Huge Win In The Old Conference Now!

I stayed up for it, and I’m glad.  Let the snow fall, and the winter storm roll in.  I’ll take it, because the Ohio State Buckeyes have beaten the Indiana Hoosiers in one of the most improbable victories we’ve seen in a while.

Remember, this is the Indiana team that manhandled the Buckeyes in Columbus.  But tonight, the Ohio State backcourt of Shannon Scott and Aaron Craft controlled the game.  Every time you looked up, Craft was driving to the hoop for a clutch bucket, or Scott was making an unbelievable steal to keep the Buckeyes in control.  And the Hoosiers lost.

It’s unimaginable, really, that Ohio State would beat Indiana in Bloomington, on Senior Night, with the Big Ten championship on the line — but they did.  They neutralized Victor Oladipo, kept Cody Zeller from domination, and controlled the entire second half.

It was an awesome performance by the Buckeyes, and an awesome coaching job by Thad Matta and his staff.  If I weren’t a working man, I’d watch it again right now.  But I am . . . which means I’m watching it again, tomorrow night.  Awesome performance, Buckeyes!

(I’ll also repeat what I’ve said earlier.  This year’s Big Ten is one of the greatest, most competitive college conferences ever.  It’s just been terrific basketball.)

Handling The Sunday Curse (II)

The Sunday curse has finally been exorcised!

IMG_3102Today, the Buckeyes played a tough game in the second half.  After trailing by six at halftime, the Buckeyes reacted to a well-timed timeout by coach Thad Matta, ratcheted down on defense, and played a great second stanza.  Riding a career performance from Aaron Craft — who simply would not be denied on his drives to the hoop — the Buckeyes topped no. 4 Michigan State, 68-60.  Evan Ravenel, Sam Thompson, Deshaun Thomas, and Amir Williams played very well.  Buckeyes fans can hope that this team is starting to find its heart.

The win gives the Buckeyes 20 wins for the year, and also means that they will have a winning record in the very tough Big Ten.  There’s still a long way to go, but beating Michigan State is a huge win for Ohio State.  Great win, Buckeyes!  Now, keep it up!

Will The Sophomores Step Up?

Tonight the Ohio State University men’s basketball team plays its first Big Ten contest of the season.  The Buckeyes take on Nebraska at the Schott.

It will be the start of what promises to be a very challenging Big Ten season.  Michigan is undefeated and ranked second in the land, preseason favorite Indiana has lost only once and is ranked fifth, and Minnesota and Illinois each have lost only once and are ranked ninth and eleventh, respectively — and that list doesn’t even include perennial contenders Michigan State and Wisconsin.  The consensus view of analysts is that the Big Ten is the toughest conference in the country.

What about the Buckeyes?  They are 10-2, but they’ve lost the only two games they’ve played against powerhouse teams, falling to Duke away and Kansas at home.  In both cases, a big problem was shooting the ball.  Ohio State plays solid defense but struggles to knock down shots in their half court offense.  Deshaun Thomas can be counted on to put points on the board, but the team lacks a consistent number two scorer.  Point guard Aaron Craft is a defensive whiz, but he struggles with his outside shot and the lack of Jared Sullinger in the middle has affected his opportunities to drive to the basket.  Guard Lenzelle Smith, Jr. is a hustler but his offensive production is streaky.  Center Evan Ravenel — the only senior on the team — has decent offensive skills but is undersized.

That leaves Buckeye fans looking to members of Ohio State’s heralded sophomore class:  guard Shannon Scott, forwards LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson, and center Amir Williams.  All have shown improvement over their performance last year.  Scott seems to be playing with much more confidence, particularly on the offensive end, Thompson has developed a jump shot to go with his awe-inspiring dunks, and Ross has showed signs of having the all-around offensive game that makes Buckeye Nation wonder whether he can become another Deshaun Thomas.  Williams’ progress has been slower.  He doesn’t have a dependable “big man” offensive move, yet, but he is becoming a disruptive force on the defensive end with his shot-blocking abilities.

If Ohio State is going to contend for the Big Ten championship this year — and that’s a big if, with the depth of talent in the conference this year — it will be because these members of the sophomore class step up, contribute on the offensive end, and play tough on the road.  Their first test is tonight.

The Buckeyes Lose A Close One At Cameron

Last night the Ohio State Buckeyes fell to the Duke Blue Devils, 73-68, at Cameron Indoor Stadium.  It was a tightly contested, entertaining match-up between two pretty good basketball teams.

The Buckeyes played excellent on-the-ball defense and rebounded the ball well to dominate the first half — even though they played most of the half with Deshaun Thomas, their top scorer, riding the bench with two fouls.  The Buckeyes were sharp and attacking and had Duke on its heels.  In the second half, however, Duke played much more aggressively at both ends of the court, and it paid off.  Duke hit big shots, Ohio State didn’t, and when Duke pulled ahead it made the free throws that salted the game away.

Duke’s Mason Plumlee is as good as advertised.  As expected, he dominated inside, scoring 21 points and corralling 17 rebounds.  The Blue Devils also got great contributions from Rasheed Sulaimon, Ryan Kelly, and Quinn Cook, all of whom responded to Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s halftime instructions and hit huge shots to help Plumlee put the Blue Devils on top.  As usual, Duke was helped by its awesome home court advantage, with great blue-painted fans screaming every time an Ohio State player touched the ball.

The Buckeyes’ main problem was shooting.  Thomas never seemed to get into a rhythm after his early foul trouble, and Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith Jr., and Shannon Scott all struggled with their shots.  Still, the game had lots of positives for the young Ohio State team.  The Buckeyes stood toe-to-toe with a basketball power on its legendary home court, kept its poise even when shots weren’t dropping, and played down to the wire in a game many pundits expected would be a Duke blowout.  Playing in a tough venue like Cameron Indoor Stadium will serve the Buckeyes well when the Big Ten season begins.  I also thought that Amir Williams and Evan Ravenel played pretty well inside — if you can say that when the opposing center scores 21 points — and their experience with Plumlee should help when they match up against Indiana’s stud center, Cody Zeller.  Sophomores LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson weren’t intimidated and showed they can make big contributions, and I suspect that Craft will use his off night as an incentive to play even harder the rest of the year.

It would have been nice to beat Duke, end its streak of home floor wins against non-conference opponents, and win the Big Ten-ACC Challenge for the Big Ten, but the Buckeyes have nothing to be ashamed of.  Coach Matta and his staff will use the lessons from this game to teach and tinker and get the team ready for the Big Ten season.

Basketball In The Belly Of The Beast

Tomorrow night the Ohio State Buckeyes play basketball in the Belly of the Beast.  They will take on the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the legendary facility that is the toughest college basketball venue in the land.

Cameron is tough because the crowd is loud and proud, but mostly it’s tough because Duke always has great teams under Coach Mike Krzyzewski.  This year is no exception.  The Blue Devils are ranked second and they’ve already beaten two of the most highly regarded teams in the nation, Kentucky and Louisville.  After six games, the Blue Devils have five players averaging in double figures.  They are led by 6-10 center Mason Plumlee, who is netting almost 20 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks per game, and senior guard Seth Curry.  The Blue Devils have a lot of talent and play the tough, disciplined game you expect from a Coach K team.

The Blue Devils also have some extra motivation.  Last year they got pulverized by Ohio State at Value City Arena, 85-63, in a game where the Buckeyes could do no wrong.  That game, like this one, is part of the annual Big Ten-ACC challenge.  After winning the first ten Challenges, the ACC has lost three in a row to the Big Ten and got waxed in 2011.  Both conferences have lots of good teams this year, so fans can expect interesting match-ups between schools in two of the country’s top basketball conferences.

Duke clearly has the edge in tomorrow night’s contest, but the game should be an intriguing one.  Plumlee gives Duke a strong inside game that the Buckeyes lack; OSU big men Evan Ravenel and Amir Williams will have to play exceptionally well to keep the Buckeyes competitive.  OSU defensive whiz Aaron Craft will take on one of the Duke guards, but can the Buckeyes guard the rest of the Blue Devil squad?  At the other end of the court, Duke will have to figure out how to defend the Buckeyes’ top scorer, Deshaun Thomas, who can take the ball inside or pop from outside. Ohio State fans also are looking for Lenzelle Smith, Jr., one of the heroes of the Buckeyes’ run to the Final Four last year, to assert himself at the offensive end.

The Buckeyes are a young team that is still searching for its identity and its player rotation.  If Ohio State can give the Blue Devils a good game in front of thousands of face-painted Duke students who are screaming their brains out, that will tell us a lot about the toughness of Thad Matta’s Buckeye squad, and its prospects in the Big Ten and beyond.

Pointing Toward Some Buckeye Basketball

It’s football season, sure . . . but college basketball is just around the corner.  The Buckeye roundballers open the season on November 9 against Marquette on the U.S.S. Yorktown, of all places, and will be trying to follow up on an excellent season that saw the team reach the Final Four before falling to Kansas in a heart-breaker.  The Buckeyes will need to replace their leader and mainstay in the middle, Jared Sullinger, and long-time starter William Buford, but the talent on the roster seems to give them shot at doing so.

The team begins with three stalwart players who really emerged last year:  scoring and rebounding machine Deshaun Thomas, point guard and defensive stopper Aaron Craft, and do-everything guard Lenzelle Smith, Jr.  All three played significant minutes and made big contributions to last year’s success.  To replace Sullinger in the middle, the Buckeyes will look to 6-11 sophomore Amir Williams, a shot blocker who showed promise is limited action last year, and senior Evan Ravenel, who backed up Sullinger.  The other spot might be occupied by point guard Shannon Scott, who will need to improve his shooting this year, jump-out-of-the-gym alley-ooper Sam Thompson, or silky smooth shooter LaQuinton Ross.  Add in freshman Amedeo Della Valle, from Alba, Italy, and you give coach Thad Matta lots of pieces to work with.

At Ohio State, Matta has been a master at matching his scheme to his players.  Will he move Craft to shooting guard and start Scott at the point?  With the depth and quickness the Buckeyes have, will he play an up tempo, pressing game that relies on Williams’ shot-blocking prowess to erase any breakaway efforts by opponents?  To add to the intrigue, the Buckeyes play an interesting preseason schedule that features not only Marquette but also games at Duke and a rematch with Kansas — followed by the always tough Big Ten schedule.

It’s going to be another interesting season for OSU basketball fans.

Deshaun’s Decision

As expected, Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger has declared for the NBA draft.  I’m not surprised by his decision.  He took a physical beating in every game this season and probably decided if he was going to take that kind of abuse he may as well get paid for it.  I wish him well and thank him for his fine play for the Buckeyes.

Obviously, I’m more excited about Deshaun Thomas’ decision to return to Ohio State for his junior year.  This past season he went from a one-dimensional, shot-launching part-time player to a crucial part of the team that made it all the way to the Final Four.  He brought so much to the table — a scorer’s mentality and creative shot-making, an inside-outside offensive game, tremendous rebounding abilities, and significantly improved defense and interior passing — and was just a lot of fun to watch.  If his improvement from his sophomore to junior year is comparable his development this year, Thomas could compete for leading scorer and rebounder honors in the Big Ten next year.

Thomas, Aaron Craft, and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. give Ohio State a solid core of tested players for coach Thad Matta to build around.  He’ll work to fit Shannon Scott, Amir Williams, LaQuinton Ross, Evan Ravenel, and others into the mix, and the result likely will be a team that looks different from this year’s post-oriented squad.  With the athletes on the team, might the Buckeyes go up-tempo on offense and press on defense, and look for Williams to use his shot-blocking skills to erase mistakes if the press is broken?  The potential options are intriguing.

I imagine that another year working in the weight room and sharpening all facets of his game would help Thomas’ NBA prospects — but I don’t know enough about the NBA to say for sure.  What I do know is that Thomas’ election to come back is very welcome news for Ohio State basketball fans.

A Tough Loss, But A Great Season

The Ohio State-Kansas game lived up to its billing — a tough slugging match between two heavyweights.  Unfortunately for Ohio State (and me), Kansas took the Buckeyes’ best shot and came back strong to win.  All credit to the Jayhawks for hustling and scrapping and getting the rebounds and loose balls that allowed them to turn the tide in the second half.

Obviously, I’m sorry that the Buckeyes could not hold their lead and could not make their goal of the national championship game.  Their loss, however, does not take away from what has been a wonderful season for the team and its fans.  This is a group that battled through adversity and tough stretches and came back to play extremely well down the stretch and in the NCAA Tournament.  Much as I would like to have seen the Buckeyes win and get the chance to knock off Kentucky, there is no shame in losing by two points in a hard-fought game to a basketball powerhouse like Kansas.

I’d like to thank William Buford and Jared Sullinger for coming back to play another year, when they could have gone to the NBA and made a lot of money this year instead.  I’ve relished watching Aaron Craft play, and Deshaun Thomas develop into a much more well-rounded player, and Lenzelle Smith Jr. make crucial shots when the team needed them most.  I’ve enjoyed watching Shannon Scott and Amir Williams and Sam Thompson and catching glimpses of their bright futures.  And, I’ve appreciated the hard work of Thad Matta and his coaching staff as they have gotten the team ready to play, game after game.

An evenly matched contest like the one played tonight is a game of inches; the fact that things didn’t bounce the Buckeyes’ way at the end doesn’t detract from a great year.  I know it’s tough for the players and coaches, who were hoping for something even more; it will be some time before the sting eases.  In the meantime, I just want to say thanks for lots of great basketball, Buckeyes!

 

Coaching, And Kansas

Tonight Ohio State plays Kansas in one of the Final Four national semifinal games. The winner gets to move on to the national championship game; the loser will celebrate a great season but also wonder about what might have been.

A lot has been written about the match-ups in the game.  How will Jared Sullinger, who missed the first game between the Buckeyes and Jayhawks in December, fare against shot-blocking center Jeff Withey?  Will cat-quick Jayhawk Tyshawn Taylor be able to play his game notwithstanding the suffocating defensive efforts of Aaron Craft?  Who will guard the Buckeyes’ versatile Deshaun Thomas, and who will try to stop Jayhawk Elijah Johnson?

One match-up that hasn’t been talked about much is the match-up of coaches.  Kansas is led by Bill Self, one of the best coaches in the game.  He has won a national championship at Kansas and has done a great job of getting this team — generally viewed as having less pure talent than prior Jayhawk juggernauts — into the Final Four.  I thought Self outmaneuvered North Carolina’s Roy Williams last weekend as both coaches dealt with the loss of UNC’s point guard.  In the second half Kansas went to a triangle-and-two defense that seemed to knock the Tar Heels off kilter and left them flummoxed for the rest of the game.

Ohio State’s Thad Matta, on the other hand, seems to be under-appreciated by many people.  They acknowledge that he is a great recruiter, and they applaud his courageous way of dealing with the challenges posed by his physical condition, but they downplay his “Xs and Os” skills, criticize him for not using his bench, and say he doesn’t use his timeouts effectively.

I don’t get this criticism, and think this year’s NCAA Tournament demonstrates that Coach Matta can match up with anybody.  He has this year’s team motivated and ready to perform, also also has shown a lot of flexibility in how Ohio State has played its opponents.  Against Gonzaga, which had a strong 7-footer in the middle, he moved Sullinger around and away from the basket for some uncontested jumpers.  Against the fabled Syracuse zone, he changed the positions of Thomas and Sullinger and Ohio State made interior passes that led to some easy baskets; he also recognized that Lenzelle Smith, Jr. was not the focus of Syracuse defensive plans, and in the second half Smith helped to lead the Buckeyes to victory.  In every game, Coach Matta and his staff have put the Buckeyes in the position to win — and that is what you want from a coach.

When the ball tips tonight, we’ll see how Coach Matta has decided to deal with the match-up issues posed by the fine Jayhawk squad.  Before the game begins, however, Ohio State fans should take a moment to thank Coach Matta and his assistants for a job well done — and then hope that they have done a similarly good job in preparing for tonight’s tilt with the Jayhawks.

The Final Four. Period.

The Buckeyes are going to the Final Four!  Even as I type those words, I find them hard to believe — and richly satisfying, all at the same time.

What a fine, if foul-plagued, game this was!  Ohio State took the game to Syracuse from the first tip.  They played a smart game against the Syracuse zone, and once they figured out how the officials were going to call the game, they tailored their approach accordingly.  The Buckeyes attacked, they rebounded, and they hounded Syracuse into a series of turnovers when the game was on the line.

Virtually every Buckeye made a significant contribution in this game.  Jared Sullinger overcame first half foul trouble and dominated the game in the second half every time he touched the ball.  Aaron Craft was a hustling hurricane, Deshaun Thomas made some great passes and clutch shots, and the Buckeye bench — Sam Thompson, Evan Ravenel, Shannon Scott, and particularly Amir Williams — made the win possible.  But I particularly want to commend William Buford and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. — Buford, because he kept fighting and just wouldn’t quit, and Smith, who was fearless in putting the ball up and taking the ball to the rack.

It’s so rare for a team to make it to the Final Four.  So much depends on match-ups, and who is hot and who is not, and how the ball bounces.  It’s time to enjoy this great accomplishment, and revel in the cool of the evening.

Hoping To Bounce The Orange

When the NCAA Tournament field of 64 has been reduced to eight, typically only power programs from big conferences remain.  That’s true again this year, where the Elite Eight includes two teams each from the SEC, the Big 12, and the Big East, and one each from the Big Ten and the ACC.

The Ohio State Buckeyes will hope to carry the Big Ten flag forward when they play tonight against the Big East’s best team, the Syracuse Orange.  It will be a battle of two seasoned, highly regarded teams that spent the entire season ranked in the top ten.

Syracuse beat another Big Ten team, Wisconsin, to get to this point.  The Badgers almost pulled that game out because they canned 14 three-pointers shooting over the fabled Syracuse zone that Coach Jim Boeheim has perfected.  That’s not likely to happen tonight, because Ohio State simply doesn’t have the three-point shooters to take that approach unless William Buford gets hot.

The Buckeyes will be looking to break down the zone in other ways, by trying to get the ball to Deshaun Thomas at the elbow of the lane and have him shoot mid-range jumpers before Syracuse players can rotate over or dish to Jared Sullinger and others if holes in the zone open up.  Thomas has been a stud in the Tournament, and the Buckeyes hope his strong showing will continue.

The other key on offense will be rebounding.  The Buckeyes have been a good rebounding team, and teams that play zone — Syracuse included — often get outrebounded because they can’t get a body on every offensive player when the ball comes off the glass.  Syracuse’s rebounding challenges were compounded when they lost their big man, Fab Melo, for the tournament.  Ohio State will need to crash the boards, and that means Sullinger, Thomas, and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. will need to hustle and scrap for put-back buckets on the offensive end.

Syracuse has a lot of long and talented players who can run, shoot, and finish near the rim. They like to play up-tempo and score fast-break points off turnovers.  They are led in scoring by forward Kris Joseph and guard Dion Waiters, but the match-up I’ll have my eye on will be Ohio State’s Aaron Craft against Syracus guard Scoop Jardine.  Jardine is terrific, and Syracuse counts on him to get the ball to the players who can finish.  Craft will be trying to disrupt that and will be playing his tremendous pressure on the ball style to do so.  If Craft can get Jardine out of his rhythm and out of his game without getting himself into foul trouble, the Buckeyes will have a chance to move forward.

In the Elite Eight you expect to see tough games between great teams.  We’ll see one tonight.

 

Eightward Bound

It was a battle, and the outcome was long in doubt, but Ohio State pulled out a win over Cincinnati tonight. Through their 81-66 victory, the Buckeyes advance to the Elite Eight and avoided getting knocked out in the Sweet Sixteen for the third year in a row.

This was a tough, tough win — just what you would expect in a Sweet Sixteen matchup.  The Buckeyes rode the stellar play of Deshaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger to a 12-point halftime lead.  Thomas, in particular, was spectacular, making shots from all over the floor as the Bearcats tried desperately to find someone who could match up with him.

The second half was another story, however.  The Buckeyes saw their lead vanish as Cincinnati hustled, forced turnovers, and shot lights out.  Credit to the Bearcats for playing a gutty game and not giving up.

The Buckeyes fell behind, but dug down deep, shut down the Bearcats, and pulled away.  Sullinger and Thomas were great, but Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. provided the energy and the gritty defense that frustrated the Bearcats and allowed the Buckeyes to rebuild their lead and cruise to victory. Craft seemed to be just about everywhere, knocking balls loose, hitting the floor, and driving the Bearcat big men and guards alike to distraction with his quick hands.

Smith, on the other hand, made some great passes, got some crucial buckets, and helped to shut down the Bearcats when the game was in the balance.  This game showed why Coach Thad Matta likes to have Lenzelle in the lineup.  When he is playing his game, he contributes in so many different ways.

Both Smith and Craft contributed on offense in the second half; Smith had 15 points, and Craft ended with 11, most of which came on free throws.  William Buford, on the other hand, probably is glad he’ll never see another Sweet Sixteen game — he seemed out of sorts all game and could not get the ball to go down.  We’ll hope he’s gotten the game out of his system, because we’ll need him to score in the next game.

So, the Buckeyes advance to play Syracuse.  They’ll need to play well and shoot better from the free throw line, but we’ll worry about that game later.  For now, the Buckeyes have moved on and knocked Cincinnati out of the tournament in the process.

Somewhere, Jerry Lucas is smiling.

 

Working To Make The Sixteen Sweet

Tomorrow night the Buckeyes play an NCAA Tournament regional semifinal game against the University of Cincinnati Bearcats.  The round of games is called the Sweet Sixteen, but recently it has had a decidedly sour taste for Ohio State.

This is the third year in a row the Buckeyes have made it this far — and the last two years they went no farther.  In 2010 they lost a heart-breaker to Tennessee, 76-73; last year they arguably had the best team around and fell in a stomach-churning loss to Kentucky, 62-60.  The close scores made the losses more agonizing, and Buckeyes fans don’t want to endure another.

Ohio State and Cincinnati are in the same state but don’t play each other often.  Nevertheless, they have a rich basketball history.   Cincinnati beat the Buckeyes in two NCAA championship games 50 years ago, during the Jerry Lucas era.  Some of my friends would dearly like to get belated payback this year.

It’s safe to say that the participants in this year’s game won’t be thinking much about Lucas and the Buckeyes of the early ’60s.  They’ll be focused on stopping a UC team that is tough, scrappy, and balanced, with four players who average in double figures.  The team bounced back after a humiliating loss to crosstown rival Xavier — in a game that ended in an awful bench-clearing brawl — to play well in their conference and advance to the Big East title game.  UC’s experience in the Big East means they won’t be intimidated by the setting or the opponent.

As for the Buckeyes, they can’t afford another start like they had against Gonzaga, which dominated the boards early and got Jared Sullinger into foul trouble.  They’ll need to rebound better and will be looking for Lenzelle Smith to crash the glass and bring hustle on defense.  They’ll want to get the terrific contributions from Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft that they got against Gonzaga.  Finally, they’ll need big games from Sullinger and, especially, William Buford, who will be looking to exorcise some demons from last year’s loss to Kentucky.

The game tips tomorrow night at (ugh!) 9:45 p.m.  Already, the insides of the stalwart members of Buckeye Nation are churning.

Onward, And Upward

It was a nail-biter, and Gonzaga came back as you knew they would, but this afternoon the Ohio State Buckeyes ultimately prevailed and are moving on to the Sweet Sixteen.

This was a very good win against a very good team.  The Buckeyes were out of sorts early and were getting killed on the boards.  Shouted epithets rang through Webner House as the Bulldogs got put-backs and second-chance points after grabbing offensive rebounds.  But with Jared Sullinger on the bench with two fouls, the Buckeyes clawed their way back.  Amir Williams gave Ohio State a presence in the middle, and Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas brought the Buckeyes back to lead at the half.  In the second half, the terrific Craft led the way and the Buckeyes built up a 10-point lead.  Then, Gonzaga wisely went to a zone, the Buckeyes were thrown off stride, and their lead ultimately dwindled to nothing.  But Ohio State stuck at it, made their free throws, and finally got the crucial rebounds.  The final score was 73-66, but the game was a lot closer than that.

This may have been the gutsiest effort by Ohio State this year.  They played, and beat, an experienced team that is a perennial NCAA Tournament contender.  Equally important, it was a true team effort — perhaps the most total team effort of the season.  Four players scored in double figures and the Buckeyes got quality contributions off the bench from Amir Williams and Shannon Scott.  It was good to see William Buford on the line at the end, knocking down free throws to ice the game.  Buford deserves some love and respect from Buckeyes fans for coming back for his senior year when he easily could have gone pro and providing the team’s most dependable outside shooting.

So now the Buckeyes get to sit back and wait to see whether they play Florida State or Cincinnati in the round of 16 — where the Buckeyes have fallen the last two years.  Let’s hope they take a few moments tonight to reflect on and enjoy a job well done today.

Huge Win, Huge Boost

Uncle Mack has chided me for not writing about the outcomes of games after I’ve written a preview.  Tonight I’m happy to write about the Buckeyes’ excellent win against Michigan State at the Breslin Center.

The Buckeyes shot the ball well this afternoon, which was the biggest difference between this game and their loss to Michigan State earlier this year, and also rebounded extremely well — which is crucial if you hope to stay in games against the Spartans.  The bench contributed big time, with Sam Thompson and, especially, Evan Ravenel making key plays and baskets with the contest in the balance.  And when it came down to crunch time, Ohio State went through Jared Sullinger, who made two excellent passes for buckets that kept the score even, and then William Buford stuck in the stiletto and delivered the coup de grace.

Playing so well down the stretch is wonderful, but it is particularly impressive given the fact that the Buckeyes were on the road, Draymond Green was playing his last game at the Breslin Center, Tom Izzo was calling time outs with his customary mastery, and the Izzone was yelling its lungs out every time Ohio State touched the ball.  Today’s result is even more impressive because Ohio State clawed back from 15 points down in the first half deficit and a 9-point halftime deficit.  Those who have questioned the character of this team got an answer in today’s gutty performance.

So, the Big Ten ends with a three-way tie for first place, and the Buckeyes get a boost as they head into the Big Ten Tournament.  Let the tournaments begin!