So, anything interesting happening in the world of Ohio sports today?
Yeah, I know it was a long holiday weekend and now there are some major rumblings that a huge homecoming could give folks even more to celebrate than America’s birthday, so how about we get all caught up on what happened while you were out watching fireworks and grilling, shall we?
The Heart of It All:
How could this be anything but the ever-moving free agency of one LeBron James, the best basketball player to come out of Ohio in the past 50 years and and probably ever?
More than 10,000 people officially joined the ranks of Ohio State alumni over the weekend, a group that included more than 150 scholarship athletes.
Out of the latter group, three names stood out above the rest: Aaron Craft, John Simon and Katie Smith. Two defensive standouts and the player who has scored more points as a pro basketball player than any other woman in the U.S.
(Should note Smith already received her undergrad degree a few years ago as part of OSU’s degree completion program.)
As he mentioned, we have in the past discussed an idea for an All-Ohio tournament that could take on one of several forms and drive interest in roundball throughout “the heart of it all” early in the season.
Some will argue Ohio State has more to lose than to gain from changing the way it does business now, but I’m not sure there is much evidence to support that claim.
Ohio State, Cincinnati, Xavier and Cleveland State are all included in this edition of “Vegas Bracketology” published by Fox Sports and Don Best Sports gaming analyst Todd Furhman.
He has the Buckeyes highest at at No. 4 in a killer region with No. 1 seed Louisville, No. 2 Arizona and No. 3 Kentucky.
Cincinnati gets a six seed in another region while Xavier is rated as a No. 11 seed, Cleveland State is a 12 and Toledo a 13.
As Furhman freely admits, this bracket projection has some unique and surprising entires topped by Iowa receiving a top seed, but he explains the differences are a result of using the power numbers generated by Vegas oddsmakers.
This Ohio State team is scary in a lot of ways, and I mean that as a compliment and a criticism.
They can do almost everything, but it’s not always clear when they’ll do anything.
Some of the feelings that arise from watching this group of Buckeyes are no doubt a matter of perception, leftovers from a high preseason ranking and even the residual effect of last year’s excellent but disappointing team.
Nothing this squad has done has been in a vacuum. Expectations color every game. They made midseason losses to inferior talent from Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois seem intolerable but left room for an exhilarating comeback win at Michigan State to close the regular season and win the Big Ten title many thought they’d stroll to.
Ohio State can be misleading at both ends of the floor. Defensively they have very good numbers, but they also are prone to curious lapses. Length and athleticism sometimes allow them to overcome mistakes, but communication isn’t always perfect. Sometimes you wonder if they’ve ever heard of a boxout, but they have a lot of guys who can go out of their area to snag a board when they need it, too.
On the offensive end, they have a great low post scorer but no consistent outside shooter to form the classic inside-out game their offense is set up to be. Sure, they can hit threes, but it’s not a reliable part of the arsenal. That means they have to manufacture points despite not playing a system that is really set up to do that. Fortunately, they have a true hybrid scorer at the four position in Deshaun Thomas. A player once called the next LeBron James early in his Indiana high school career, Thomas sometimes gets lost in the talk about Jared Sullinger’s prodigious power inside and Aaron Craft’s pesky play on the perimeter, but he is a bona fide NBA prospect himself. Long-armed, quick-jumping and a little enigmatic, Thomas has a natural scoring touch inside 15 feet but plenty of range to step outside and hit from beyond the arc. When we talk about “glue guys”, we generally mean the ones who hold things together on the defensive end (where it should be noted Thomas has improved through the course of this season), but that’s what this guy has done of the Ohio State offense. He fills in the gaps, scoring from wherever and often whenever he is needed to get the Buckeyes over the top.
There’s something disconcerting about watching a team that does a lot of things well but doesn’t seem to do the same ones every night. Yet the former is really more important than the latter, especially at this time of year. It just tends to make things a little wilder along the way.
I think we’re also seeing the intermixing of talent and youth, two sometimes combustible partners. Last year’s team had already paid its dues. It was not only full of great shooters – including guys like Jon Diebler and David Lighty, who improved significantly through the course of their careers – but also guys who had been around the block and learned the importance of doing all the dirty work every night. That made it easy for Sullinger, Craft and occasionally Thomas to slide into defined roles as freshmen. All they had to do was a thing or two they naturally did well – score and rebound in the paint, smother an opposing guard or fill it up from wherever there’s an opening – and let the other guys worry about the hard stuff. This year has been much different for those guys with their names alone on the marquee, and it took a while for all of them to figure out how to adjust. There were some ugly moments that even now are tough to forget when projecting where this team will end up with two weekends of season left to play.
These Buckeyes are still not always aesthetically pleasing, but they’ve learned how to get the job done by whatever means necessary. How far will that take them? We won’t have to wait much longer to find out.
Syracuse and its vaunted 2-3 zone await in the regional final on Saturday. The Buckeyes and Orange will play for the right to go to the Final Four. Ohio State lacks the consistent three-point shooters to threaten such a defense in the most obvious way, but the Buckeyes have picked up ways to get inside and find openings that weren’t there earlier in the season.
And on top of that, for as much talk as there is about the times they don’t do everything they’re supposed to, there also remains the possibility someone – long lost senior William Buford, perhaps? – shows up with something added for one night and makes them that much more dangerous. It’s part of the beauty of sports, of March Madness in particular.
I’m generally inclined to think the city of Cincinnati is not anti-Ohio State*.
More likely the Queen City and its residents have a more balanced relationship with the Buckeyes than the rest of the scarlet-and-gray drenched denizens of the state. That is a major part of the perception regardless of the angle here.
Well the weekend in Indianapolis was certainly an interesting one.
I have enjoyed covering the women’s Big Ten tournament there for the past six years, but this was my first trip for the men’s version, and I liked just about everything about it.
The whole thing was run very well, and the teams played their parts as well from Michigan’s comeback against Minnesota on Friday night to Ohio State’s big run to put away Purdue. Ohio State and Michigan State both dispatched of semifinal opponents then staged a classic in the championship game.
What do we think of the Buckeyes now?
Despite the loss to Michigan State, I feel better about their chances to do some damage in the NCAA Tournament.
However, I think we know who they are without question now. That’s both good and bad. There is without a doubt a lot of talent on the roster, but there are serious flaws that aren’t going to be fixed.
On the bright side, Aaron Craft and Jared Sullinger were great mentally and physically all three days. Craft was really in his zone defensively, driving the opponents nuts and getting his hands on everything. He ran the show better than he has at times this year, too, and looked more aggressive on the drives. It’s big for him to look to score more than he was a couple of weeks ago. He got to the basket several times and finished at the rim, adding an important weapon to the attack.
Sullinger was frustrated a few times – he was far from the only one – by the officiating in the Michigan State game, but he really seemed locked in. He took advantage of mismatches against Purdue and Michigan, dominating those teams like a player of his talent and stature should, and then he dealt with Michigan State’s size better than he had the first two times the teams played this season.
Odds are those two will continue to excel in the next phase of the season, but how do we know what kind of help they will get? The other three starters all have the capability to do very good things, but I think it’s time to conclude William Buford, Deshaun Thomas and Lenzelle Smith Jr. are not going to be consistent threats. Some nights they are great, some nights they are liabilities one way or another. When they are good, the Buckeyes are very tough. When they aren’t, the team struggles. It is what it is.
Overall, covering the tournament was a heck of a lot of fun.
The two teams in the final went after each other for 40 minutes, and more than 17,000 fans were locked in throughout. The atmosphere was great, as was the building (too bad they’re moving it back to Chicago next year).
It made me realize a lot of the talk of the meaninglessness of the college basketball regular season and postseason tournaments is garbage. Putting aside the fact that the winner ended up being awarded a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, there were clearly 10 guys going at it full speed on every possession. Thousands of people were rising and falling with every bounce of the basketball, and my Twitter feed was stuffed with people doing the same thing from home.
Did the game have a direct effect on the national championship? Maybe not, although I would think Ohio State would rather see an undersized Missouri team in a regional final than Syracuse and it’s famous zone defense. How the brackets shake out with Michigan State awarded a top seed in the West and Ohio State sent East as a No. 2 remains to be seen, but it really doesn’t matter.
For a couple of hours a bunch of guys worked hard and one side sweated out a win. There were a lot of people admiring how they did it while others took their thrills from watching it unfold.
There’s time to figure out who the national champion will be. In fact, that time is now. I’m glad we got to watch two teams with a claim on that title try one more time to top each other. I’m certainly better for it.
I walked out of Bankers Life Fieldhouse with the conclusion Michigan State is the better team at this point even though Ohio State probably has more raw talent. The pieces just complement each other better in the green and white uniforms than in the scarlet and gray.
When Ohio State is making shots, it can beat anyone, but I haven’t seen the Buckeyes make shots consistently enough to think it will happen this month. But that’s why they play the games.
Maybe all Ohio State needed to right itself for a championship run was one more day in February.
In beating Northwestern 75-73 on Feb. 29, the Buckeyes fell short of fixing all that has ailed them for much of the Big Ten season, but they showed some signs of the team they were once thought to be.
Their biggest star, Jared Sullinger, not only came up with the game-winning shot but was the overall man of the match with 22 points and 18 rebounds. He was engaged on both ends of the floor, and his teammates were willing and eager to use his considerable gifts to the team’s advantage.
Four players scored in double figures, including 14 big points from point guard Aaron Craft. Not only was the ball finding Sullinger in places he could use it, Craft found himself open for a handful of spot-up threes and he took advantage four times. Craft seems to be looking for his shot a little more lately, something that could make the rest of the offense more dangerous if he is successful.
Not everything was all wine and roses, however. There were those 16 turnovers, a slew of which came down the stretch as an eight-point lead melted away completely. Craft made some questionable decisions, but he was smart enough to get the ball to Sullinger at the end, and he picked his spots well earlier in the game.
One still has to wonder where was William Buford as he scored only six points, but unlike some earlier performances he seemed into it throughout. His shot wasn’t falling, but I think it’s important for him to continue to look for it as a function of the offense. He added six rebounds and four assists with only one turnover, too, so there were some positives.
Northwestern shot 50 percent from the floor and hit 13 of 27 three-pointers, another familiar stat line from a couple of this team’s earlier defeats, but the degree of difficulty was considerable on a number of those looks. The Wildcats made more than a few shots under duress or from well beyond the three-point line, the type that leave you sometimes merely tipping your cap. That’s not the general feeling I’ve come away with in most of the previous outside shooting clinics we’ve seen against the Buckeyes.
This was not the type of performance that crowns a champion, but it could be a building block if the ball continues to move on offense and the defensive communication is strong.
It comes literally not a moment too soon as the regular season finale looms in East Lansing on Sunday, a game that looked like it would probably be just a formality as recently as two days ago but that now carries promise of a piece of the Big Ten championship that seemed like a gimme at the start of the season.
This team still needs to get tougher and smarter, but it showed some signs against a desperate, tournament-quality team on its home floor. There was probably more to take from this win than any of the blowout wins at home the Buckeyes have enjoyed. One wonders about the lapses that let leads slip away – as we saw against Wisconsin on Sunday in a then-crippling loss – but can still come away thinking there were signs they are starting to get what they need to do to be successful, to deliver on the promise that so many saw when they dominated Duke and downed Florida in the pre-conference schedule.
Michigan State could bludgeon all that hope away in 40 minutes or less on Sunday, but the Buckeyes have to be happy to be back in the game.
People (myself included) are conditioned to look for this and thus will be quick to look to it whenever they get the chance and everything isn’t going perfectly, but the effect is probably less than it seems.
Doug makes a good point that sometimes playing inferior players too many minutes can cost a team, and there are coaches who spread out their minutes because the guys coming off the bench are almost as good as the starters (or maybe the starters are almost as bad as the guys on the bench).
The more minutes good players get, the more good things they are going to do. Consequently, the more minutes bad players get, the more likely it is they will eventually do something bad*.
Was fatigue a factor in Ohio State’s loss to Purdue? Maybe, but I doubt it.
Perhaps perimeter defense is just not a strong point of this team to begin with. Obviously, Aaron Craft is a great on-the-ball defender, but that’s not the same thing as trailing a guy through screens and keeping hands up and in passing lanes (referring to the whole team, not Craft solely). They should be able to lock people up with their length, but it takes everyone being on the same page.
And if Ohio State looked sluggish on offense… well what else is new? That’s what Matta’s type of offense is going to look like if it doesn’t keep the ball moving, whether it is the first possession of the game or the last. I felt like the Buckeyes looked a bit out of sorts throughout the Purdue game, like perhaps they were pressing. They seemed to lose their sense of what was a good shot and what was not, sometimes overpassing when they had good looks.
While some of us concentrate on minutes or shooting percentages, I’m interested to see head coach Thad Matta emphasizetoughness. That has been the overriding theme with the women’s team (my beat for BSB, if you didn’t know) this year and last as well, so it really caught my eye.
People talk a lot about toughness but the concept seems more difficult to truly grasp than it first appears it should.
Maybe that initial appearance contributes to the greater difficulty. Maybe thinking something can be done easily tricks the mind into putting it off.
Toughness is fighting through screens. It’s avoiding false steps or taking a breath at the wrong time and letting a guy pop open for a shot that changes the course of a game by extending a run or stopping one. Getting loose balls and securing rebounds out of one’s area.
And doing those things on the road as opposed to in the comforts of home is significantly different.
Can lack of those types of plays be caused by fatigue? Maybe. But I’d argue more likely toughness is a fatigue fighter when all is said and done. Perhaps the existence of fatigue is inconsequential if the toughness message sinks in.
Or maybe what we see as fatigue is really just a lack of toughness.
We’ll find out more as the season winds down and the calendar flips to March.
*However, I wonder if Deshaun Thomas and Jordan Sibert would be more comfortable and more effective if they had played more minutes earlier in the season, but it’s too late now.