Burying The Gophers

Ohio State rolled on today, beating the Golden Gophers in Minneapolis 82-69.  Every member of Buckeye Nation of a certain age feels a great satisfaction when Ohio State beats the Golden Gophers in Minneapolis, on a floor that saw the worst incident in the history of college basketball.  In this case, the victory was a true team win, with every starter scoring in double figures and the Buckeyes defense throttling the Minnesota offense until the game was out of reach.

Ohio State remains the only undefeated team in college basketball and leads the Big Ten conference race by three games.  The Buckeyes now get a few days off until their next game, which is on Saturday at Wisconsin — a place where the Badgers seldom lose.

There will be a lot of analysis of the impending Ohio State-Wisconsin matchup in the days to come.  For now, every Buckeyes fan should take a moment to appreciate this tough and unselfish team.  Starters David Lighty, Jon Diebler, Dallas Lauderdale, Williams Buford, and Jared Sullinger, and principal reserves Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas, play a very hard-nosed style that is a pleasure to watch.  They move the ball around on offense until they find the hot hand.  They rebound well.  Their fundamentals are sound, and they usually end up getting a good shot.  On defense, they stick to their opponents and don’t let up.  There is a reason why these guys are unbeaten and no. 1, and I’ve enjoyed being along for the ride.

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Finishing Strong

Ohio State won another tough Big Ten battle tonight, beating arch-rival Michigan 62-53.

The game was a tale of two halves. In the first half, the Buckeyes were out of sync offensively.  They turned the ball over and could not hit open shots.  They scored 23 points, had several defensive breakdowns, and went into the locker room trailing after what was surely their worst half of basketball this season.

In the second half, the Buckeyes successfully pounded the ball inside.  Jared Sullinger again was a man among boys, pulling down strong rebounds and somehow getting the ball in the bucket despite being double- and triple-teamed.  Aaron Craft bounced back from a sloppy first half to make some key inside buckets, William Buford knocked down some key shots, Jon Diebler played tough defense and ably fed the post, and David Lighty again showed his athleticism with great rebounding and defensive play.  All of the Buckeyes displayed their stamina in the second half, too, because Coach Thad Matta did not make a single substitution.  The Buckeyes scored 39 points in the half, pulled away from the overmatched Wolverines, and would have scored even more had they not been thoroughly mediocre from the free throw line.  Free throw shooting and fatigue will be a concern for Ohio State fans as the team comes down the stretch of the Big Ten season.

Ohio State now stands at 23-0.  Equally important, they have swept the season series with the Wolverines — and beating The Team Up North never gets old.

One Game Does Not A Season Make (But It Certainly Was A Wonderful Game To Watch)

The Buckeye Nation woke up whistling a happy tune this morning.  The Basketball Buckeyes crushed the Purdue Boilermakers, 87-64, in what was easily Ohio State’s most complete and dominating game of the season.  The Buckeyes pulled away from a solid Purdue team from the opening tip, never trailed, and inexorably increased their lead, which at times exceeded 30 points in the second half. With the win, the Buckeyes opened up a two-game lead in the Big Ten conference race.

This was a game where Ohio State was hitting on all cylinders.  The team played lockdown defense on the Boilermakers throughout the game.  Although Purdue’s ace center JaJuan Johnson scored 22 points, the rest of the squad was neutralized and seemingly baffled by the Buckeyes’ tough defense.  The Buckeyes beat the Boilermakers like a drum on the boards.  Ohio State’s hustle and grit, at times, seemed to catch the Boilermakers flat-footed, such as when Jon Diebler rebounded a miss on the front end of a one-on-one as the Purdue players napped.

Offensively, the Buckeyes rained in three-pointers, took Purdue defenders to the rack, and watched Jared Sullinger work his magic on the blocks.  The game continued the season-long coming out party of Ohio State’s excellent freshmen — Sullinger, Aaron Craft, and Deshaun Thomas, each of whom made mighty contributions to the victory — and saw the Buckeyes outrebound and consistently outbattle the Boilermakers.  David Lighty, Diebler, and William Buford, who together form the heart of the Buckeyes’ steady corps of experienced players, also had tremendous games.

The rout was a complete team effort that must have warmed the hearts of head coach Thad Matta and his staff.  As impressive as the win was, however, it is only one game.  The challenge for Coach Matta and his assistants will be to continue the development of their talented players and to challenge and inspire them to reach even greater heights during the rest of the Big Ten schedule and into the NCAA tournament.

Next up for the Buckeyes is a road test Saturday against Northwestern.  It will give Buckeye fans some time to savor a very satisfying win.

A Tough Challenge In Champaign

The undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes are moving into the meat of the Big Ten schedule.  They visit Illinois today for what should be their toughest challenge yet.

Demetri McCamey

Every Buckeye basketball fan remembers “The Shot” by Matt Sylvester that catapulted the Buckeyes to an upset win over no. 1-ranked Illinois in Thad Matta’s first season as Ohio State’s coach.  This year, the roles are reversed, with the Buckeyes carrying the no. 1 ranking into the game, but that is where the similarities end.  Illinois is a far more talented, experienced team than the upset-minded Buckeyes of six years ago.  The Fighting Illini are led by Demetri McCamey, the sturdy senior guard who leads the team in scoring and assists.  Another senior, Mike Tisdale, anchors the Illini in the middle, leads the team in rebounding, and likes to shoot from the outside.  Illinois also has lots of depth and recently beat always-tough Michigan State behind 20 points from sophomore guard Brandon Paul.

Aaron Craft

The Illini will be the best team the Buckeyes have played so far, and Assembly Hall clearly will be the toughest venue the Buckeyes have visited.  Although previews of the game have focused on how Illinois will defend Jared Sullinger, I think the bigger question is how freshman Aaron Craft will fare bringing the ball up court in the din created by the Illinois student section.  In the Big Ten, the good teams usually feature battle-tested seniors who know what it is like to play in hostile environments on the road.  Craft has been excellent this season, but he has not yet faced a crucial game played in a deafening arena.  Another interesting question will be how Coach Matta uses defensive ace David Lighty, and whether we will see Lighty defend McCamey.  And I expect that the Buckeyes will need good outside shooting from Jon Diebler and William Buford to loosen up the middle for Sullinger.

The tip is at noon today.

Edited to add:  In a fantastic game of runs and counter-runs, the Buckeyes overcame a second-half deficit, tightened up their defense, knocked down their free throws down the stretch, and came out on top over Illinois.  Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft were huge contributors, as was Deshaun Thomas, who came off the bench to spark the Buckeyes in the second half.  Ohio State is now 20-0, but the task doesn’t get any easier.  Next up is Purdue on Tuesday night.

The Buckeyes Begin The Big Ten

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.

Carving Up The Gators

Tonight Ohio State’s men’s basketball team passed a tough early-season test, and did so in impressive fashion.  The Buckeyes carved up the Florida Gators in the second half and won going away, 93-75.

The first half was entertaining.  Ohio State played well on offense but was soft on defense, and Florida took advantage.  It seemed like every Florida player made a hook shot from the low post, and Florida ended the half ahead 41-38.  The second half was a different story, and the story started on defense.  Ohio State pressured the ball and stepped out on Florida players all over the court.  The Buckeyes forced some turnovers, and then put on a clinic on offense.  Jared Sullinger and David Lighty sliced up the Gators down low, and William Buford, Jon Diebler, and Aaron Craft knocked down open shots.  In all, Ohio State scored 55 points — 55 points! — in the second half and notched a very memorable win.

What can we take from this early season game?  I wouldn’t draw too many definitive conclusions, but some things seems clear.  First, Jared Sullinger is good.  He doesn’t play like a freshman, and his presence will help Jon Diebler and William Buford get more open shots.  He seems to have the full package of low-post moves and displays a nice, soft shot.  Second, David Lighty had improved tremendously during his collegiate career, and he is just a fun player to watch.  He hustles, he plays great defense, and he is fearless taking the ball to the rack.  Third, Aaron Craft doesn’t seem to play like a freshman, either.  Florida threw a variety of presses and traps at him, and he handled them well.  Get this — Craft played 29 minutes bringing the ball up against a pressing defense in a hostile arena in his first away game as a college student, and he committed only three turnovers.

If the Florida game is any indication, Ohio State’s inside-outside game will pose some real challenges for its opponents.  But the season is young, so we shouldn’t get carried away.  In the meantime, we’ll just enjoy the sweet taste of some fresh Gator meat.

The Basketball Season Begins

Tomorrow night the Ohio State men’s basketball team plays its first game, against North Carolina A&T.  It will begin what is likely to be one of the most interesting Buckeye basketball seasons in many years.

Ohio State fans celebrate last year's Big Ten championship

Evan Turner, the junior stud who led Ohio State’s team last season, is gone to the NBA.  He leaves behind four experienced players — Dallas Lauderdale, David Lighty, Jon Diebler, and William Buford — who were Iron Men in last year’s run to the Big Ten championship.  They will be joined by a number of highly touted freshmen.  (It is a Thad Matta-coached team, after all!)  The freshmen include Jared Sullinger, a 6′ 9″ forward who was a consensus high school All-American, Aaron Craft, a multi-dimensional point guard, guards Jordan Sibert and Lenzelle Smith Jr., and forwards Deshaun Thomas and J.D. Weatherspoon.  The task for Coach Matta and his staff will be to fit the talented pieces together and get the team ready for a schedule that includes games at Florida and Florida State and a Big Ten that features hard-nosed, veteran teams like perennial Final Four contestant Michigan State and Illinois.

Ohio State’s freshman class is impressive, but you win in the Big Ten with toughness and experience.  Ohio State’s four returning starters bring those qualities to the team.  Last year I was particularly impressed by David Lighty’s fearless ability to take the ball to the bucket and break down the defense; Ohio State fans will be hoping that he continues to do so this year and manages to avoid the injuries that have dogged him during his career.  William Buford and Jon Diebler also displayed real talent — Buford, as the silky scorer and able defender, and Diebler as the long-range gunner who threw many a three-point dagger at opponents.  Lauderdale was the dogged shot blocker on defense.

In prior years, Coach Matta has shown a great ability to blend new players into a strong rotation.  This year, he needs to identify a true point guard.  The Buckeyes will be hoping that freshman Aaron Craft can handle the ball at the point — an assignment that asks a lot of a youngster who is facing hostile Big Ten venues for the first time.  They also will be looking to Jared Sullinger to contribute scoring, ball-handling, and passing from the low post.  If Craft can get the ball past the half court line and Sullinger can suck the defense down low before feeding Lighty, Buford, and Diebler, Ohio State could have a season to remember.