The basketball preseason is over, and now the real season — that is, the Big Ten season — is beginning. Ohio State plays its first conference game tonight, traveling to Bloomington to play the Indiana Hoosiers.
The Buckeyes are undefeated, 13-0, and are ranked second in national polls. The team clearly has a lot of talent and a lot of promise. The core of the team is four experienced players — David Lighty, Jon Diebler, William Buford, and Dallas Lauderdale — and they have played well so far. Those four players give the Buckeyes firepower from the perimeter, a player who can take the ball to the rack, tough defenders, and a shot blocker. And Ohio State’s freshman class — particularly Jared Sullinger — has made a huge contribution, too. Sullinger appears to be a complete package post player who knows all the post moves, rebounds well, and can dish when he is double-teamed. His classmates Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas also have made their mark and have given Ohio State both depth and a spark off the bench. Coach Thad Matta and his assistants have worked hard to experiment with lineups, spread playing time among the talent, and get the team to play tough defense, which will be crucial during Big Ten crunch time.
The big question for this team, right now, is “how good are they”? The Buckeyes really haven’t been tested yet, and while they have played some quality teams — Florida, Florida State, and South Carolina among them — they have not played a down-to-the-wire game yet. That will happen in the Big Ten, and the jury is still out on how the team will handle the pressure. In the meantime, the Buckeyes will need to take it one game at a time. They cannot afford to stumble on the road against a team like Indiana, which has struggled and should have difficulty matching up against the Buckeyes.
The old, tired year 2010 is getting ready to exit stage right, and the bright, shiny year 2011 is getting ready to crawl onto the national stage. Today we will get the last of the stories looking back at what has happened over the last 12 months. Tomorrow the focus will be on what might happen over the next 12 months.
On the national scene, there is a lot of uncertainty, which should make 2011 very interesting indeed. President Obama had a tough 2010, with falling public approval ratings, a bad economy, and mounting public concern about spending and debt, and the Democratic Party took a shellacking in the 2010 election as a result. But the President nevertheless managed to accomplish some of his initiatives in the lame duck session of Congress, leading some people to talk about a comeback. In 2011, will we in fact see a comeback by the President and a resurgence of some of the passionate support he received in the 2008 election?
In Congress, the big story will be the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives and the increased Republican minority in the Senate. In the past two years, House Republicans have been unified in opposing many of the President’s initiatives, but maintaining unity when you are running the show can be more difficult. How will the new Speaker John Boehner and the House Republicans address spending and debt issues, and will they be able to affect the implementation of the “health care reform” legislation and some of the regulatory initiatives that are of such concern to members of the “tea party”? In the Senate, where the rules and practices require consensus, how will Harry Reid and his slimmer majority deal with Republicans? Will the two Houses of Congress, controlled by two different parties, be able to reach agreement on their competing versions of basic legislation like spending bills? And will President Obama then wield his veto pen?
Pundits may be predicting what will happen, but the reality is that no one knows. That is what will make 2011 such an interesting year.
The Browns play their final game of the year on Sunday. It will be a home matchup against their bitter rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The game means everything to the Steelers, who are fighting to win the division and get a first-round bye. For the Browns, the game is all about pride and rivalry, as the Browns have been out of the playoff hunt for weeks.
This game should be a mismatch. The Steelers are one of the best teams in the NFL. Their defense is terrific — the best in the NFL against the run — and their offense is balanced and productive. They are a seasoned team that routinely makes the playoffs, and this game is important to their Super Bowl prospects. The Browns, on the other hand, seem to have hit the wall both offensively and defensively. Offensively, the Browns struggle to score points; they have not reached 20 points in the last four games. Last week, the Ravens shut down Peyton Hillis and the Browns’ running game and picked off rookie quarterback Colt McCoy three times. The Steelers can also be expected to focus on stuffing the run and harassing McCoy. Defensively, the Browns seem to be getting worn down. The Ravens and the Bengals both moved the ball on the ground against the Browns, and the Steelers will try to do the same with Rashard Mendenhall, one of the best backs in the league. The Steelers, moreover, will bring Ben Roethlisberger and a better passing game, too.
It is disheartening for Browns fans to see another season grind to a close without a playoff berth, but the players and, in particular, head coach Eric Mangini and his staff cannot afford to be disheartened. They are fighting for their jobs and coming to an end of a season that has seen some progress. It would be nice to see the Browns’ final record come in at 6-10, rather than duplicating last year’s 5-11 mark. And, of course, it would be sweet to see the Browns beat the Steelers and throw a wrench into their playoff plans. Rivalries aren’t really rivalries if the underdog doesn’t rise up and win once in a while. Now would be a good time for the Browns to do so.