It wasn’t just the guards who felt the absence of Luther Muhammad on Sunday in the Big Ten men's basketball opener against Minnesota. In dominating the Golden Gophers, Ohio State had to get back to its more traditional positional roles.
That meant far fewer three-guard lineups. It could also have ramifications for a game Wednesday night against Illinois at the United Center in Chicago.Join the conversation at Facebook.com/BuckeyeXtra and connect with us on Twitter @BuckeyeXtra
Through their first seven games, the Buckeyes played lineups featuring three of the four players classified as guards — C.J. Jackson, Keyshawn Woods, Duane Washington Jr. and Muhammad — for 60.2 percent of the time. That dropped to 25.9 percent against Minnesota. And against a Fighting Illini team that brings a defensive style that can make life difficult for ball-handlers and guards, it’s an intriguing matchup.
“You need to play to your team’s strengths, but you need ball-handling, decision-making players out there as much as possible,” coach Chris Holtmann said. “We need our guys to make good decisions and to be aggressive and attack-minded. The more of those guys you have out there, the better.”
Muhammad is not expected to play against Illinois as he continues to recover from a dislocated shoulder suffered at the end of a game last Wednesday against Syracuse. The result means players such as forwards Musa Jallow and Andre Wesson might have a little more responsibility.
The good news is that, against the Gophers, those two combined for 27 points and were key reasons why the Buckeyes took an early lead and never trailed.
“I was just ready to play and guys set me up to be successful,” Jallow said. “I just took the opportunity.”
Their contributions typify what is becoming apparent about this team. The Buckeyes do not have a player among the Big Ten’s top 23 in scoring average, top 13 in rebounding or assist-to-turnover ratio or the top 15 in assists or field-goal or three-point percentage, but as of Tuesday night they were 16th nationally in three-point percentage defense, 18th in scoring defense, 21st in field-goal percentage defense and 23rd in scoring margin.
Last year’s team was dominated by Keita Bates-Diop. In the lone game against Illinois, he scored 35 points in a kind of individual performance the Buckeyes probably won’t see at the United Center.
“The way they play takes you out of really pretty much any offensive flow,” Holtmann said. “Players have to make plays. That’s what we saw last year with Keita.”
Out of necessity, and especially with Muhammad sidelined, this year’s team is more about the collective.
“If we’re going to have a good year, then we’re going to need several guys to have increased roles and to have good years for us,” Holtmann said. “It’s just different than it was with last year’s team.”