Thursday Night Big Ten Buckeyes

It’s August, it’s Thursday night, and the Ohio State Buckeye football team is playing a Big Ten game — and on the road, no less.

tumblr_inline_nubcxjuy8y1qk1e3w_540This sort of thing isn’t supposed to happen to one of the most tradition-rich teams in college football, but this year all of the tradition goes out the window.  No more first-game cupcake, with Ohio State pulverizing one of the directional schools that are served up annually as fodder for the big boys.  No, this year we’re starting the season in earnest, with a game at Indiana this week and Oklahoma visiting the Horseshoe next week.   That’s called jumping into the season with both feet.  Sure, Indiana isn’t one of the Big Ten’s recognized powerhouses, but it’s a conference game, and Indiana has played the Buckeyes very tough indeed in recent years.  And all indications are that Indiana and its fans are pumped to the max for this game.  Indeed, their coach is calling the most significant home opener in Indiana history.

As a Buckeye traditionalist, the idea of Ohio State playing football in August — much less on a Thursday night, much less against a Big Ten team — rankles me, but the sport of college football is changing and the scheduling is changing with it.  Even though it’s August, I’ll be watching with interest tonight, to see if head coach Urban Meyer and his staff can once again blend new players with more experienced upperclassmen, replace a slew of talented Buckeyes who have moved on to the pros, and make another run at the college football playoff.

But Big Ten football, for the Buckeyes, in August?  I still shudder at the thought.

Advertisements

5-0, 1-0

Ohio State (other than Ezekiel Elliott) didn’t exactly knock my socks off yesterday in their close win over a very game Indiana Hoosiers squad, but the statistics above are the ones that count:  Ohio State is 1-0 in the Big Ten and 5-0 overall.

IMG_1835Members of Buckeye Nation who bought into the team’s preseason hype are freaking out that Ohio State not only hasn’t crushed Indiana and its other opponents, but has struggled and doesn’t really resemble the team that rolled over Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon at the end of last year.  And they’re right in the sense that this team has a lot to work on.  Way too many turnovers, stupid penalties, muffed center snaps, lack of timing between quarterback and receivers, some bad in-play decisions, and a general out-of-sync feel have kept the offense from showing its true potential.  The defense has been better, but it has had its breakdowns, too — and yesterday the offense did it no favors by failing to put together any sustained drives.  When you leave the defense on the field and let the other team run 30 more plays than you do, there are bound to be breakdowns.

I’m not going to join the chorus of Ohio State fans who are second-guessing the coaches.  This team obviously hasn’t gelled yet, and it will be on the coaches to make that happen.  Eventually, turnovers and penalties will bite you if they aren’t stopped.  But nevertheless, Ohio State has managed to find a way to win — and yesterday they did it against a fired-up team that looks to be on the upswing, on the road, in sloppy conditions.  Some good teams that weren’t having their best day would have lost yesterday’s game.  It says something positive about this team and its coaches that Ohio State didn’t let that happen.

Four teams ranked in the top ten lost yesterday, and two of them got crushed.  Other teams — like Michigan State — also struggled.  That’s the way college football works.  Ohio State fans should stop fretting about style points and start appreciating the Ws.

Scrapping Along

Today the OSU basketball team won their first game of the season against a ranked opponent, beating Indiana 82-70.  It’s a nice win, but it sure took a while to get it — a lot longer than we’ve come to expect during the Ohio State career of Coach Thad Matta.

This year’s Buckeyes squad has had a scrappy journey so far.  The Buckeyes have three key seniors — Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott, and Amir Williams — and many fans have been disappointed in their play.  Williams, in particular, has been hard to figure out; he’s got the size, but seems to lack the competitive fire that has characterized some of Coach Matta’s other products, like David Lighty and Aaron Craft.  It is noteworthy, perhaps, that today’s win came in a game where Williams did not play at all.

Coach Matta is trying to mix the seniors in with some stellar freshman that include D’Angelo Russell and Jae’Sean Tate, who led the Buckeyes in scoring today, redshirt freshman Kam Williams, and sophomore Marc Loving.  It’s fair to say that the Buckeyes are a work in progress, and the gears don’t really seem to be meshing yet.  Trying to make the pieces fit and motivate the players who don’t seem to be giving it their all, and win a few more key games in the process, will be one of Coach Matta’s toughest assignments.

The Buckeyes’ next game, against a pretty good Maryland team, will tell us a lot about whether today’s result was a fluke — or maybe the start of something better.  We’ll see whether Coach Matta can pull another rabbit out of a hat.

Pinch Me, I’m Dreaming

What year is it, anyway?  Is it 1986?  1980?  1964?

I’m asking because I look at the ESPN website tonight, and the Cleveland Browns are in first place, alone, in their division — thanks to the Pittsburgh Steelers stumbling against the hapless New York Jets.  The last time the Browns were in first place happened, apparently, 19 years ago.  By my calculation, that’s 1995, when Bill Clinton was President, I was still in my 30s, and we’d just moved into a new subdivision in New Albany.  I’d like to take a screen shot of the ESPN standings as of today, just to have a record of it.

It reminds me of an old story about Lee Corso, back when he was coaching the Indiana Hoosiers.  In a game against Ohio State during the Woody era, Indiana somehow scored first and had a 7-0 lead.  When that happened, Corso had his picture taken in front of the scoreboard.  Of course, Indiana ended up getting pulverized — but Corso always kept that photo showing him with the lead against the Buckeyes.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with the Browns, but I do know this — they’re keeping the season interesting.  I just hope that it lasts for a few weeks longer.,

The Big Ten In The Big Dance

The NCAA Tournament is put up or shut up time.  All year we hear about teams and conferences, and then March Madness comes and separates the pretenders from the contenders.

This year, there’s been a lot of talk — from people not named Charles Barkley — about the Big Ten being the best conference in basketball.  Seven teams from the Old Conference made it to the Big Dance, and so far they’re represented the league well.  The Big Ten’s record after the round of 64 is 6-1, with the only hiccup being Wisconsin’s dismal performance against Mississippi in a game where the Badgers simply could not put the ball into the basket.  The Big Ten’s top-seeded teams, Indiana and Ohio State, both won by wide margins, Michigan State and Michigan played well in convincing wins, Illinois survived some poor shooting to beat Colorado, and Minnesota spanked UCLA in a surprising upset.  Other conferences that were touted prior to the tournament, such as the Big East and the Mountain West, did not fare so well during the first round of play.

The great thing about the NCAA Tournament, of course, is that everything can turn on a dime.  All of these Big Ten teams could lose their next game — and if that happens the conference will be viewed as an overrated paper tiger.  For now, the Big Ten has 6 teams in the round of 32, and that’s not bad.

The Reptile At Courtside

Normally I don’t pay much attention to coaches.  I may hate opposing players, or think they are overrated, or wish we had them on our team, but the opposing coach is more of a non-entity.

That’s why I find the revulsion I feel for Tom Crean, the head basketball coach of the Indiana Hoosiers, so interesting.  I’ve come to really despise him, because he seems to have every despicable quality in the book.  He’s a poor sport who won’t give the opposing coach an honest handshake if the Hoosiers lose.  During games he stalks back and forth like a reptile in a pet shop cage and ventures far out onto the court in violation of the rules.  He’s a braggart in victory and a whiner in defeat.  When he loses, he’ll sulk for extended periods before facing the media and answering their questions.  And recently he weirdly berated the assistant coach of an opposing team.  He just seems like a thoroughly unpleasant guy who has some deep-seated issues.

He’s done a fine job at Indiana, I’ll give him credit for that.  He took a fabled basketball school that was on its knees after years of futility and some bad head coaching hires, he recruited some excellent players and coached them well, and he turned things around to the point that the Hoosiers won the Big Ten regular season championship this year.  Some of his former players say he has been a tremendous friend and help to them.  But, what Tom Crean possesses in recruiting and basketball savvy he seems to utterly lack in charm and sportsmanship.  If I were an Indiana fan, I’d be celebrating his success but cringing with embarrassment at some of his antics.

I’ve always thought that coaching was an honorable and important profession, because coaches can have an incredible impact on the young people they mentor and teach.  For that reason, I think coaches should be role models and always strive to exhibit the qualities — like sportsmanship, and generosity in victory and graciousness in defeat, and accepting responsibility — that are so important to success in life.  Crean doesn’t do so.  In my mind, that makes him somebody who can figure out how to win basketball games, but not a very good coach.

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.)