Tuesday, March 27


Like the Wu-Tang Clan or a broken condom, Deshaun “Tank” Thomas ain’t nothing to fuck with. While Jared Sullinger gets all the media praise and was named the East region’s MVP, it’s clear to those that actually watched the games that Thomas is the biggest reason the Buckeyes are heading to New Orleans, though Sully’s tournament average of 18 points and 8 boards is certainly nothing to sneeze at. Thomas got off to a blazing start, scoring 31 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in Ohio St’s route of Loyola, then followed that up with 18 and 7 against Gonzaga, 27 and 7 vs. Cinncy, and 14 and 9 in last Saturday’s Elite Eight game against Syracuse.

While OSU hasn’t looked flawless this postseason (we’ll get to their atrocious start to the second half in the Cincinnati game in a minute), they have played very solid all-around basketball, and frankly were pretty clearly the better team in each of their first four matchups. The Buckeyes opened the tournament with a 78-59 pasting of 15th seeded Loyola (MD) before facing their first real test in round two against #7 Gonzaga. Sullinger picked up his second foul with 9 minutes to play in the first half, and spent the rest of the frame on the pine. I disagreed with the tactic to sit the big fella for the duration of the half, but I’ve been to less Final Fours than Thad Matta has so I guess I’ll defer to his strategy. Lucky for Ohio St, Bulldog big man Robert Sacre also found himself in some foul trouble and on the sidelines for much of the first half as well. Aaron Craft's phenomenal play (finishing with 17 points, 10 assists, 3 steals) kept the Buckeyes on top at the break.

A rested Sullinger came on strong to start the second half and when the Buckeyes went up 58-48 I was breathing pretty easily. But the Zags came storming back and tied the game with just over four minutes to play after a 13-3 run. Sullinger wouldn’t let them gain the lead however, as he put down two sweet-looking baby hook shots while the Buckeye defense clamped down and held Gonzaga scoreless on their next five possessions to clinch a seven-point victory and third consecutive appearance in the Sweet 16.

The 6th seeded Bearcats of Cincinnati were awaiting the Buckeyes in Boston, and Ohio St jumped all over them in the first half to take a 12-point lead into the break, mostly on the shoulders of Tank Thomas and Jared Sullinger. The two Buckeye big men completely dominated in the paint, grabbing numerous offensive rebounds and scoring at will. The game looked to be pretty well in hand, then Ohio St came out of the tunnel and offered up 9 minutes of the dumbest basketball I have ever seen them play. They took stupid shots, committed stupid turnovers, and picked up stupid fouls. Cincy took full advantage, going on a 27-11 run during this time to gain a four-point lead, causing Matta to take a timeout and really lay into his players in the huddle.

This must have woke up the Buckeyes, as they responded with a 17-1 run of their own and basically put the game away. Sully and Tank combined for 49 of the team’s 81 points to lead the Bucks to a 15-point victory and a date with top-seeded Syracuse in the Elite Eight.

Ohio St’s win over the ’Cuse wasn’t pretty, but they punched their ticket to New Orleans and that’s all that matters. The referees were waaaay to quick to blow the whistle in this one, as each team was called for several fouls that they should not have been, and the flow of the game was constantly interrupted. Sullinger found himself in an all-too-common precarious position, picking up his second foul just a mere six minutes into the game. The first was a charge that was borderline, and the second led to a three-point play that was just comical. As he did in the Gonzaga game, Coach Matta elected to sit his All-American for the remainder of the half. Freshman Amir Williams provided some real quality minutes when Sullinger’s replacement, Evan Ravenel, also picked up two quick fouls. With Jared only seeing the court for six minutes and the Buckeyes turning the ball over seven times and shooting only 30%, I think they had to be thankful to be tied at 29 at intermission.

Quite simply, Syracuse had to take advantage of Sullinger on the bench and they did not - that’s really what this game came down to. Because when the second half began, Sully was an absolute monster and the Orange were just overmatched and certainly missing their 7-footer, Fab Melo. The ’Cuse made a few runs to keep it close, but could never get over the hump and actually take the lead. Ohio St sank 13 of 14 from the charity stripe down the stretch to clinch a seven-point win and a trip to New Orleans and their first Final Four since 2007.

After recapping Ohio St’s tournament thus far, the theme has been pretty simple - Deshaun Thomas’ heroics and Jared Sullinger’s foul trouble. Sullinger has been unstoppable when on the court, but he has missed significant minutes due to early fouls. As I mentioned in my previous piece previewing the tournament, most of his violations are silly fouls, and that continued to be the case in these few games. He absolutely needs to stay away from these, but if he can’t I don’t think Matta can afford to sit him for such extended periods of time. In both the Gonzaga and Syracuse games where he picked up the quick two and sat the rest of the half, he didn’t get a third until late in the game and was never in any real jeopardy of fouling out, so he basically just wasted 10 minutes on the bench.

I’ve talked extensively about Sullinger and Tank’s tournament play, and want to quickly touch on the others’. Like usual, Aaron Craft has been top-notch defensively. They don’t win that Gonzaga game without him, and surely need him to keep up the defensive pressure and continue to distribute the ball effectively this weekend. Lenzelle Smith has played well, continuing to fill his role by playing solid defense and knocking down some open threes when the opportunity presents itself.

Which brings us to Will Buford. Sweet fancy Moses, Will Buford. They say it takes a big man to admit when he’s wrong, and good Lord was I wrong about Buf needing to make shots for the Buckeyes to make a run at the Final Four. 45, 31, 12.5, and 25. In addition to those being the typical IQ scores you’ll see in the michigan locker room, they also represent Buford’s shooting percentages in the four tournament games, including that embarrassing 1-8 performance against Cincinnati. For those keeping track at home, that combined 13-44 shooting comes out to a disturbing 29.5%. Not only has he not been taking the team on his back, he’s been downright pitiful.

If you choose to take an optimistic approach to these stats (I like to consider myself a glass-half-full kind of guy), you can make the case that Ohio St rather easily made it to the Final Four with their best shooter making fewer shots than some Steeler fans have teeth. If the rest of the squad can keep up their high level of play and Buford can at least be adequate, the Buckeyes are going to be a very tough out for any team.

Looking ahead to this weekend, Ohio St’s first contest will be with the #2 seed out of the Midwest region, the Kansas Jayhawks (Saturday, approx. 8:49). While Kansas is a perennial Final Four team and far from an easy W, I feel like you have to like this matchup if you’re the Buckeyes. Ohio St came up short but played Kansas tough in their regular season battle back in early December in Lawrence without Jared Sullinger. With Sully on a neutral court, I like our chances.

Deshaun Thomas will have to bring his defensive A-game, as he’ll be going at it with All-American Thomas Robinson. But if Tank (with some help from Jared) can at least contain Robinson, there isn’t really anyone else on this Jayhawk team that scares me too much. PG Tyshawn Taylor can score points in a hurry, but I have confidence that Craft will be able to limit his chances. 7-footer Jeff Withey is a shot-blocker extraordinaire, but doesn’t give much on the offensive side. The keys to this game will be basically the same as any other - Sullinger limiting his fouls and someone else (see: Tank) helping him out in the scoring column. And hey, maybe Buford will even make a shot in this one.

The other matchup offers the overall #1 seed Kentucky from the South vs. the West’s #4, Louisville, in the Pitino Bowl. Kentucky has looked pretty unbeatable so far, and all season long for that matter, so the Cardinals will definitely have their hands full.

I’d be remiss if I ended this post without of course mentioning one other tournament game - a first-rounder featuring the 13th seeded Ohio Bobcats and that school up north. brady hoke was so confused when he saw this contest because he didn’t know which school his wolverines were actually facing. D.J. Cooper and Nick Kellogg led Ohio to the upset victory, proving once again that those bitches can’t beat Ohio, whether there’s a “St” on the end of the name or not.


1 comment:

Andy said...

A Wu-Tang reference plus both michigan- and steeler-bashing; very nice.

Buford has just been a non-entity; maybe he'll come out of the woodwork and lift OSU to one of these last two.

That Foul #2 call on Sullinger against Syracuse was an embarrassment to the game of basketball.

UK just looks nasty, a team as athletic as their coach's hair is oily.