With the sincerest of apologies to Paul Simon, this musical question begs an answer as Ohio State enters March Madness: “Where have you gone, Jonny Diebler? Buckeye Nation turns its lonely eyes to you.”
I left out the “woo woo woo” part, but you get the idea.
Diebler, like Joe DiMaggio in Simon & Garfunkel’s 1968 hit “Mrs. Robinson,” has left and gone away, taking his talents to Greece where he is averaging 10.1 points per game and connecting on 52.8 percent of his three-point shots in his first season for the Panionios BC team.
Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, Diebler seems to have also taken most of his former team’s outside shooting prowess with him overseas.
For much of the season – or at least since mid-February when the Buckeyes began losing games at an alarming pace – many observers have been of the opinion that the team lacks the floor leadership provided last season by David Lightly. Me? I think leadership is overrated especially when you can’t find the bottom of the basket, and that has been the Achilles’ heel for Ohio State this season.
To put it bluntly, there are nights when the Buckeyes couldn’t hit a bull in the butt with a bass fiddle. They simply have no outside shooter on whom they can rely on a consistent basis. The team’s best three-point marksman is none other than Jared Sullinger at 39.4 percent, but I doubt very seriously OSU can hang its NCAA hat on the long-range shooting of a player who needs to spend 90 percent of his time in the paint.
Ohio State could be one of the streakiest shooting teams I have ever witnessed over the course of an entire season. It’s not just that the Buckeyes’ touch comes and goes on a game-to-game basis; it ebbs and flows by the minute.
A perfect example came in the second half of the Big Ten tournament championship final against Michigan State. The Buckeyes made seven of their first nine shots after the break to turn a two-point halftime deficit into a 52-45 lead at the 14:06 mark of the second half.
Then they proceeded to miss 11 of their next 13 attempts from the floor, falling back into a 62-57 hole with 5:48 remaining. OSU followed that cold spell by making two of its next three shots to climb back within two at 64-62 at the 3:27 mark, but the Buckeyes finished the game with misfires on eight of their final nine attempts and dropped a 68-64 decision to the Spartans.
That second-half performance (12 for 34, 35.3 percent) knocked their shooting percentage down to 39.7 for the game. That from the same Ohio State team that shot 60.7 percent two days earlier on the same floor during an 88-71 victory over Purdue.
Unfortunately, you never know what you’re going to get on a nightly basis from this year’s Ohio State team. The Buckeyes played like world-beaters back in late November when they chewed up and spit out a Duke team that finished 27-6 this season. And OSU played inspired basketball at Michigan State on March 4, going into the Breslin Center and erasing an early 15-point deficit before securing a 72-70 victory and the piece of the Big Ten regular-season championship that went with it.
Then there were the lackluster performances that resulted in three losses – two of them at home – during a six-game span in February. There were times during that stretch when passes became lazier, help defense disappeared and the Buckeyes looked a step slow and largely uninterested.
There was also one other constant in those defeats – lousy shooting.
Ohio State finished second in the Big Ten this season in shooting percentage, its 48.3 mark just a tick below Indiana’s 48.7. But in their seven losses, the Buckeyes shot barely better than 40.0 percent – 160 for 391, which equals 40.9 percent. In four of those games, the team shot less than 40 percent, and in the first loss to Michigan State on Feb. 11, the Buckeyes turned in a season-low performance of 26.4 percent during a 58-48 loss.
The poor shooting cannot be traced to just one player. Sophomore point guard Aaron Craft, for example, missed a pair of layups in the second half of the Big Ten tournament title game against the Spartans, and he was a 50.5-percent shooter for the season.
But senior guard William Buford is a lightning rod for most of the team’s critics, and the numbers don’t lie. During the team’s 27 victories this season, Buford shot 45.6 percent (155 for 340) from the field and 38.7 percent (48 for 124) from three-point territory. During the team’s seven losses, Buford’s percentages went off a cliff – 32.6 overall (31 for 95) and 17.4 from behind the arc (4 for 23).
To be sure, Buford is just one player out of five on the floor. But more often than not, the rest of the team takes its shooting cues from its only senior. During the conference tournament final loss to Michigan State, Buford made three of his first four attempts and then missed seven of his final eight, including two three-pointers in the final 33 seconds while the Buckeyes were trailing by five.
I’m not trying to suggest that Buford is the sole reason Ohio State lost seven games this season. The Buckeyes lost seven games this season – including four of their last 10 – because they do not have anyone who can be relied upon to consistently knock down an outside shot.
That is the major reason that Ohio State misses Diebler so much. It’s also how the Buckeyes have gone from a lead-pipe Final Four lock to a team whose NCAA Tournament fortunes are now anyone’s guess.