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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ohio State emphatically delivers a message - Buckeye Beatdown - Meyer Coaching Staff Watch

Craft, Buckeyes take advantage of weary Duke in decisive victory
seth davis
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Immediate question: Was Ohio State that good or was Duke that bad?
Answer: Yes.
Long-term question: Is Ohio State really that good, and is Duke really that bad?
Answer: Not really.
The truth is, there's not much that can be learned from a 22-point beatdown. "We've had our butts kicked, and we've kicked some butt," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Right now my butt is sore." My brain's sore trying to riddle a few salient lessons from this massacre. Here's what we learned tonight:

1. Until further notice, Aaron Craft is the best point guard in the country.
There is no obvious designee for this honorific, nor is there any shortage of worthy candidates. But nobody has better overall command of the game on both ends of the floor than Ohio State's 6-foot-2 sophomore. Tuesday was the third time in five games that Craft had eight assists. (He also had a season-high four turnovers.) He also had his best shooting night of the season, making seven of his 11 attempts overall, and three for four from three-point range. One of those makes was accidentally banked in from the top of the key. They say it's better to be lucky than good, but on this night Craft was both -- and it didn't seem fair.
Craft is certainly lucky to be surrounded by so much talent. As Krzyzewski put it, "part of being a good point guard is having good players you can point-guard for." But Craft also thinks the game at a very high level. Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said that at one point, when he warned Craft he had three fouls, Craft corrected him and said he only had two. (Matta had to check with his assistants to see if Craft was right. He was.) Last Friday against Valparaiso, Craft told Matta that he should stop the game because a teammate had just made a three but the refs only credited him for a two. (Matta asked the refs to check the monitor to see if Craft was right. He was.) Matta also said he lets Craft pretty much decide how many minutes he's capable of playing each game. He played a season-high 38 on Tuesday night and didn't seem the least bit tired.
There may be other point guards who will have a brighter NBA future. But if I could pick one point guard to win a college basketball game tomorrow night, I would pick Craft. I have a feeling I'm not alone.

2. Columbus is a long way from Maui.
Technically, it's 4,457 miles, but it felt even longer for Duke. When Krzyzewski pointed out early in his postgame news conference that his team had played seven games in 13 days, he wasn't making an excuse, he was stating a fact. Part of being a great team is learning to fight through fatigue, but Duke had much more fatigue than fight. Krzyzewski parked three of his starters -- guards Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry, and forward Ryan Kelly -- on the bench with 10 minutes to play in the second half and left them there. When he said that he did that so he could see what his reserves could do, he was unconvincing. That was a sit-your-ass-down move if ever there was one.
Not only did the Blue Devils play three games in three days at the Maui Invitational, they jammed in four games before they left because the school wanted to ensure Krzyzewski would break Bob Knight's alltime wins record on the mainland. Flying home, then flying out to play a road game at 9:30 p.m. against the No. 2 team in the country is a brutal turnaround. "We didn't handle that well," Coach K said. "When you play on the road, you have to be juiced up. Even if we were, we might not have won, but [the schedule] did have a bearing."
Matta agreed. When he was told that Krzyzewski thought the schedule had left his guys out of gas, Matta quipped, "Now will you guys stop asking me why we don't go to Maui?"

3. Austin Rivers is the real deal. There obviously weren't many bright spots for Duke, but the play of their much-heralded freshman was one of them. It's not just that Rivers scored a game-high 22 points and only had two turnovers in 37 minutes. It's the way he competed. Krzyzewski yanked Rivers from the game early in the first half after he blew some defensive assignments, but the freshman bounced back in impressive fashion. For most of the game, he was the team's only semblance of offense, and he was pretty much creating it on his own. Rivers has begun the season in fits and starts, but I'm sure he gained a lot of confidence from this game.

4. Ohio State is a versatile defensive team.
The Buckeyes' primary concern coming in was Duke's three-point shooting. "We told our guys, they're going to make shots. You can't be surprised when they do," Matta said. Imagine their surprise when Duke didn't. The Blue Devils made exactly one made three-pointer (in seven attempts) in the first half. For the game they were 3 for 20. Yes, the tired legs were a factor, but so was the Buckeyes' D.
Matta wasn't sure who would guard whom, so he gave all of his players a DVD of all of Duke's guards and let them know they should be ready to check any of them. He started with 6-4 sophomore Lenzelle Smith on Rivers, and throughout the game Matta rotated his batch of long-armed swingmen (William Buford, Deshaun Thomas and Evan Ravenel) on to Duke's perimeter snipers. Aside from the occasional burst from Rivers, the Devils were silenced. Mission accomplished.

5. Deshaun Thomas is Ohio State's X factor.
We know Jared Sullinger is a player of the year candidate, Craft is an outstanding point guard, and Buford is a future pro. We know less about what the Buckeyes are going to get each night from Thomas, but we also know this: If he keeps giving them what he gave them Tuesday night, they are going to be near-impossible to beat.
Thomas had a typically up-and-down freshman season a year ago. He started off with a blast, hanging 24 points on North Carolina A&T in the season-opener. From there, he mostly disappeared into the background, but he was front and center Tuesday night -- especially at the end of the first half when he scored the team's final nine points to send them into the locker room up 19. He finished with 18 points (on 8-for-12 shooting) and five rebounds in 28 minutes. That's what you call a good night's work.
Thomas, like many of his young Buckeye teammates, still has some growing up to do. After he turned in a lackluster effort at the start of the Valparaiso game, Matta told him at halftime, "I had a feeling before the game you weren't ready to play." But even a great defensive team can only plug so many dikes. If your top priority is holding down Sullinger, and if your second priority is stopping Craft's penetration, and your third is keeping Buford off the glass ... well, the last thing you need is Thomas, who is also a lockdown defender, going off for 18 points. "You hope he keeps doing this," Matta said. "We're going to keep working him, that's for sure."

Ohio State emphatically delivers a message

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- As Deshaun Thomas exited the postgame press conference that followed No. 2 Ohio State’s 85-63 victory over Duke on Tuesday night, NBA stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade escaped Value City Arena through a nearby loading dock.
The duo watched Thomas and Co. destroy the fourth-ranked Blue Devils in the most marquee matchup of this year's Big Ten/ACC Challenge. When James and Wade arrived, photographers scurried like paparazzi on a red carpet.
“I saw them,” said Thomas, who scored 18 points. “It was great motivation to show off for them because they show off for us all the time on TV.”
But LeBron and D-Wade weren’t the headliners on this night.
Under the brightest lights of the young season, Ohio State embraced the moment and destroyed a team that just won the prestigious Maui Invitational, handing Duke its most lopsided nonconference loss in the regular season since 1995.

The stars were out in force in Columbus on Tuesday, including LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.The Buckeyes weren’t distracted by the frenzy that preceded the game -- fans had camped outside the venue for days and there was legitimate buzz in a city and on a campus dominated by football and the arrival of new coach Urban Meyer.

Competing while two NBA All-Stars sat courtside obviously didn’t rattle them, either. And more importantly, Duke’s threats of 3-balls and aggressive interior defense never moved beyond the planning phase due to Ohio State’s execution.
The Buckeyes put together the most defining performance of the 2011-12 season and legitimized all the “Ohio State is the best team in America right now” kudos that will follow.
OSU nailed a ridiculous 59 percent of its shots -- a mere 57 percent from beyond the arc. Beyond the box score, however, the Bucks had the backbone to crush a vulnerable opponent when the opportunity arose. That’s the DNA of a champion.
They turned a 26-17 edge with eight minutes to play in the first half into a 19-point halftime lead.
“This basketball team is tough," said Jared Sullinger, who scored a team-high 21 points. "That’s pretty much our motto: mental toughness and physical toughness, and we showed that today."
Against Ohio State’s defense, Duke played like a claustrophobe stuck in a trunk.
Freshman Austin Rivers scored 22 points, but threw away about a half-dozen opportunities because OSU wouldn’t let him finish at the rim. Seth Curry called a timeout on his team’s first possession with Ohio State’s Lenzelle Smith Jr. swarming him. It was a sign of things to come.
A Blue Devils team with a 46 percent success rate from long range before Tuesday’s game hit just 3 of 15 on this night.
A Blue Devils defense that gave up just 61 points in its Maui final victory over Kansas gave up 47 to Ohio State -- in the first half.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said the fatigue from last week’s trip to Hawaii played a role in the Blue Devils’ struggles.
“I thought Ohio State played a great game against us. They were a fresher team,” he said. “I thought our team played tired.”
But getting whipped for 40 minutes will wear down any team.
Despite losing 3-point ace Jon Diebler, versatile performer David Lighty and shot-blocker Dallas Lauderdale to graduation, these Buckeyes might have more potential than last season’s squad, which won 34 games but was knocked out as a 1-seed in the Sweet 16.
They’re more athletic, and with the evolution of Thomas and sophomore point guard Aaron Craft, they’re more versatile on both ends of the floor.
Craft alone held Duke’s guards to four points on 2-of-8 shooting and four turnovers. Thomas entered the game shooting 28 percent from beyond the arc, but connected on 2 of 4 treys Tuesday.

Jared Sullinger contributed 21 points and eight boards against the Duke frontline.In the first half, former Ohio State stars Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., Daequan Cook, Evan Turner and Michael Redd were introduced at midcourt. Oden, Cook and Conley formed the nucleus of Ohio State’s 2006-07 team, which lost in the national title game to back-to-back champion Florida.

Sullinger said he’s learned from predecessors who fell short of their national championship dreams.
“You just gotta keep your composure,” he said when asked what it will take for this year’s team to fulfill its potential.
Ohio State is as balanced as any team in the country. And with a stud point guard, a consistent wing (William Buford scored 20 points) and a big man like Sullinger, the Buckeyes appear to be as well-equipped for March Madness as any squad in the country.
But coach Thad Matta would like to erase the preceding sentences. The hoopla is premature, he said during his postgame delivery.
He said he’s paranoid about praising his team too early because that’s what happened just before Turner broke his back during the 2009-10 season.
Plus, the program suffered a backlash last season, when Matta’s team won its first 24 games but ultimately ended in disappointment in the NCAA regional semifinal against Kentucky.
Perhaps that’s why he dismissed any comparisons to the 2006-07 team.
“No. Honestly, I don’t. You had some veteran players, you had some seniors,” Matta said when he was asked if he saw any similarities between this season’s team and Oden’s squad.
That team, however, was led by freshmen. This season’s Buckeyes are guided by three outstanding sophomores.
“That team would do things in practice that I had never seen before,” Matta added later.
Well, how many times has a top-five Duke team taken that kind of a beating? Duke’s 63 points and three 3-pointers were both season lows.
“I still think this team has so far to go,” Matta concluded.
The latter is understandable for a coach who doesn’t want young players to get overconfident. And based on the multiple years he’s had where in-season success failed to match postseason projections, Matta's refusal to get too excited about the victory makes sense.
But Matta can’t completely disregard what happened here at Value City Arena. His young roster dominated a previously unbeaten Duke team in every area of the game.
That doesn’t guarantee any success in the future. But as of now, it’s undeniable proof that the Buckeyes are as good as, and probably better than, any team in the country.
“What can I say -- this basketball team is something special,” Sullinger said.
He probably shouldn’t convey that thought to his coach.
But most who watched Tuesday’s game would agree.

Drayton Expected to Stay On Under Urban Meyer
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer is just now starting to piece together his new coaching staff at Ohio State, but there will be a few familiar faces to help get him started.
On Monday evening, Meyer announced that interim head coach Luke Fickell would be the first member of his new staff in Columbus. One day later it appears that group has expanded to include Stan Drayton.
The 40-year old Cleveland native spent this past season coaching the wide receivers at Ohio State, but before that he was the running backs at Florida under Meyer from 2005-07 and again in 2010.
It was rumored that Drayton would be one of the Ohio State coaches to remain on staff under Meyer, and that was all but confirmed Tuesday by OSU commit Mike Thomas.
“Coach Drayton will remain one of my coaches at Ohio State,” the wide receiver from Fork Union Military Academy posted on his Twitter account.
Thomas was one of the recruits who received a phone call from Meyer on his first night as head coach of the Buckeyes. He seemed excited about playing in Meyer’s system and about the fact Drayton would be one of his coaches when he got to Columbus in January.
Drayton left Gainesville after Meyer resigned following the 2010 season and landed in Columbus on Jim Tressel’s coaching staff. Tressel’s brother, Dick, was already coaching the running backs, so Drayton agreed to try his hand at coaching the receivers.
He has a reputation as an intense coach and a fierce recruiter. He told The-Ozone.net during the season that he is willing to “give it up” for his players every day in practice, but he expects a lot from them in return.
That fits perfectly with Meyer’s coaching philosophy, which could not have fallen closer to the Woody Hayes tree. Hayes was known for his toughness and for outworking his opponents.
Ohio State could not officially confirm the news that Drayton would remain on staff, but our sources have indicated from the start that he would be welcomed aboard. As for his exact role, that has yet to be determined.
Drayton has created a relationship with the young wide receivers at Ohio State, as well as a number of high school receivers who are headed to Columbus, but he is a running back by trade.
He was an All-American tailback at Allegheny (Pa.) College, where he is the school’s all-time leading rusher and scorer. He was a part of the 1990 Division III national championship team, and still holds the single-season record for touchdowns per game (3.2).
He was inducted into Allegheny College Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005, and had been a running backs coach for his entire collegiate career. That includes stints at Villanova, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Syracuse. He also spent three seasons (2001-03) as an offensive quality control assistant with the Green Bay Packers.
If Drayton is on board with Meyer and Fickell, that leaves seven permanent coaching spots available on Ohio State’s staff. The current group will remain in place until after a potential bowl game, but Meyer will likely have his entire staff picked in the coming weeks.

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