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Monday, August 29, 2005
 
Names To Know, Part II - Ron Lewis
With the college basketball season a mere two months away, we continue profiling the new faces most likely to impact teams in this year's Big Ten. Indiana's Marco Killingsworth led off the series last Thursday.

Thanks in large part to its self-imposed post-season ban last year and the nation's most talented 2006 recruiting class, Ohio State's current squad has managed to slip below the radar, despite returning seven of nine players from a 20 win team. Next year's Thad Five will have to wait, because talented junior transfer Ron Lewis can only improve what should be one of the Big Ten's better teams.

Lewis came to the Buckeyes from Bowling Green State, where he played two solid seasons before transferring and sitting out the 2004-05 season. In his sophomore year, he finished sixth in the Mid-American Conference by averaging 17 points a game. (In case you're curious about the level of competition, the MAC was a top-15 RPI conference in the two seasons Lewis played there - 2003, 2004.)

At first glance, his numbers might not suggest overwhelming success in the Big Ten -

YearPPGRPGAPGSPGFG%3pt%
02-0312.15.02.51.241.726.2
03-0417.04.72.90.839.633.6

His shooting percentages alone would typically be enough for me to label this guy as a high-volume, low-efficiency scorer - i.e., someone cut from the Pierre Pierce, Daniel Horton, et al mold. But Lewis has one saving grace - his ability to get to the free throw line ridiculously often, especially for a guard. Witness his FTA / FGA rate from his first two seasons -

YearFTAFGAFTA/FGA
02-031872230.839
03-042333660.637

Some interesting free throw trivia to chew on - Lewis shot 10+ free throws in 18 of BGSU's 31 games in 2003-04, including one 18-18 performance; he set MAC tournament records for FT and FTA by shooting 22-25 in a postseason game during his freshmen season.

Not only can Lewis draw a lot of fouls, but his 81% career mark at the line ensures that he picks up a lot of easy points, too. These abilities offset his poor shooting from the field and led to the following respectable lines -

YearO Rtg%PossTS%TO%Reb%
02-03 101 23.7 57.5 26.8 10.0
03-04 110 26.5 56.1 19.2 8.3

O Rtg measures a player's points produced per 100 possessions. Last year's Big Ten average was 104.
TS% measures scoring efficiency based on points, FGA and FTA. Big Ten avg = 54.4%.
TO% = turnovers per possession. Big Ten avg = 21.4%.
[Need more? Check the always handy Stats Primer.]

Comparables
Similar to the first post in this series, I want to look at some Big Ten players whose game resembles that of Lewis. In this case, I searched for guards/wings who made frequent trips to the line, rebounded fairly well, and were less than fantastic from the field. I found that Lewis's 2003-04 numbers matched up well with what Bracey Wright (Indiana) and Vincent Grier (Minnesota) did last year.

Player O Rtg %Poss TS% TO% Reb% FT% 3pt%
Lewis 110 26.5 56.1 19.2 8.3 82.0 33.6
Wright 109 29.1 54.9 16.5 8.5 78.3 32.9
Grier 109 25.8 55.1 17.3 9.5 73.9 25.0

That's not to say that Lewis will be as good as either of these two all-conference players; simply put, his numbers against MAC competition were very similar to what Wright and Grier did against the Big Ten. These players share the same skill set, but producing against the Big Ten won't be as easy as the MAC.

-1 + 1 = 2?
Though Lewis might not be one of the Big Ten's best players, his season is one that I'm very eager to follow, for two related reasons.
1) He should improve The OSU's biggest offensive weaknesses
2) He should be a big improvement over the guy he is replacing

Ohio State finished in the middle of the Big Ten offensively (103 points per 100 possessions), despite shooting fewer free throws than any other team (last in FTA / FGA, 0.275) and grabbing fewer offensive rebounds (25.4% oRebRt) than all but Northwestern. Lewis's propensity for shooting free thows should provide immediate help to the Buckeyes, who had only one player shoot more than 85 free throws last year (Terence Dials). His impact on the team's rebounding fortunes will be less noticeable, but his above average skills on the glass certainly won't hurt the team.

In his Big Ten preview, college basketball's blogfather, Yoni Cohen, wondered whether the loss of Tony Stockman would hurt Ohio State. With Lewis ready to take over, I say the answer is a resounding NO. Honestly, Ohio State could probably improve their team by replacing Stockman with the ball boy. It's funny how a playing-time-fueled scoring average as a freshman can mask certain weaknesses and lead to a player never living up to the resulting expectations (see again: Pierre Pierce, Daniel Horton). Stockman never shot better than 40%, but certain media proclaimed him to be The OSU's most important player. Considering the team's weaknesses, which player looks like a better fit for the squad?

Player O Rtg %Poss FT/FG oReb% dReb%
Stockman, 04-05 95 25.7 0.115 1.5 10.3
Lewis, 03-04 110 26.5 0.637 4.3 11.9

Moving Forward

Though he's yet to play an official game as a Buckeye, Lewis is already impressing Buckeye followers. Andy Katz hinted that he might have been "one of the best talents on the practice courts last season." He also made his mark on the current-and-former-Buckeye-laden McDonald's Summer League, leading his team to the tournament finals while earning league MVP (according to Patrick Dolan) with a 29.6 scoring average. With Lewis's entrance and Stockman's departure, there's no reason for Ohio State fans to adopt a "Wait 'Til Next Year" slogan.
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