Thursday, February 28

Buckeyes put in place by Indiana, Wisconsin, bounce back against Sparty

In the past month or so we've learned some about this Ohio St hoops squad, but I would argue that it was little that we didn't already know. As I've been saying all year, this team is 'good-but-not-great.' They have compiled a 20-7 (10-5 B1G) record to date and are currently ranked 16th, accomplishment that no team could reach without plenty of talent. But the fact is that the majority of those 20 wins have come against inferior opponents. Our Buckeyes definitely know how to beat the teams they should beat, but typically falter in more difficult environments.

Breaking it down win-by-win, of their 20 victories, fifteen have come against teams that will be watching from home during the NCAA Tournament. (Unless one of the non-conference scrubs they beat happens to win their Conference Tournament. I can't say I'm too up to date with my Big South or MAAC rankings.) Two of the remaining five came at home against Big Ten bubble teams Iowa and Minnesota, leaving only three real quality victories - michigan, Wisconsin, and Michigan St, which also all occurred in Value City. I already discussed the W over that school up north in my last piece and I'll get to the recent Michigan St win shortly, but from just a resume standpoint there's not a whole lot that jumps out at you from that schedule of wins and loses.

Where the concern comes for the Buckeyes is when they play those top-notch teams and how they have fared. Just as was the case in the non-conference loses to Duke and Kansas, the road defeats that Ohio St suffered to michigan and Michigan St were almost encouraging from the point that they played real tough on the road against two really talented teams. (Well, one talented team and one group of giant dick bags.) But we are basically in March now and well beyond moral victories.

Furthermore, the two losses at home against Indiana and at Wisconsin are in my opinion where we found out the most about Ohio St and why there is plenty of reason for concern heading into the Madness. When the Hoosiers visited Columbus in early February, it was not pretty. Indiana was better than the Buckeyes in every aspect of the game, and proved it up and down the court for 40 minutes. Now, optimists may say, "Well, that was Indiana and they can do that to pretty much anybody. They're the best team in the nation." I'd agree 100% - and that is exactly my point. Ohio St is simply just not on that same level as Indiana. Or Duke, or Kansas, or Florida for that matter. This was further proven the following week when the Buckeyes traveled to Madison and got the beating of a lifetime at the hands of the Badgers.

Now, I've sounded super negative throughout this post so far, and that wasn't necessarily my intention. I just wanted to point out the conclusions that I've come to in the past several weeks of watching college basketball, and while these were realizations that I had sort of thought all along, I was hoping I was wrong. That all being said, it certainly isn't all bad for the Ohio St Buckeyes. There is something to be said for beating every team you're supposed to, and I feel like that has been happening on both the hardwood and the turf in Columbus for the past decade. Thad Matta just does not get upset. (In the sense of losing to inferior teams, certainly not the "pissed off" meaning of the word.) Of their seven loses, only one has come in VC (vs. #1 Indiana), and one against a team outside of the top 20 (a still tournament-bound Illinois squad).

There was also the very impressive and entertaining win that Ohio St had last Sunday against the then-ranked #4 Spartans. Aside from the always rewarding win over michigan, this was my favorite game of the year thus far. (Side note: Speaking of my favorite games involving Michigan St - remember this shot from Willy Buckets last year?) It showed me some hope, because the biggest knock myself and pretty much the entire media has given to this Buckeye team all season has been that no one can score other than Deshaun Thomas, and how we're helpless when Tank isn't at his absolute best.

While he did hit two huge threes in the second half, Thomas struggled mightily in this game, scoring only two points by halftime and finishing on 4/16 shooting. Aaron Craft was the star in this win, scoring a career-high 21 and showing an incredible knack for getting to the basket at ease, something we rarely see from AC. But in my mind the unsung hero of this game was Evan Ravenel. Rav's 10 and 5 stat line certainly won't blow anyone's mind, but watching that game I saw a different Evan than I've seen the past two seasons. He gave 18 quality minutes of nonstop 100% effort, played outstanding defense, got two enormous rebounds and one crucial block down the stretch, and most important - shot 6/7 from the line. Now while his season average of 66% from the stripe is far from pitiful and certainly a long way from the days of Dallas Lauderdale's 40-something, I'm always nervous when the big man hits the line and just hope for 1 of 2. But last weekend the man looked like J.J. Redick out there. (Too far?)

Rav's contribution could be a big factor down the stretch, as fellow big man Amir Williams has been alright but still hasn't shown the progress Matta had hoped throughout the season. The Buckeyes will visit Evanston in a few minutes to take on Northwestern, before closing the season in Indiana next Tuesday (yikes) and welcoming Illinois March 10 looking for revenge on Ravenel's Senior Night. These next three weeks with the trip to Assembly Hall along with the Big Ten tournament should give us a good idea of what we can expect come Tournament time. Are we just a solid team that beats lesser opponents? Or can Tank rally the troops and carry this team to Atlanta? Stay tuned.


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