Handling The Sunday Curse

This afternoon the basketball Buckeyes will play the Michigan State Spartans at the Schott.  I’ll watch it, but I’m kind of dreading it.

IMG_3110Lately, Sundays have not been kind to the Buckeyes.  Two Sundays ago, the number one-ranked Indiana Hoosiers came to the Schott and beat the Buckeyes soundly, 81-68.  Then, last Sunday, Ohio State got embarrassed in Madison by the Wisconsin Badgers, 71-49.  The Indiana game was bad enough, because losing on your home floor, even to the top-ranked team in the country, is always painful, but the loss to Wisconsin was especially disturbing.  In that game, the characteristic traits of a Thad Matta team — tough defense, hustle, grit, and a don’t quit attitude in the face of adversity — were wholly absent.  The Buckeyes didn’t show up and didn’t look like the same team we’d seen earlier in the season.

Fortunately, the college basketball season is long, and there are opportunities for redemption.  The Buckeyes bounced back with a win over Minnesota earlier this week, and now they face another huge challenge in Michigan State.  The Spartans are vying with Indiana for the Big Ten lead, and you know they will be crashing the boards like Tom Izzo-coached teams always do.  Led by excellent point guard Keith Appling, the Spartans have a deep lineup of hard-nosed and talented players.  Sam Thompson, above, and his teammates will need to play well to beat them, and they could use some help from the Buckeye Nut House fans, too.

But . . . it’s a Sunday game.  Let’s hope that, this Sunday, the Buckeyes don’t play like they think Sunday should be a day of rest.

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Battling For The Big Ten Lead

Tonight the Michigan State Spartans come to the Schott to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes.  The two teams stand atop the Big Ten, and the winner will have a leg up on winning the Big Ten regular season championship.

This should be a classic match-up.  Michigan State is coached by Tom Izzo, whose teams have dominated the Big Ten for years, and is led by Draymond Green, the do-everything senior who is a very strong Big Ten Player of the Year candidate.  Green is one of those players every fan would love to have on their favorite team.  He works hard, leads by example, hustles, shoots well from the outside, can post up and rebound, will scrap for the ball and get the crucial garbage bucket, and is a great passer.  What’s not to like?

Michigan State has other weapons, too.  Keith Appling is a quick, capable point guard, Brandon Wood is a solid shooting guard, and Branden Dawson is one of the best freshman in the conference.  The Spartans also have lots of big bodies — in the form of Derrick Nix, Adreian Payne, and Green — to throw at Jared Sullinger.

The Buckeyes struggled on defense in their game against Purdue, but were able to outscore the Boilermakers.  I’m hoping that Buckeyes coach Thad Matta has figured out how to defend against the high screen Purdue used so effectively, because we can be sure that the crafty Izzo will have the Spartans ready to test that proposition.  How the Buckeyes respond after their disappointing defensive effort against Purdue will tell us a lot about this team and its prospects.

The Big Ten Basketball Meat Grinder

A lot of people have been saying that the Big Ten is the strongest basketball conference in the country this year, and it is beginning to look like they might be right.  Five games into the conference schedule (six for Minnesota, Northwestern, and Penn State), it looks like the Big Ten has a number of very good teams, lots of wonderful players, and a conference race that is and will continue to be up for grabs.  This is a conference where anything can happen on any given night of rugged Big Ten play.

The Buckeyes sit atop the standings at 5-0, a record that includes three invaluable road wins.  Ohio State has not been blowing its opponents out of the gym, however.  In its last four games Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, and Penn State have taken the Buckeyes down to the wire, and we can expect more of the same as opponents develop ways to defend against Ohio State’s inside-outside game.  Saturday’s game against Penn State was a good example.  The Buckeyes pulled out to a ten-point lead, Penn State went to a zone that took Ohio State out of its game, and it took some last-second heroics from Jared Sullinger to ensure the victory.  It is clear that Penn State — which has been one of the surprises of the conference this year, having already upset Michigan State and Illinois — has a very good, well-coached team, led by senior guard Talor Battle and other experienced players.  They will give other teams fits.

Right behind the Buckeyes, at 4-1, are Michigan State and Purdue.  Michigan State has not been overwhelming — it needed overtime to win its last two home games, against Wisconsin and Northwestern — but it has found a way to win, and the Spartans always seem to be in the thick of the conference race under their great coach, Tom Izzo.  Purdue may have the best one-two combination in the conference in splendid senior center JaJuan Johnson and senior guard E’Twaun Moore and won its first four conference games handily before losing at Minnesota.  The always-tough Wisconsin Badgers, with their deliberate offense, and athletic Illinois are 3-2, the surprising Nittany Lions and the huge Minnesota Golden Gophers are 3-3, and spunky Northwestern stands at 2-4.  Indiana and Michigan, at 1-4, and Iowa, still winless, round out the conference — but don’t think they aren’t putting up a fight.  Michigan and Iowa both played well in their home games against the Buckeyes and gave Ohio State all it could handle.

This may be the best and deepest the Big Ten has ever been in basketball — and that is saying something.  The upcoming games where the top teams try to knock each other off, in the kind of bruising battles you expect in the Big Ten, should be epic.