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.