March 6, 2008

Inside out

The last time that the Buckeyes and Spartans met it was a game that Kosta Koufos would rather forget about. The Ohio State freshman center tied a season low with four points in 22 minutes of action. Koufos shot a dismal 2 of 7 from the field and came up with almost as many blocked shots as rebounds (three blocks against four rebounds).

Since that game Koufos has scored in double digits in 12 of his last 13 games (Koufos only scored seven in the most recent game against Purdue) and even though Ohio State has only won six of 13 games in that stretch it has become painfully obvious that the team needs a stronger inside/outside game if they want to see better results in the win column.

During the second half at Indiana it seemed as if the light finally went off in the offense in working the ball through Koufos. The freshman center nailed 7 of 12 in the second half comeback attempt and even though the Buckeyes lost the game it seemed as if they had found something as an alternative to the ball screen offense.

"I think now (our offense) is more inside/out because Kosta is stepping his game up and we are getting the ball down low and scoring every time," forward Othello Hunter said after the Indiana game. "I think that the outside ball screen is only going to happen in transition kind of but if it doesn't then we have guys who can come up and make open shots."

Against Minnesota in the following game the Buckeyes were able to get the ball down to Koufos for a dozen attempts but not much else was working for the team and the Buckeyes suffered one of their worst losses of the conference schedule. Has it been frustrating to Koufos when the team has not been able to work the ball down low to him?

"I wouldn't say it is frustrating," Koufos said. "I want to play within the system and try and win games. If the ball is not handed to me it is not a big deal so I will do other things like rebounding and block shots."

On Tuesday Koufos gave up his role much of the way to senior Matt Terwilliger and was limited to 21 minutes of action but the Buckeyes will need the big man to play well on Sunday against a Spartan team that has more than enough fouls to give down low.

"He is getting better and better each game," guards Jamar Butler said. "He is playing really well right now and the main thing with him is he needs to take his time when he gets it in the post. Sometimes he rushes and tries to go too fast and that is what Greg (Oden) was good at. He looked around and read the defense and Kosta is just now starting to get the hang of it and his play is speaking for itself."

Koufos has also had to work on kicking the ball back out at times when it gets down low to him. Too often there have been times that the freshman has forced shots and passed up a chance to kick it out to an open shooter. Once the Ohio State center gets a better grasp of reading what is given to him the better the players around him will become with that threat.

"We are much better when we develop the inside presence because that sets up shooters like Jamar and Jon Diebler," Terwilliger said. "When Kosta starts scoring down low and Othello starts scoring they demand help down there and they can kick it out to the shooters."

And with teams looking to clamp down on Jamar and take him out of the game plan by denying him the ball (much like what Purdue did on Tuesday to Butler in the first half) it is a welcome degree of help in getting his game going.

"It helps me a lot," Butler said. "When we get going inside and if I can get going on the perimeter then that is what basketball is all about with inside/outside and if you get can get us both going then I think we can play with anybody."

Knowing what to do and being able to do it are two different things and with Michigan State denying Koufos as much as they did last time around it will be a major challenge for the Buckeyes to reverse the trend and get back to what has worked to some degree down the stretch.

"It has done wonders for us," Koufos said. "We have great shooters in Jamar and Jon and we have all the pieces of the puzzle. We just have to learn how to connect them."

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