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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ohio State Buckeye Wednesday

Good Articles on the Buckeyes from different sites
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10 Things We Learned From OSU’s Run to the Sweet 16
By Brandon Castel

MILWAUKEE—It was a big weekend for Thad Matta and the Ohio State basketball team. Probably the biggest weekend they have had in three years.
The No. 2-seed Buckeyes knocked off No. 15-seed UC Santa Barbara and No. 10-seed Georgia Tech in their opening two games of the NCAA Tournament, locking up a return trip to the Sweet 16 in St. Louis for the first time since 2007.

We take a look at 10 things we learned from the Bucks over the weekend.

10. William Buford is not quite ready for the next level. This is certainly not meant as an attack on Buford, because I think he is probably the second best all-around talent on the team behind Evan Turner. When it’s on, his jump shot is a thing of beauty, and he has really come along in the other areas of his game in year No. 2 at Ohio State. What I saw Sunday, however, was a player who looked like he could use one more year at the college level. Buford made silly mistakes in the early going and looked hesitant, if not scared, to do anything with the ball in his hands. Typically a player who hasn’t met a shot he doesn’t like, Buford passed up a couple of good looks against Georgia Tech. He finished with nine points and eight rebounds, but it’s hard to imagine an NBA team salivating over him just yet.

9. Dallas Lauderdale stepped up his game. Watch Lauderdale in Indianapolis last weekend, you would have though the 6-8 center had resorted back to his freshman or sophomore playing days where he could barely hang on to the ball, was often out of position and easily pump faked into cheap fouls. Coach Matta certainly took notice, as he opted to go with loads of Kyle Madsen down the stretch despite the fact OSU was battling for a Big Ten Tournament title. Dallas knew he didn’t play well (he totaled six points, nine rebounds and one block in three games) and vowed to make up for it in Milwaukee. He singly-handedly took care of that on the first night. He responded with 12 rebounds and eight blocks against Santa Barbara in one of the most dominant performances of his career. Two days later he stood toe-to-toe with Tech’s big men Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors, and not only did he hold his own defensively, but he managed to stay out of foul trouble while Lawal and Favors could not.

8. Thad Matta can coach ‘em up. Lauderdale was the one getting it done on the court, but let’s give credit where credit is due. Known as a marksman recruiter, Matta showed himself to be an excellent motivator over the weekend. After Lauderdale left his UCSB scouting report in the film room Thursday, Matta made a little visit to the junior big man’s hotel room. According to Dallas, Matta went old school on him, even threatening (jokingly) to hold his head under water until he got his head right and started playing better. He knows when to coddle Evan Turner and when to leave him alone and he has never lost faith in Jon Diebler, continually telling him to keep shooting even when the shots aren’t going in.

7. The Buckeyes have a dangerous press defense. Don’t believe me? Ask Georgia Tech why they couldn’t set up their offense in the first half against Ohio State. The Yellow Jackets had jumped out to an early 10-2 lead and held a 14-9 advantage when Thad Matta put the clamps on. The Buckeyes quickly tied things at 16 and went on to lead by two at the half thanks to 13 first-half turnovers by Tech.

6. Evan Turner is physically ready for the NBA, but maybe not mentally. Watching Turner play, it’s easy to see why NBA scouts and executives are touting him as a probable top two pick in the upcoming NBA draft. He’s long, athletic and tough. He’s unselfish, but knows when to take over a game, and he is a tremendous finisher around the rim. The only part of his game still being developed is his outside shooting, but watching him Friday night against UC Santa Barbara reminded me why these kids used to stay four years: because they’re kids. Evan Turner is not a grown man. He pouts when he gets angry. He wears his emotion on his sleeve, and it drives him to be great. When he’s getting the calls, he’s all smiles, but when the refs are swallowing their whistles he seems to get rattled. That certainly looked to be the case in his 2-for-13 shooting effort against the Gauchos. How else do you explain Matta pulling him, and only him, from the game with 3:30 to play?

5. This year’s team has the right mindset. Despite maybe not having his mind right Friday night, Turner seems to have the right idea about what it takes to win in the tournament. He said Sunday that it’s all about survival and that the tougher team will be the team left standing. He couldn’t be more right. In a year where high seeds are dropping like flies, the teams that have survived the madness have been the ones that were tougher on that day.

4. Jon Diebler will take and make big shots in big games. Can we put this argument to rest please? He might not be on every night, but the idea he can’t hit big shots in big games is getting a little outdated don’t you think?

3. Their lack of depth has not hurt the Buckeyes, even against deeper teams. If you were watching closely in the second half of OSU’s win over Georgia Tech, you saw one team that seemed to run out of steam. Their best player was huffing up and down the court, but it wasn’t the one in white. Despite playing only six guys for most of the year, the Buckeyes were the more energized team Sunday. The Yellow Jackets played 10 guys, eight of which saw double-digit minutes, but even that wasn’t enough to keep their guys as fresh as the OSU players. There might not be a better conditioned group in the country than Turner, Lighty, Diebler and William Buford.

2. David Lighty is the difference maker. The Buckeyes have won two Big Ten titles and advanced to the Sweet 16 with basically the same group that got bounced in the first round last year, minus B.J. Mullens. Certainly having everyone a year older has made a big difference, but the one true difference-maker has been David Lighty. He missed last year’s post-season with a broken foot, but he has come back with a vengeance this year. Tabbed by Sports Illustrated as this year's “glue guy,” Lighty has been huge for the Buckeyes at both ends of the floor. He can guard just about anyone on the court, and usually draws the defensive assignment of the opponent’s best player in crunch time. He has scored double-figures in seven of his last nine games and is averaging 14.9 points per game in the month of March.

1. This team might just have what it takes. When this tournament started, I thought there was no way Ohio State could go all the way. Forget the fact they had no depth and no inside presence, just one look at their bracket was like a Murder’s Row of college hoops teams. Just to get to the Final Four, the Buckeyes could have to play teams like Kansas, Georgetown, Maryland, Michigan State and Tennessee. Instead, the top three of those seeds were upset on the opening weekend of the tournaments. The Spartans lost Kalin Lucas for the year, and all of a sudden it’s as if the Red Sea has parted for the Buckeyes if they can get past the Volunteers Friday. After that, it’s anyone’s game. With Turner being Turner, Diebler shooting the way he is, Lauderdale playing outstanding defense and Lighty stirring the drink, there isn’t a team in the field of 16 Ohio State can’t beat.

Midwest Region Reset: Ohio State looks like best team still standing

GAME BREAKER: Evan Turner, Ohio State
Ohio State's Turner is the lone superstar left in a regional that's filled out with three other teams that fit into the "sum is greater than their parts" category. He will have the ball -- and the Buckeyes' fate -- squarely in his hands.

INTRIGUING MATCHUP: Ohio State-Tennessee

The winner will be favored over either Northern Iowa or Michigan State in the regional final, so this Sweet 16 matchup carries a lot of weight to go with the intrigue. As mentioned in the Monday's Four-cast, the Buckeyes have been a lot more turnover-prone recently and, without a classic ball-secure point guard to handle the Vols' aggressiveness, could cough it up a bunch on Friday. Then there's the issue of the Vols' depth against the Buckeyes' Iron Five. Plus, Tennessee just beat an Ohio team coached by Thad Matta disciple John Groce, so the Vols should feel comfortable with a lot of what they'll see. There are a lot of interesting dynamics in this one.


THE PICK: Ohio State

With Turner, the Buckeyes have been the most consistently good team in this bracket over the course of the season. It won't be easy, as they'll have to deal with Tennessee's grinding style and then either the confidence of upstart Northern Iowa or the familiarity and contempt of league co-champ Michigan State, but taking the best team with the best player seems like the best bet.

The most important player: Evan Turner, Ohio State

No one player will determine whether his team gets to the Final Four more than Turner. Throughout the season, Turner was the catalyst in delivering a share of the Big Ten regular-season title and then the conference tournament title. He wasn't needed to score as much in Ohio State's first-round win over UC Santa Barbara, but he did have 10 boards that compensated for his 2-of-13 shooting. So what did he do against Georgia Tech? He turned around and nearly had a triple-double with 24 points, 9 boards and 9 assists. He did have nine turnovers to match the assists, but he still has to be doing something of note for the Buckeyes to win. If Ohio State gets to the Final Four or claims the NCAA title, it will be because of Turner and no one else.

NOW...the Midwest is Ohio State's to lose

Since the shocker at the Ford Center, the balanced attack of Matta's men will be the toughest to contend with as Georgia Tech will find out Sunday. Diebler and Buford have stepped up their offensive potency and Lauderdale and Lighty are beasts on the boards. Not to mention Evan Turner who always hits a big shot when they need it. the 'Jackets and Volunteers inconsistency all season will be their downfall. Tennessee will look like Kentucky in a four to six minute stretch and then start playing street ball and lose their mind over the next similiar stretch. That aint gonna get it against the Buckeyes.

The Panthers may win one more in St. Louis but's there's not enough Farokhmanesh long-rangers to get them to Indy like George Mason amazingly did in '06. Look for another rematch of Butler/Ohio State in Indy on April 3rd. Just like in 1962 when the last Missouri Valley team beat a top-seed (Creighton over Memphis State) Ohio State ended up playing for the national title coming up short against Oscar Robertson and Cincinnati.

In the December 12th game in Indianapolis, Evan Turner didn't play, Buford was the leading rebounder and Diebler was almost non-existent offensively. That's looking ahead but both teams look to be on a crash course for another head-to-head showdown.

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