When you get the chance to see Greg Oden in person, you don’t pass up that opportunity.
Fortunately for me, I had that chance Wednesday night in Evanston for the Ohio State/Northwestern game.
Now, let me preface this by saying that I’m not a big college basketball guy. I don’t care for the style of play of most teams around the country, and like the majority of the nation, I don’t pay much attention until right before I need to fill out my bracket.
But seeing the much hyped potential #1 pick up close and personal outweighed the horror of having to do so at Welsh-Ryan Arena, a gym that truly made me long for my day’s attending high school games. Come on Northwestern, you’re in the Big Ten.
I didn’t care about the game’s outcome. I was zoned in on Oden and how he would fare against someone named Vince Scott.
Surprisingly, Northwestern’s zone defense actually shut Oden down for most of the night on offense. They doubled the big man constantly, theoretically cutting off passing lanes for the Ohio State guards. I say theoretically because I could have sworn I saw passing lanes that Buckeye guards chose not to take for some reason. Regardless, it may not have mattered as they struggled throwing over-the-top lob passes to Oden when much smaller defenders fronted him. Oden’s teammates also didn’t help matters by missing a ton of shots from the perimeter, which allowed Northwestern to sag their defenders even more onto Oden.
The Buckeyes sloshed their way through an ugly first half, and in my opinion it was largely due to Oden being a complete non-factor on both ends. He had seven first half points that came on a dunk, a nice face up 10-footer and three left handed free throws. The aspect of Oden’s game that seems to be lacking most at this stage is his assertiveness in demanding the basketball from his teammates. Since I don’t follow Ohio State closely, for all I know this is by head coach Thad Motta’s design. For my money, if I’m playing Northwestern, a team that features absolutely no one close in size or talent to my dominant big man, my game plan is to work it inside and establish the paint early and often. But what do I know?
One thing that stood out clearly in the first half, and really for the whole game, was Northwestern’s fear of bringing the ball anywhere near Oden when they had the ball on offense. The Wildcats did a good job of making their 3-pointers early, which forced Ohio State out of a zone and into a man-to-man defense. Because Northwestern has big men who can shoot (don’t ask me their names, I don’t know), Oden was forced to wander out to the three-point line and he struggled defending the long-range shot. That being said, as soon as Northwestern went cold from the outside, they had no options offensively since they were determined to stay away from Oden rejecting their shots inside. He only had one block in the basketball game, but his presence on the defensive end of the floor was obvious from the opening tip. He was also a monster on the glass in the first half, pulling down seven rebounds with ease.
In the second half, in the midst of surprisingly close game, Oden did what I was waiting for him to do. He completely took over the basketball game.
With 6:07 to go, he made a stunningly beautiful spin move off of a double team and sank a nice touch lay-up with the left hand. His ambidextrous ability makes him so much more frightening.
Two minutes later, with Ohio State clinging to a four-point advantage, Oden pulled down a big offensive rebound following a Ron Lewis missed free throw. He was hammered trying to put it back, and he only converted one of two free throws. It was clear he was determined to get any missed shot, and Northwestern had no answer.
With just over three minutes to go, the 7-footer grabbed another offensive rebound and finished to put the Buckeyes up five. On the ensuing trip down, Northwestern missed a shot, and Oden hauled in the rebound. Ivan Harris, who had a great game shooting, made a key shot at the other end, and the ball game was over.
Oden grabbed two more rebounds, finally blocked a shot, and finished with 17 points and 17 rebounds.
So, what can you take from a game like this? I’ve heard so much hype about Oden that I think I was actually disappointed he only went for 17 and 17 against Northwestern. But that’s not fair. He earned every one of his points, and I’m not sure any of them came off of a set play. In fact, most of his offense came off of rebounds. He owned the glass on both ends. He altered the game by standing in the paint on defense. On the negative side, he only made 5 of 10 free throws, but you can’t really fault him much for it because he’s still shooting them left handed due to his right wrist injury.
He was, without a shadow of a doubt, the difference maker in the game. He’s ready to go pro. I have no idea if he will. While watching him work for position constantly on offense and rarely get the ball, I began wondering what would happen if he played with a point guard who would find a way to get him the ball. This will sound strange, but I think he’s better equipped to play at the professional level right now. The college game seems all about perimeter shooting, and it turns Oden into an afterthought. That’s silly. The scary thing for the Big Ten is that if he stays, he’s only going to get better. I’m sure most of the league is rooting for him to make himself eligible for the draft.
I’ve watched Andrew Bynum play every game for the Lakers this year. He’s been a major surprise, and he looks like he’ll be a dominant big man for years to come. Oden’s game right now strikes me as much more polished than Bynum’s. If he played nastier, he would be the next coming of Dwight Howard. He could even surpass him. Oden needs more time to develop, and he needs a healthy right wrist, but if this is how he plays coming back from injury, he’s going to be someone I’m writing about for many, many years to come.
I can say I saw him when…