On To The Dance

The Ohio State Buckeyes played a good game today but lost to the Michigan Wolverines, 72-69. The loss knocked the Buckeyes out of the Big Ten Tournament and kept them out of the championship game, where Ohio State has made a home for years.

No loss is ever a good loss — particularly when it’s against that unholy Team Up North — but this game had some redeeming qualities. Once again Ohio State fell far behind, but once again it came back, and against a darned good team. The Buckeyes stayed with Michigan even though the Wolverines shot lights out, and they held down the high-flying Michigan offense for long stretches of the game. In the end, it came down to some missed free throws, an offensive rebound that went Michigan’s way, and a ball that slipped out of Aaron Craft’s hand.

There were lots of positives in this game. OSU guard Shannon Scott was tremendous — hitting little stop and pop jumpers, bombing in treys, making some great passes, and playing tough defense. Scott looked every inch the five-star recruit he was when he first came to the Buckeyes. If he’s found his rhythm offensively, he’ll be the perfect complement to LaQuinton Ross, who played another strong game inside. The Buckeyes got decent production from a range of players, and they’ll also get an extra day’s rest after playing three tough games in three days.

Now it’s on to the Big Dance. Most people are saying the Buckeyes will be a five seed; I’m guessing a six. At this point, it doesn’t much matter – you need to win every game, or you go home. During the Big Ten Tournament, the Buckeyes showed a lot of toughness and will, and those are qualities that should serve them well in the days ahead. If the Buckeyes play offense during the NCAA Tournament like they did today, and manage not to run into a team that shoots better than 50 percent from behind the arc, they may be dancing past the first weekend. Those of us in Buckeye Nation would happily accept that result.

The Comeback Kids

Because I can’t use my left foot or get exercise in the conventional way, I’m trying to get my blood pumping by watching the Ohio State basketball team. So far, my plan is working like a charm.

Today the Buckeyes played Nebraska in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament. Ohio State stunk up the joint at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second and were getting embarrassed, 48-30. My blood pressure was spiking at the pitiful performance, with flushed cheeks and spittle and epithets flying.

But then, improbably, a mop-topped bean pole spurred the Buckeyes. With Amedeo Della Valle hustling his brains out, and LaQuinton Ross making just about every shot he put up, and Aaron Craft playing the tough D that is his trademark, the Buckeyes came back to win, 71-67. That’s a 41-19 run to close out the game — and it was fitting that Della Valle iced the victory by coolly making four free throws with the game on the line.

How do you explain this team? They disappear, then come roaring back. They can’t make a free throw for most of the game, but as the clock winds down they can’t miss. They seem to lose their composure, but as the game ends it’s the other team that is red-faced and stunned.

So, the Buckeyes move on. Tomorrow they play Michigan. The Buckeyes had better bring their A game for all 40 minutes tomorrow, because if they fall behind the Wolverines by 18 there’s no coming back.

A Big Early Season (And Late Night) Match-Up

Tonight the Ohio State men’s basketball team plays Michigan State at East Lansing. The Big Ten season is still very young — the Buckeyes and Spartans have each played only two conference games — but this game is shaping up to be a big one in a conference that many people consider to be the premier basketball conference in the country.

Ohio State is ranked third in the country, whereas Michigan State is ranked fifth. Both teams have senior leadership. Both teams are experienced in playing big games and know how to win them. Both teams have great coaches. Both teams have some excellent players. For Michigan State, it’s Keith Appling, Gary Harris, Branden Dawson, and the unguardable Adreian Payne, who always seems to make a crucial three-point shot or put-back basket. For Ohio State, it’s Aaron Craft, LaQuinton Ross, and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. Both teams are deep. Michigan State plays great offense; Ohio State plays great defense.

It’s a wonderful match-up, all the way up and down the lineups. Who wouldn’t want to see Aaron Craft and Keith Appling go head to head, or watch the defense-oriented Buckeyes try to figure out a way to guard Adreian Payne? Who wouldn’t want to see whether the Buckeyes can avenge the football team’s bitter loss to the Spartans in the Big Ten championship game? You have to give Michigan State, which has played a much tougher schedule than the Buckeyes and is playing at home, the clear edge, but this game should tell the Buckeye Nation a lot about how good this team might actually be.

So why in blue blazes does the game have to start at 9 p.m.? C’mon, Big Ten — how about having some pity on us working folks who need to get up early tomorrow?

The Challenge

Every year, the college basketball season officially begins — in my book, at least — when the Big Ten and the Atlantic Coast Conference face off in the Big Ten-ACC challenge.  Early on, the ACC dominated; more recently, the Big Ten has controlled.  Either way, it’s been entertaining basketball — and also a living testament to how college basketball is different from college football.

In college football, any loss could, potentially, disqualify you from contention from a national championship.  (Just ask Alabama.)   In college basketball, on the other hand, no one goes undefeated.  In college basketball, in fact, you want your team to play the tough teams early on.  Let them get a taste of tough competition at the outset, so that they will understand the need to play hard when the later stages of the NCAA Tournament roll around and your team has to realize the need to play hard, or go home.

And that’s why the Big Ten-ACC Challenge is so great.  It’s a guaranteed, evenly matched, power conference game on the schedule, and a chance to assess how your boys fare against a quality opponent.  This year, the Ohio State Buckeyes trounced Maryland as Sam Thompson displayed his high-flying act, LaQuinton Ross displayed his silky three-point stroke, and Aaron Craft . . . well, Aaron Craft did what Aaron Craft always does.  Does it mean Ohio State will win it all?  No, or course not — but it gives us a bit of a measuring stick, and some bragging rights, too.  After all, Maryland will be joining the Big Ten next year.

I love the Big Ten-ACC Challenge!

Why We Care About Who Is A Buckeye

If you’ve never lived in Ohio, you perhaps cannot truly understand the role of Ohio State athletes in the community.  They aren’t just football players or basketball players:  they are expected to be role models, good citizens, and able representatives of an important institution.  Buckeyes fans want Ohio State to have great players, to be sure, but we also want them to be great people so that they can fulfill that aspirational role.

This little video of a visit some Ohio State basketball players made to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, to hang out with some of the kids who are being treated there, gives a glimpse of what can happen when good people become Buckeyes.  And it happens all the time, usually without any fanfare.  When one of my colleagues was battling cancer, he was surprised by a visit from some Ohio State football players, including one of the biggest stars on the team.  They came, they sat down, they talked with him and listened to him, and they provided encouragement.  No photographers or publicists were there, and to my knowledge no news story about the visit ever appeared.  But my friend greatly appreciated the gesture and the fact that these football players took time away from being BMOC to visit an ill stranger.

It touched him deeply, and it made me understand, better than I had before, the great significance these young people can assume — if they are good people.  That’s one reason why we care so much about who becomes a Buckeye.

Tough To Take

The Buckeyes lost to a gutty, hard-working Wichita State team tonight.  It’s a tough loss to take.

It’s tough because the Buckeyes looked lost in the first half of this game.  They settled for three-pointers, couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean, and played listlessly as Wichita State went out to a big lead.  The lead got even bigger in the second half, as the Shockers built a 20-point lead.  20 points!  But this loss also is tough because Ohio State didn’t quit and kept coming back.  It made me proud, but it also made me wonder how the game might have gone if Ohio State had played with that kind of effort for the full 40-minute game.

It’s tough to end the season on the cusp of the Final Four, losing to a lower-seeded team.  It’s tough because I’ve enjoyed watching this team this year, and I hope their journey would last just a little longer, and I could watch Deshaun Thomas, and Aaron Craft, and LaQuinton Ross, and the other Buckeyes who wouldn’t throw in the towel during the season or during this game.

All credit to the Wichita State Shockers for playing a fine game . . . but this loss is tough to take.