Saturday, December 28

Buckeye Basketball Preview

Like every year, I’ve been so preoccupied with Buckeye football that my basketball preview is a few months late. Sue me. The Ohio St hoopsters have dominated a weak non-conference schedule, and will head into the New Year and Big Ten play owning a 13-0 record and ranked #3 in the nation. I mentioned that the schedule wasn’t exactly a gauntlet, but I am surprised by how well this Buckeye team has played.

The highlight of the season thus far was clearly the thrilling victory over Notre Dame last weekend. It was a close, back-and-forth battle the whole way, until the OSU offense fell apart mid-way through the second half and the Irish appeared to be well on their way to handing Ohio St its first loss. But facing an eight-point deficit with 50 seconds left, the Buckeyes pulled off one of the craziest comebacks I’ve ever seen. There was a ten second period where OSU Reggie Miller’d it, scoring six points with a basket, steal, basket, steal, basket. It was wild. Lenzelle Smith, who was a large part of the scoring problem in the second half, led the charge by scoring seven points in the closing minute, including going 5/5 from the line.

Let’s look ahead to see what could help or may hinder a Final Four run.

Why they could go to the Final Four.
The biggest strength of this Buckeye team is certainly its tenacious defense. Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott, and Lenzelle Smith make up the nation’s best perimeter defense. Craft has been dubbed as the best on-ball defender in the nation for two years now, but I could argue Scott is every bit as good. Amir Williams isn’t a Dallas Lauderdale-type enforcer in the middle, but has really improved since last season and isn’t a liability on the defensive end.

Speaking of Scott and Williams, their progression from a year ago is another big reason this team is doing as well as it is. I absolutely love AC, but I really think Scott is just as important to the Buckeyes’ success. Williams was basically a piece of shit last year, but would be my vote for Most Improved Player in the country. I always got on him last year for being a little girl, so often being stripped of the ball on his way back up after and offensive board. On the rare occasion he actually got the ball to the rim, he inexplicably wouldn’t dunk it despite being 7’1 and often missed the gimme layup. This year is an entirely different story. He has been very effective around the rim, averaging 10 points and 7 boards a game.

Lastly, as is usually the case with Ohio St in the Thad Matta era, they can be a very good three-point shooting team and have great leadership. Zelle is basically automatic when he gets to his sweet spot in the corner, LaQuinton Ross can be streaky but is still shooting 40% from beyond the arc, and although his game isn’t developed enough to warrant a lot of minutes, Amedeo Della Valle can stroke it better than anyone when he is on the court. A lot of attention has been given to the fact that Craft was the starting quarterback and valedictorian of his high school and the senior’s leadership on the court is unparalleled. And of course, there’s always one of the top coaches in the country roaming the sideline.

Why they won’t win it all.
While this team has really impressed me this year, one glaring weakness has still been holding them back – the lack of a “go-to” scorer. Ever since Thad Matta came to Columbus and the hoops program has become relevant again, every team had that one guy that you would give the ball to with unwavering confidence in a clutch situation. Not just at the end of games, but anytime you needed a big score to stop a run or break a scoring drought. From Mike Conley/Ron Lewis to Jamar Butler to Evan Turner to William Buford to DeShaun Thomas – it was always there. Unless someone steps up big in the next couple of months, this team does not have that guy.

No disrespect to Aaron Craft, but he is surely known more for his defense then being a scorer. I’d say Zelle is the best option, but he needs to be open and can’t really create his own shot like the Willy Buckets and ETs of the past. Q was the front-runner to be that guy coming into the year but has not shown any signs of being able to fill that role in the first 13 games. It’s not that none of these guys are capable of making a big shot – all three of them are – it’s just that I don’t have a whole lot of confidence in them being able to do it on a consistent basis.

Whether someone develops into that guy or not, this season promises to be another exciting and successful one that shouldn’t end until late in March, hopefully April.


Monday, December 23

Courtside, homie

Check me out, rollin' next to the court like a baller. And by "baller" I mean 8-year old kid with an Oden Trail Blazers jersey and an Oklahoma City Thunder yarmulke. Don't parents instill local team allegiance anymore?

I also took this well-timed photo of the opening tip. I did not take a picture of Damian Lillard's back-breaking last-second game-winning bomb.

Tuesday, December 17

Buckeyes taste defeat for first time in two years, fall to Michigan St in B1G Championship

Well, I haven’t had to do this in a while. Ohio St’s 34-24 loss to Michigan St in the Big Ten Championship was painful, and frankly reliving it here on FCF isn’t exactly high on my priority list, so don’t expect much from this piece. With the standards as high as they are in Columbus, every loss is tough to swallow, but when it happens for the first time in two years and keeps you out of the National Championship is has some extra sting to it.

Game Recap
The Spartan defense came into the game as one of the best in the nation, and held its ground early, forcing the Buckeyes to punt on each of their first four possessions. MSU quarterback Connor Cook connected on two long scoring passes, and Ohio St found themselves in a very unfamiliar position, giving up the game’s first 17 points.

I stayed relatively calm at this point (although much more nervous than I was going in), knowing that Ohio St had plenty of firepower to get right back in it. Braxton Miller and company must have been feeling the same way, and Brax’s TD pass to Philly Brown got the Bucks on the scoreboard. A Drew Basil FG as time expired cut the lead to a very reasonable 17-10 at halftime.

The Buckeyes received the second half kickoff and marched right down the field, tying the game on a Miller run. A C.J. Barnett interception caused the first turnover of the game, and each defense held serve for much of the third quarter. That was, until Braxton’s second rushing touchdown of the half gave the Buckeyes their first lead of the game at 24-17.

Now this was the point where I got really complacent, and I wonder if that was the case with the guys on the field as well. Even though I was well aware it was only a one-score game, the fact that OSU just rattled off 24 unanswered points made it seem like any other blowout we’ve played in for most of year. The problem here, of course, was that Michigan St was not exactly the caliber opponent that Ohio St was used to facing this season.

The Spartans came back with a long field goal followed by another Cook TD pass to put Michigan St back on top, 27-24. The play of the game came with about six minutes left to play, with the Buckeyes facing a 4th and 2 from the MSU 39-yard line. The Michigan St D proved their prowess one final time, stuffing Miller on a designed run and taking over on downs. A lot of people had complaints about the play-call, but I think it was the right move. They were stuffing the middle all night long, I agree that the best option was to send Braxton to the outside and try to get him into open space.

Ohio St’s defense was not up to the challenge of getting the Spartans off the field, and Jeremy Langford’s 26-yard touchdown run sealed the Buckeyes’ fate.

Up Next: Orange Bowl vs. Clemson (10-2), 1/3, 8:30, ESPN
It is going to be very difficult to come back from a loss like this. After two seasons of thinking only about a 2013 National Championship game, a date with Clemson in the Orange Bowl doesn’t seem like a very big deal. The good news is that Urban Meyer got his team to play hard in 12 “meaningless” games last season, so I have full faith that he can get his boys up for this one.

On another positive note - these two teams couldn’t have more opposite track records in big games in recent years. Ohio St has won their last two BCS Bowl games, defeating Arkansas in the 2011 Sugar Bowl and Oregon in 2010’s Rose, not to mention their domination of the school up north over the past decade. Clemson on the other hand, was routed in their lone BCS berth in 2011 when West Virginia dropped 70 on them in the Orange Bowl, in addition to their embarrassment at the hands of Florida St this season.

Expect a TON of points to be put up by both sides in this one. Urban Meyer owns a 7-1 career record in Bowl games, and I wouldn’t start betting against him now.
Prediction: Ohio St 45 Clemson 35


Thursday, December 5

Buckeyes take 'The Game' in heart-stopping fashion

Ho-ly shit. In one of the most exciting games in the rivalry’s 110 years, Ohio St held off that school up north 42-41 last Saturday. The Bucks’ D was not up to par, but the offense, particularly the running game, was just enough to keep OSU’s win streak and National Title hopes alive.

Game Recap
So remember in last week’s post where I said Ohio St came right out and scored for what seemed like the 11th time? Well, I was close, it was 10/11. But that percentage went down to 83% when Cameron Johnston punted after the Bucks received the opening kickoff. The kick was downed at the one, but an 84-yard devin gardner to jeremy gallon pass play set up a quick gardner touchdown. In a theme that would confuse me all afternoon, Bradley Roby was on the opposite field as gallon and had to run him down across eighty yards to finally make the tackle. I know Roby hasn’t been his best this season, but not having him on gallon 100% of the time baffled me.

Ohio St quickly answered on Braxton Miller’s 53-yard touchdown to Devin Smith. They faced two more third downs on that drive, and I was getting nervous that our offense may be out-of-sync. The TD to Smith was foreshadowing that that was not true. The defense on the other hand…not quite as effective. bitchigan came right back with a quick fitzgerald toussaint-scoring drive. Brax responded nicely again with a 53-yard TD run and the quarter ended even at 14.

Thirty seconds into the 2nd frame, gallon caught another touchdown from gardner, again on Doran Grant and not Roby. A melee broke out on the ensuing kickoff, and Buckeye returner Dontre Wilson was gang-tackled and stood in the middle of a half-dozen wolverines all by himself. After getting his helmet ripped off, 'Tre threw a punch (who could blame him at that point?) and was ejected. Starting OT Marcus Hall came off the sideline to defend his much smaller, outnumbered teammate, and was also sent packing. He awesomely left the game giving the bitchigan crowd the double bird. No word yet on whether these two will face any further punishment. (Editor: neither player faces additional discipline from the B1G nor coach Meyer)

Miller was intercepted on the Buckeyes’ ensuing drive, but the defense finally held and forced scum to punt for the first time on the day. Both teams punted on their next series, with Ohio St getting it back pinned inside their own ten. Carlos Hyde got them out of the hole, then Jeff Heuerman caught a 37-yard pass on a drive that ultimately ended with another Braxton touchdown run. The rivals went to the half all-squared at 21.

Ohio St owned the third quarter, with their defense finally playing up to their potential - for 15 minutes at least. They forced a punt on that school up north’s first drive, then the freshman duo of Armani Reeves and Tyvis Powell forced and recovered a gardner fumble on their next. Hyde had a big run on off the later, and Miller capped the possession with his third TD on the ground to give the Buckeyes their first lead of the game.

When scum got it back, OSU held on 4th down forcing a gardner incompletion. Heuerman was on the receiving end of a 22-yard Braxton touchdown, and Ohio St looked good up 35-21 going into the final quarter.

I’ll admit, even as a fan that doesn’t take much for granted because I’ve seen too many Browns games, I got awfully complacent at this point. Possibly the Buckeye defense did as well, letting the wolverines run right down the field and cutting the margin to seven on a drew dileo TD reception. Hyde, who quietly rushed for over 200 yards in this game, made his lone mistake fumbling the ball right back to michigan. scum went 41-yards and gardner threw a touchdown to a dude aptly named butt to tie it with five minutes to play.

Brax came back with a long run on the first play of the next Buckeye series and Hyde finished at the goal line to bring OSU back into the driver’s seat. With 2:20 left, bitchigan went 84 yards in a minute forty-eight, and gardner hit devin funchess to cut it to 42-41. fatty hoke decided to go for the win, but no one was open and gardner’s pass was intercepted by Tyvis Powell at the goal line. Ohio St beats that team up north in chaotic fashion, 42-41.

Game Ball
Per tradition, Coach Urban Meyer gets the GB for the michigan win. He’s 24-0 as Ohio St football coach, but more importantly, 2-0 vs. that school up north. Braxton was also fantastic, accounting for five touchdowns, as was Carlos Hyde rushing for 226 yards. But it all comes down to your head man winning the most important game of the year, and Urban Meyer did just that, again.
Game balls to date: Guiton (4), Hyde (3), Miller (2), Shazier, Meyer

BCS Outlook
Ho-ly shit. Auburn pulled off the outrageous miracle in the craziest possible way, beating Alabama 34-28. So Florida St inevitably wound up number one, but in the much-talked-about BCS rankings, Ohio St edged Auburn for the #2 spot. Clearly I have a bias, but I think at this point it would be crazy not to give the Buckeyes a shot at the title. If both Ohio St and Auburn win their respective conference title games this weekend, the debate will rage on for weeks. Should one win and one lose, the BCS title game should be set, assuming recently rape-cleared Jameis Winston and FSU take care of business against Duke.

Up Next: B1G Championship (in Indianapolis) vs. #10 Michigan St (11-1, 8-0), 8:17, FOX

Things could not have worked out better for the Buckeyes. They finished the regular season undefeated, and have a chance to gain the big-time quality win they have coveted all season long, as the Spartans come into Indy also sporting an unblemished conference record. It will be the ultimate battle of strength vs. strength, where Ohio St will bring its unstoppable 2nd ranked rush offense against the stout #1 ranked run defense of Sparty.

There’s no question OSU won’t be able to put up the offensive numbers they’re used to, but I don’t even see NFL defenses totally shutting this unit down. On the other side of the ball, Michigan St’s offense doesn’t do a whole lot to impress, and could be exactly what the doctor ordered for a Buckeye defense that was roughed up by michigan last week. I think the D steps up and the offense does enough to complete another perfect season.
Prediction: Ohio St 30 Michigan St 21