Column: Examining Oden

By Lucas Deal

In his first and possibly only trip to the Assembly Hall, Ohio State freshman sensation Greg Oden and No. 6 Ohio State throttled Illinois 62-44 on Saturday.

Close early and ugly late, the game was Illinois worst loss at the Assembly Hall since an 83-55 loss to No. 1-ranked Indiana on Jan. 17, 1976 (Indiana finished the year 32-0 and won the National Championship).

Illinois head coach Bruce Weber called Saturday’s loss “rock bottom,” while Illini point guard Chester Frazier said it was simply “embarrassing.” Either way, it was a crushing loss for an already reeling Illini team.

And while I could use the rest of this column to examine to reasons for why the Illini weren’t able to beat the Buckeyes, I’m not going to.

Instead, I’d simply like to look at Oden; and the effect he had on the game.

    Sign up for our newsletter!

    It’s well documented that Ohio State’s star freshman is among one of the most talented true freshman the Big Ten has ever seen and some publications have written that he is the best college big man since Bill Walton.

    While I don’t believe I’ve seen enough of Oden to proclaim him as better than Shaq, I can tell you from what I saw on Sunday that he is the best center in America.

    He just has “it.”

    Early in Saturday’s game, Oden seemed disoriented. Illinois used a lot of perimeter passing to try and bring the Buckeye big man out from under the basket, and while the passing didn’t do much for Illinois’ offense, it did seem to keep Oden off the glass and out of the scorebook. By intermission, Oden had not yet scored.

    Yet his lack of points did not stop the Buckeyes, who used a 12-0 run late in the first half to take a 36-22 lead at the break.

    That’s because Oden’s game does not revolve around scoring, as it does with other big men like Shaq. Oden’s best skill, the reason why every other basketball team in America wants him on their team, is his ability to neutralize – if not completely stop – opponent’s scoring in the post.

    Once you enter the paint on him, it’s over. He won’t give you a shot. Sure, you can try to shoot, you can get off a hook shot or something, but as soon as it leaves your hand it will make contact with his, before promptly flying into the sixth row of the stands.

    On those rare occasions when he doesn’t get at least of his hand on the ball, it had better go in, because if it doesn’t it’s going to be his rebound.

    At one point in the second half, Bruce Weber had a lineup of Rich McBride, Jamar Smith, Calvin Brock, Warren Carter and Brian Carlwell in the game and of those five, Carlwell was the only player inside the three-point arc. He was standing at the free-throw line.

    “He’s such a defensive presence,” Carter said. “We wanted to get him out of the paint, but we couldn’t.”

    It’s because he’s too big. Even when he’s not technically standing “in” the paint, his presence can still be felt, his shadow still looms.

    Oden finished Saturday’s game with only seven points, but it was his 15 rebounds and four blocks that I’ll remember.

    If Oden declares for the NBA draft this spring and never comes back to Champaign-Urbana I doubt many Illini faithful will be disappointed. But I got to tell you, if you’re going to lose, you want to lose to the best. And from what I’ve seen, he’s the best there is.