On To The Dance

The Ohio State Buckeyes played a good game today but lost to the Michigan Wolverines, 72-69. The loss knocked the Buckeyes out of the Big Ten Tournament and kept them out of the championship game, where Ohio State has made a home for years.

No loss is ever a good loss — particularly when it’s against that unholy Team Up North — but this game had some redeeming qualities. Once again Ohio State fell far behind, but once again it came back, and against a darned good team. The Buckeyes stayed with Michigan even though the Wolverines shot lights out, and they held down the high-flying Michigan offense for long stretches of the game. In the end, it came down to some missed free throws, an offensive rebound that went Michigan’s way, and a ball that slipped out of Aaron Craft’s hand.

There were lots of positives in this game. OSU guard Shannon Scott was tremendous — hitting little stop and pop jumpers, bombing in treys, making some great passes, and playing tough defense. Scott looked every inch the five-star recruit he was when he first came to the Buckeyes. If he’s found his rhythm offensively, he’ll be the perfect complement to LaQuinton Ross, who played another strong game inside. The Buckeyes got decent production from a range of players, and they’ll also get an extra day’s rest after playing three tough games in three days.

Now it’s on to the Big Dance. Most people are saying the Buckeyes will be a five seed; I’m guessing a six. At this point, it doesn’t much matter – you need to win every game, or you go home. During the Big Ten Tournament, the Buckeyes showed a lot of toughness and will, and those are qualities that should serve them well in the days ahead. If the Buckeyes play offense during the NCAA Tournament like they did today, and manage not to run into a team that shoots better than 50 percent from behind the arc, they may be dancing past the first weekend. Those of us in Buckeye Nation would happily accept that result.

The Comeback Kids

Because I can’t use my left foot or get exercise in the conventional way, I’m trying to get my blood pumping by watching the Ohio State basketball team. So far, my plan is working like a charm.

Today the Buckeyes played Nebraska in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament. Ohio State stunk up the joint at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second and were getting embarrassed, 48-30. My blood pressure was spiking at the pitiful performance, with flushed cheeks and spittle and epithets flying.

But then, improbably, a mop-topped bean pole spurred the Buckeyes. With Amedeo Della Valle hustling his brains out, and LaQuinton Ross making just about every shot he put up, and Aaron Craft playing the tough D that is his trademark, the Buckeyes came back to win, 71-67. That’s a 41-19 run to close out the game — and it was fitting that Della Valle iced the victory by coolly making four free throws with the game on the line.

How do you explain this team? They disappear, then come roaring back. They can’t make a free throw for most of the game, but as the clock winds down they can’t miss. They seem to lose their composure, but as the game ends it’s the other team that is red-faced and stunned.

So, the Buckeyes move on. Tomorrow they play Michigan. The Buckeyes had better bring their A game for all 40 minutes tomorrow, because if they fall behind the Wolverines by 18 there’s no coming back.

Survive And Advance

For the first time in years, the Ohio State Buckeyes played on Thursday in the Big Ten Tournament. Today they were fortunate to win a squeaker, 63-61, over a game Purdue Boilermakers team that gave the Buckeyes all they could handle.

The Buckeyes have been a cipher for months, and today was no different. For stretches they look putrid, then then look pretty good. They can’t make a three-pointer, and their free throw shooting is abysmal. Today they were 1-14 from behind the arc — that’s a nifty 7.1% for the mathematicians out there — and a limp 64% from the free throw line. Once again, they missed free throws that could have put the game away. They also turned the ball over 12 times, and a lot of those turnovers were simple mental mistakes. It’s got to be maddening for Coach Thad Matta when March rolls around and those mistakes keep being made.

With such miserable shooting, it’s amazing that Ohio State won today’s game. If they’d played a better team — Purdue finished last in the Big Ten — they probably would have lost. But the Buckeyes survived and advanced, which is all you can ask for when tournament time rolls around. We can be sure of one thing, though: if they don’t play better, they aren’t going to advance very far. Maybe this game is the one you somehow win when everything goes wrong, and now everything will click into place. Or, maybe this is just another reflection of a team that can’t shoot straight.

Championship Game-Bound

The Ohio State Buckeyes may not be the prettiest college basketball team this year, but they surely are one of the toughest.

The Buckeyes ground out a hard-fought win over the Michigan State Spartans today, 61-58.  The two teams like to battle and play body-up defense, and they showed those qualities today.  Aaron Craft played brilliantly for the Buckeyes, and fortunately survived being hurled to the ground by the neck by the Spartans’ Derrick Nix, on a play that provoked a fusillade of obscenity and brought me out of my chair.  But the Buckeyes hung tough, played through adversity, and when they needed a final bucket to put the game on ice, Deshaun Thomas stepped up and rattled down a jumper.

I recognize that conference tournaments don’t mean a lot, but I’d rather win than lose and go into the NCAA Tournament with some momentum.  Ohio State has played well in the Big Ten Tournament under Thad Matta, and they are going to the championship game again — which seems to be an annual occurrence.  Win or lose tomorrow, and in the Big Dance, this team has come an awful long way since Wisconsin beat the tar out of them a month ago.  Ironically, the Badgers are the team the Buckeyes will face tomorrow, in the final contest of the Big Ten season.

Down Goes Michigan

The Michigan Wolverines have had a tough time of it lately.

Michigan was undefeated for the first two months of the season.  On January 12, they were 16-0 and ready to become the number one-ranked team in the nation.  At that point, everyone raved about the Wolverines’ offensive efficiency, their tough defense, their talented players like Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr., and their heralded freshmen like Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas.

On January 13, however, Ohio State held the high-flying Michigan offense to 53 points and beat the Wolverines in Columbus.  Since then, the other coaches in the Big Ten — which some people call the best-scouted league in the country — have tried to exploit the weaknesses first exposed by the Buckeyes.  Michigan ended the regular season 25-7 and lost 5 of its last 10 games.  Today Michigan got knocked out of the Big Ten Tournament by Wisconsin, losing 69-58. The Wolverines lost even though they held Wisconsin to only 17 points in the first half.

Michigan fans are depressed, but college basketball is full of ups and downs.  If I were a Michigan fan — and I’m not, of course — I’d be glad that the Wolverines are done with the Big Ten and can focus on the NCAA Tournament.  Michigan has a lot of talent, and if they play teams that don’t play defense like they do in the Big Ten, Michigan could make a run in the Big Dance.  I wouldn’t count them out.

 

Tourney Time

It’s a great time of year if you love college basketball. (I know, this excludes my pro-loving friend Winship.)

IMG_3111Tonight I’m sitting and watching the first day of the Big Ten Tournament. I’m a traditionalist, so I think the regular season champion is the true Big Ten champion. Still, the conference tournament has its attractions.

For teams like Ohio State, which has already punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament, the Big Ten Tournament is a nice tuneup and a chance to stay sharp for the Big Dance. For the desperate teams — like both Purdue and Nebraska, who are playing now — the tournament means a chance to redeem an otherwise tough season. So long as they stay alive, there’s a chance they might win, and win, and make it to the NCAA Tournament. Imagine what it might be like in their locker rooms, knowing they might be playing their last games of the year and can only keep playing if they win this game!

So we’ll see how this game ends, and who survives to play the Buckeyes. And when this game ends, I’ll watch the next one. The Big Ten has been tremendously exciting and competitive this season, and I’m expecting nothing less from the Tournament.

As I said, it’s a great time for college basketball fans.

A Gameless Weekend

The Ohio State Buckeyes aren’t playing this weekend.  After a grueling last few weeks in the Big Ten meat grinder, and some hard work in pulling out a win over Northwestern at Evanston, the Buckeyes are getting a well-deserved rest.

IMG_3108We fans, however, are pining for a weekend game.  I enjoy the adrenalin rush the games provide, and I rationalize that the spikes in my blood pressure caused by bad calls from referees during an OSU game probably are good for my system.  Every once in a while, you want to make sure that your body can withstand various stresses.  Isn’t that what those doctor-supervised stress tests are all about?  Getting seriously into a Buckeyes game is just the self-administered version.

Still, in a way it’s also nice to have the weekend off.  We get to see other teams play without having an enormous emotional investment in the outcome.  Today I’ll watch the Michigan-Michigan State game.  Whatever the result, it will help the Buckeyes in their quest for a higher seed in the Big Ten Tournament.  If Michigan loses, they drop below Ohio State in the loss column; if Michigan wins, Michigan State joins Ohio State and Michigan with five losses in the conference.

So today I’ll watch the games with a relaxed attitude.  I’ll be husbanding my emotional and stress-related resources for Tuesday night, when Ohio State travels to Bloomington for a make-or-break game against the top-ranked Hoosiers.