I don’t feel much like writing about Ohio State’s nail-biter loss to Kentucky last night, and I doubt anyone feels much like reading about it, either. It must have been a thrilling, wonderful game to watch if you were a disinterested fan who just liked college basketball. The two squads were evenly matched and the game was back-and-forth and closely contested, with the teams within a few points of each other throughout the second half.
For an Ohio State fan — and even more so, I am sure, for Ohio State coaches and players — this one was a very tough one to take. Ohio State had its opportunities but could not capitalize on them; after shooting lights out for a series of games the Buckeyes struggled to put even open shots and free throws into the basket. That happens, at times, in sports. Credit must be given to Kentucky, of course. Their coaches came up with a good game plan and their players executed it.
So, for the second year in a row Ohio State bows out in the Sweet Sixteen after a tough, hard-fought loss to a talented SEC team. The loss will sting, because this group of Ohio State players was a pleasure to watch and clearly had the ability to win it all. The fact that they didn’t, however, doesn’t detract from what was really an exceptional season. I will very much miss watching these guys play.
Tonight Ohio State and Kentucky face off in Newark, New Jersey for the right to move along into the Elite Eight. Ohio State will hope to avoid the kind of upset that has knocked out Duke and Pitt, and Kentucky will try to beat Ohio State for the first time in an NCAA tournament.
Late starting time aside — the game is projected to tip at 9:45, which probably means after 10 p.m. — this should be a terrific contest. Kentucky is one of the most storied teams in college basketball, with a jaw-dropping tradition that features 51 NCAA tournaments, 13 Final Fours, and seven national championships. The Buckeyes are currently the consensus number one and are looking to build on the tradition that has developed since Coach Thad Matta arrived. Both teams are hot and have come to the NCAA tournament after winning their conference tournament. Both teams feature an exciting mix of freshmen — in the Wildcats’ case, guard Brandon Knight and forward Terrence Jones, the two leading scorers — and upperclassmen. In Matta and Kentucky’s John Calipari, both teams have coaches who have taken different teams deep into the NCAA tournament.
Every game in the NCAA tournament seems to turn into a game of matchups, and this game should be no different. Kentucky fans believe Knight will be the best guard Ohio State has faced this season; Buckeye fans hope that Aaron Craft can display some of his defensive prowess and hound Knight into turnovers and bad shots. Ohio State fans think Jared Sullinger should be able to dominate inside; Wildcats supporters are confident that 6-10 senior Josh Harrelson (known as “Jorts” for some unknown reason) will be able to hold Sullinger in check. Kentucky wonders who will guard the 6-8 Jones, who can both drive and launch from the outside, and Ohio State asks who will be matched against lanky William Buford. Other questions abound. Can David Lighty penetrate and dish? Will Kentucky try to play an up-tempo game or slow it down? Will Jon Diebler be hot from behind the arc? Will early foul trouble set one team back?
Fans of both teams seem to be complaining that this great tilt is happening this early in the tournament. I think it is one of the things that makes the NCAA tournament such a terrific event. Whichever team advances after tonight’s game will feel like it has really accomplished something. I’m hoping that team will be Ohio State.
The Ohio State Buckeyes rolled on to the Sweet 16 today. Next weekend, they will play one of the most storied teams in college basketball — the Kentucky Wildcats — for the chance to move on to the Elite Eight.
Tonight the Buckeyes pulverized a game, but totally outmatched, George Mason team. After falling behind 11-2, the Buckeyes came roaring back behind the outside shooting of David Lighty, the inside toughness and rebounding of Jared Sullinger, the dunking prowess of Dallas Lauderdale, and the pinpoint passing and defensive intensity of point guard Aaron Craft. With Jon Diebler making a signature buzzer-beating three-pointer, the Buckeyes led at the half 52-26. The lead never dropped below 20 points thereafter as William Buford heated up, and the Buckeyes ended up winning 98-66. Every player on the team saw significant action, and senior guard Eddie Days had a chance to play and score.
Kentucky will be a more severe test than George Mason. The Wildcats were one of the best teams in the SEC. They are led by talented and athletic freshmen, including excellent guard Brandon Knight, who scored 30 points in leading Kentucky to victory over West Virginia. We’ll worry about the Wildcats later, however. For now, those of us in Buckeye Nation will relish the fact that our team is still alive to play again next week. We’ll also join Lighty, Diebler, and Lauderdale in celebrating both a big win and the fact that they received their college diplomas before the game today.