The Tennessee Press And The Elite 8

David Lighty

Tonight the Buckeye basketball team plays for a spot in the Elite 8.  Standing in their way is the Tennessee Volunteers, the only team in the country this year to beat both Kansas and Kentucky — generally regarded by the pundits, at least, as the two best teams in the land.  Tennessee and Ohio State have a bit of a rivalry going; they played twice in 2007, including a come-from-behind victory by the Buckeyes in the 2007 NCAA Tournament, and another regular season game in 2008 won by Tennessee.

Tennessee plays the press, which is not a style Ohio State has seen much during the regular season.  For the Buckeyes, the press will present  significant challenges.  Evan Turner, as the point guard, will have to work harder to get the ball upcourt and watch for the trap; David Lighty will probably do more ball-handling in the backcourt as a result.  If they Buckeyes can break the press, they will need to take advantage.  Jon Diebler will have to get to good spots and knock down open three-pointers, and William Buford and Dallas Lauderdale will need to finish if the Buckeyes can get an advantage on the break.  Because the Buckeyes typically don’t play many players fatigue could be a factor, and any foul trouble could be a serious problem.

To advance in the NCAA Tournament you need to beat the best teams around, and Tennessee definitely belongs in that category.  The Tournament also requires teams to adjust to different styles, like Tennessee’s press, if they want to move forward.  I expect that Thad Matta and his staff have worked hard this week on schemes to beat the press.  Tonight we’ll see if that work bears fruit.

A Sweet Week

Dr. Science came over to watch the game yesterday, and while munching on Hills pizza and other goodies we watched the Ohio State men’s team beat Georgia Tech, 75-66, to advance to the Sweet 16.  The Buckeyes were led by Evan Turner, who bounced back from a subpar first-round game to lead the Buckeyes in scoring, Jon Diebler, who repeatedly hit three-pointers in the second half to build the Buckeyes’ lead, and David Lighty, whose fearless drives to the bucket and tough defense helped to keep the Yellow Jackets at bay as the game drew to a close.  Dallas Lauderdale was a stalwart force in the middle and William Buford contributed 9 points and 8 rebounds.  The win was a true team effort.

Jon Diebler

The Buckeyes next will play Tennessee on Friday night.  In the meantime, they get to enjoy a week of extra basketball, of recognition that this has been a season of great accomplishment for the team and its players, and of intense focus on the next match-up that could prove to be the gateway to even greater achievement.  For fans like me, this week is like a surprise present.  No one takes advancing to the Sweet 16 for granted, so when it happens you just enjoy basking in the glow of the team’s success and participating in a bonus week of happy basketball chatter with other fans.

Of all the fine basketball teams in the nation, only 16 are still alive and competing for the NCAA championship.   When your team is one of those 16 teams, it is a sweet week indeed.  Go Buckeyes!

Paean To The Iron Men

The Ohio State men’s basketball team beat Illinois in double overtime yesterday, in their second game in two days.  Today they face Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament championship game.  As with the Michigan game on Friday and the Illinois game yesterday, the Golden Gophers no doubt feel they need to win to make the NCAA tournament — and winning today’s game would give them an automatic bid.

William Buford and David Lighty, two of the "Iron Men"

For the Buckeyes, the first two games of the tournament have been nail-biting classics.  Evan Turner’s shot on Friday to beat the Wolverines already has entered Ohio State lore, and yesterday’s thriller against Illinois was a game of runs and cold spells where Illinois twice had the chance to win the game on a last-second shot but was unable to even get the shot off.

Whatever happens today, you have to give tremendous credit to the Buckeye starters.  Yesterday two of the starters, David Lighty and William Buford, never left the floor; they played the full 40-minute regulation game and both five-minute overtime periods without a breather.  Evan Turner, who fouled out with a minute left, played 49 minutes; Jon Diebler, who sat for a bit in the first half with foul trouble, played 40 minutes.  The box score for the game is here.  Those four are true “Iron Men” playing a fast-paced game where the players are constantly in motion and in contact with their opponents.

As a fan, I would like to see the Buckeyes win today, but I would like to see them do so with more help from their bench.  The last thing we need, with the NCAA tournament only days away, is a season-ending injury that occurs because players are fatigued.  And it would be nice if Ohio State didn’t have to play again until Friday evening, too.  Even Iron Men can use some rest now and then.

Buckeye Basketball

The Ohio State men’s basketball team has quietly put together a fine season.  After limping out of the gate in Big Ten conference play, thanks in large part to an injury to Evan Turner, the Buckeyes have reeled off 9 conference wins in a row.  Their last win was a 19-point trouncing of Illinois on the road on Sunday, in a game filled with highlight dunks, killer three-point shots, and tough, scrappy defense.

Evan Turner

This year’s Buckeye team is a good example of why college basketball can be fun to watch.  The team’s starting five is solid from beginning to end, basically consistently of four lanky guards, all of whom can shoot and run, and an undersized, hustling, shot-blocking center.  One of the guards, Evan Turner, is an excellent player who routinely racks up rebounds and assists and can be counted on for a clutch basket when the chips are down.  Two of the other guards, Jon Diebler and William Buford, have silky smooth outside shots, and when they are hitting no defense can afford to leave them open.  The fourth guard, David Lighty, is a steady, athletic, experienced player who can get out on the break and then finish, plays tough defense, and has really worked to improve his outside shot.  The center, Dallas Lauderdale, is a gritty, dive-for-loose-balls type who typically can be counted on for a rim-shaking dunk or two on offense and a fistful of blocked shots on D.  Each of these starters plays a lot of minutes, and it shows — not because they get tired, but because they play so seamlessly together.  Buckeyes’ coach Thad Matta and his staff have done a wonderful job in melding the starters into a formidable unit.

Tomorrow the Buckeyes have a huge game, at home against Purdue.  The game is crucial because Ohio State and Michigan State are tied for the conference lead, with identical 20-6 overall and 10-3 conference records, and Purdue lurks a half game behind, at 9-3 in conference and 21-3 overall.  The Buckeyes gave Purdue one of those losses, in a shocking come-from-behind victory in West Lafayette.  A victory tomorrow night in Value City Arena would be a tremendous achievement, and would go a long way toward determining the Big Ten regular season champion.