Jr.: to continually condition
There may not be a more enigmatic player on the Buckeyes' roster this season than Smith. On the one hand, he's in his second season as a starter and is one of Ohio State's most versatile players, and has proven that he's capable of scoring in the mid-20s on any given night. On the other, he's yet to have any big outbursts scoring-wise this season, where he's averaged 11.2 points per game.

Matta has admitted that he'd like to see Smith improve his conditioning, in an effort to get the junior swingman on the court more often as conference play begins. As 2012 showed, the Buckeyes are usually at their best when Smith is at his.

Forward LaQuinton Ross: to play passable defense
As seen evident by the fact that Smith is second on the team in scoring with less than 12 points per game, the Buckeyes are desperate for a second player to emerge as a consistent offensive weapon next to Thomas. And their only hope at finding one may be in getting Ross to play good enough defense to keep him on the court.

Ohio State doesn't need the sophomore forward to be Craft or David Lighty on the defensive end. It just needs him to be good enough to play alongside Thomas, who has defensive deficiencies of his own. Ross has shown a propensity to score often and in bunches, and should he find away to also use his length and athleticism on the defensive side of the floor he will earn himself a larger platform to showcase what he's best at.

Head coach Thad Matta: continue to trust your bench
Through this season's non-conference schedule, Matta showed the most trust in his bench that he's had since the Buckeyes' Final Four season of 2006-07. Matta's faith in his depth has paid dividends, with players like Ross, Williams, and Shannon Scott all emerging as legitimate weapons for OSU.

As a relatively young roster enters a rough Big Ten schedule, it would be wise for Matta to continue to trust his bench. Even as it hits some inevitable bumps in the road, this Ohio State team needs to multiple options capable of doing different things on any given night, and could prove to be a true advantage over other conference foes.



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