The Villain Comes Home

IMG_0483Evan Turner — improbably nicknamed The Villain by teammate Mark Titus — came back to Ohio State tonight to see his jersey retired and hung from the rafters.  Turner had a storied career with the Buckeyes, won National Player of the Year honors, and made a killer three-point buzzer-beater to beat Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament.  Tonight he gave a heartfelt speech about his teammates, his coaches, and especially his Mom helping him along the way.

Oh, and the Buckeyes beat the Wolverines, too.  A good time was had by all.

Goodbye, Evan, And Thanks

Evan Turner of the Ohio State men’s basketball team announced today that he is skipping his senior year and entering the NBA draft.  I’m sorry to see him go, because I think Turner is a good guy who has been a diligent student and good representative of the University — as well as being an exceptionally talented basketball player.  Among other things, Turner has befriended a high school kid who lives in New Albany, for whom he has served as a mentor and role model.

Much as I would selfishly like to have Turner stay with the Buckeyes and lead them for another season, it is hard to argue with his decision.  He won a carload of awards and honors this year and is projected to be a top 3 choice in the NBA draft.  Under the NBA set up, if Turner is a top 3 choice he will make more than $7 million in his first two years in the league.  How can you expect a kid to turn down the chance to earn such a potentially life-changing amount of money, and run the risk of some horrible injury that could make that money vanish like a puff of smoke in a stiff breeze?

Besides, although Even Turner will be gone physically, he will live on in the memories of Buckeyes fans — especially for his game-ending shot to beat Michigan in this year’s Big Ten tournament.

Thanks, Evan — you will always be a Buckeye!

Thanks For The Memories

Last night the Buckeyes fell short in their bid for the Elite 8, falling to Tennessee 76-73.  It was a tough, back-and-forth game, but ultimately Tennessee’s outright dominance of the boards, free throw shooting, and flypaper defense on Buckeye sharpshooter Jon Diebler carried them to a narrow victory.  The Volunteers deserve credit for playing a tough game, beating a very good team, and earning their first trip ever to the Elite 8.

The Buckeyes and fans celebrate after beating Illinois

As for Ohio State, we hoped they would win, but they didn’t — and now their season is suddenly over.  Although it ended with a loss (a result that will happen for all but one team in the NCAA Tournament) that fact should not detract from an excellent season.

Evan Turner, who played his heart out last night, clearly is one of the best players in the country. Buckeyes fans will long remember his excellent play this year and his gritty and speedy return from a serious back injury; we will recall with special relish his last-second three-pointer to stun Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament.  William Buford and David Lighty both stepped up their games this year, on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court, all the while playing virtually every minute of every game for the short-handed Buckeyes.  Dallas Lauderdale also improved his game and was an intimidating shot-blocking force on defense.  And although Jon Diebler had a difficult game last night, his pinpoint three-point shooting  was a key ingredient that helped propel Ohio State on its end-of-the-season run to a share of the Big Ten regular season championship, the Big Ten Tournament title, and the Sweet 16 in the 2010 NCAA Tournament.

Kudos, too, to Coach Thad Matta and his staff for producing an exciting season and a team of young men who were fine representatives of The Ohio State University.  Coaching at the major college level is not easy — Coach Matta just makes it look that way.

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.

From The Jaws Of Defeat

Evan Turner swished a 38-foot jump shot at the buzzer to lead Ohio State over Michigan, 69-68, in today’s Big Ten Tournament game.  It was a game where Michigan seemingly couldn’t miss toward the end of the game, and finally pulled ahead by 2 with 2 seconds left — leaving just enough time for Turner’s heroics.

Normally, I wouldn’t post a sports clip, but this shot is an exception.

Another Fine Season For Coach Thad Matta

Without much fanfare outside of Columbus, Ohio and Ohio State fans, Thad Matta has coached the Ohio State men’s basketball team to another excellent season.  The Buckeyes are 24-7 overall, 14-4 in the Big Ten, and have won the Big Ten title for the third time in Coach Matta’s six years at the University.  They rattled off wins in 13 of their last 14 games after starting out the Big Ten season 1-3.

Coach Matta has a reputation as an excellent recruiter, and that reputation is richly deserved.  He has brought some tremendous players to Ohio State — slashing point guards, talented 7-footers, deadeye outside shooters, and other players, like Even Turner, who are good at just about everything.  His recruiting skills are a bit of a double-edged sword, however, because a number of those recruits have left Ohio State early for the NBA, leaving holes to be filled.  Coach Matta has done so.  One of the most impressive things about his record at Ohio State is that he has won at least 20 games every year, with different collections of players.

This year also has shown once again that Coach Matta and his staff really can coach, and not just recruit.  He has melded his players into a very strong unit that plays well as a team.  The players seem to genuinely like each other, respect the coaches, and follow the system.  Good coaches tend to have players who are good people, and this year’s Buckeyes are a very likeable bunch.  Another sign of good coaching is the development of the specific skills of the individual players.  Each of the current starting five players has shown significant improvement during his career with the Buckeyes.

One reality of coaching at a major school with devoted fans, like Ohio State, is that you are going to be second-guessed unless you win every game by more than 20 points — and maybe even then as well.  This year, the primary complaint has been that Coach Matta has relied too heavily on his starting five, not developing bench strength and risking wearing down his players as the season has progressed.  So far, at least, the opposite seems to have occurred.  The team has gotten stronger and, apparently, more confident with each passing game; it played very well against the Big Ten’s best teams down the stretch.  The players may run out of gas come tournament time, but there has been no sign of that so far.  Maybe it is just time for fans to recognize that Coach Matta knows what he is doing.

In the meantime, we also can appreciate Coach Matta and his record.  We can be thankful that he is prowling the sidelines with great energy and intensity, chewing his gum furiously, wearing ties selected by his kids, showing great affection for his players, and bringing great college basketball to Ohio State and its appreciative fans.

Down Low For The Big Ten Champs

Last night our friends, the Carpenters, invited us to join them for the Ohio State-Illinois game.   We had a fine time at a great game.  The seniors and their family members were recognized before the game, the student section was clad in “Club Tril” t-shirts and in full-throated glory, the Buckeyes pulled away for a victory, and in doing so the Buckeyes locked up at least a share of the Big Ten championship.

Evan Turner and David Lighty celebrate a Big Ten championship

The Carpenters have great seats, only two rows from the floor, and it gives you a difference perspective to watch the game in person from up close.  On TV, the players all look about the same size, and you lose perspective on just how big they really are.  When you watch a game from the down low vantage point, you can’t help but be impressed by the quickness and athleticism of the players and the physical nature of the game, with all of those big bodies pushing and leaning and hand-checking.

The Big Ten trophy above the celebration

At the end, the players celebrated, the students rushed onto the floor, and the fans cheered lustily.  Creative students had fashioned ersatz versions of the Big Ten championship trophy and the Player of the Year Trophy and chanted “One More Year!” in hopes of enticing Evan Turner to return for his senior year.  The players then had the chance to hoist the real Big Ten trophy and to look ahead to the Big Ten tournament and NCAA tournament contests to come.

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.