Time To Take a Step Back
By Brandon Castel
Saturday night was ugly.
A lot of Big Ten games have the potential to be hard on the eyes, but this was particularly brutal, especially for Ohio State fans. It wasn’t much better for the other side, but the Spartans came away tied for the conference lead while the Buckeyes are searching for answers.
It was the first loss in 40 games at home for Thad Matta and his team, but was it something more? The Buckeyes scored 48 points in a home game that would have given them a two-game lead in the Big Ten with just six games to play.
Certainly the Spartans felt the desperate sting of a season on the brink. A lost in Columbus would have all but ended their chances of a regular season title. Instead, the championship now goes through East Lansing, where Ohio State will get a chance for redemption in the final game of the regular season.
But back to the Buckeyes for a moment, because this was more about Ohio State than it was Michigan State. The Spartans got a really nice contribution from Adreian Payne, who was understandably motivated to play well in his home state against former AAU teammate Jared Sullinger, the reigning National Freshman of the Year.
Tom Izzo also got some unusual contributions from a few of his role players, but Draymond Green and Keith Appling were a combined 9-of-26 from the floor. This was not Brandon Paul or Jordan Taylor going off. This was Ohio State shooting 26 percent from the floor and getting out-rebounded in a game that was still very much in reach until the final minutes.
Everyone wants to compare this Ohio State hoops team to last year. When they stumble in a game like this, it makes that comparison much harder. Maybe the fault is in the comparison. That team lost three games all year—one at Wisconsin, one at Purdue and the last in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament to Kentucky.
Last year's team was a much more complete team, which is why they were the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament. Everyone knows what Jon Diebler brought with his outside shooting, but David Lighty gave the Buckeyes an athletic four who could guard anyone from Derrick Favors to Draymond Green.
I still believe that team was the best in the country, but we all know best does not always equal national champion in college basketball. This is not the BCS, which is why Saturday night’s loss to Michigan State is not the end of the world for Ohio State.
It does, however, remind us of us some glaring weaknesses that have plagued this year’s Ohio State team since the start of the season. I’m not one of those people who think Thad Matta has to play his bench in order to go further in the NCAA Tournament, or at least I didn’t last year.
The reality is, Diebler had a poor shooting night in the loss to Tennessee two years ago and William Buford couldn’t buy a bucket against Kentucky. As a coach, you cannot control when one of your stars is going to have a terrible shooting night, but it would help if Matta had someone else he could rely on to come off the bench and hit shots the way Daequan Cook did for the 2006-07 team.
That was really the last time Matta had reliable outside scorers on his bench, and it came back to haunt them against Michigan State. Buford and Deshaun Thomas are their only two real scoring options outside the paint and both of them were frigid against the Spartans.
This is becoming a trend with Buford, who is averaging a career-high 15.0 points per game, but shooting a career-low 42 percent from the floor. That means he is taking two more shots per game and they aren’t going in. His three-point shooting is also down from 44 percent last year to just 37 percent, and he has made only five of his last 17 shots from long range.
He is averaging more rebounds and assists than he did a year ago, but also a career-high 2.2 turnovers per game. He is coming off a 2-for-12 performance against MSU and the reality is no one knows which William Buford is going to show up on any given night.
Putting In Perspective
Some are going to call it an overreaction to one loss, but it is OK to admit this team has flaws. It's OK to acknowledge they are not the best team in the country. Was UConn the best team in the country during the regular season last year?
Far from it.
The NCAA Tournament is all about matchups. Ohio State ran into a couple bad ones the last two years, but they still could have won those games if one of their top scorers didn’t suddenly go ice cold.
The tournament is also about peaking at the right time. Just ask Kemba Walker and the Huskies. Ohio State is capable of putting together a similar run, but many fans are quick to assume that because they have been so good and come up short the past two years, more of the same is sure to come.
After all, how could this team possibly advance further than last year’s team, which by most accounts, was a superior team? The answer is pretty simple: it happens all the time. Few teams come along that are just so good, they can run through March regardless of the teams the meet along the way.
Florida was that good a few years ago.
Maybe Kentucky is that good, then again, maybe not. They appear to be the best team in American, but they are relying on a lot of freshmen to carry them through a tournament none of them have ever experienced before.
What About Jared?
Even Izzo seemed to feel bad for Sullinger Saturday after the way he tried to strap the Buckeyes on his back in a game where one man was not going to win it for either team.
The result was a jam-packed score sheet for Ohio State’s big man. He had 15 points and a season-high 15 rebounds. He also turned the ball over 10 times as he tried to force the ball into the basket, even if it meant going through two defenders.
The real question is what the Buckeyes were trying to accomplish offensively. They did not seem to have any rhythm or flow to what they were doing, which explains why they scored a season-low 48 points on a night where they got 15 from Aaron Craft.
This team has gotten away from so much of what worked for them last year. Part of that is the absence of Diebler and Lighty. Not only where they good scorers, but they were outstanding passers as well. So much of the offense flowed through Diebler, who was excellent at the entry pass to Sullinger.
Back then, Sullinger would get the ball inside, draw the double-team, and kick back out an open shooter. If the defense rotated, the Buckeyes would swing the ball around the perimeter until they found someone open in the corner.
We have not seen that at all this year because Ohio State simply doesn’t have enough guys who can shoot from long-range. Lenzelle Smith, Jr. has exceeded expectations as a spot-up shooter, but the disappearance of Jordan Sibert has left the Buckeyes without a single shooter off the bench.
Wake Up Call
The good news is that it’s still mid-February and there is a lot of season left. Unlike football, a tough regular-season loss can actually help a team. The Buckeyes need to rethink the way they are doing some of the things they do, especially on offense. They need to figure out a better way to hide Thomas defensively on the high ball screen.
It can all be done, and we have seen that when this team is on, it can hang with anyone in the country. They demonstrated that early in wins over Florida and Duke, but that means both Thomas and Buford have to start showing up every night.
After all, they don’t have a lot of other options.
Drastic Change for Buckeyes Comes With a Distinct Purpose
By Tony Gerdeman
Any time a coaching change takes place, there are going to be a number of differences between regimes, be it new rules implemented by a new coach, more discipline, or a change in attitude.
When that incoming coach has been immensely successful at previous stops, some of those changes will be much more noticeable than others.
For Urban Meyer and Ohio State, most would consider his style of offense to be the biggest change. Meyer, however, has a different answer.
"The biggest change was the strength staff," Meyer said last week while talking to the 'EndZones Extra' podcast, hosted by his daughter Nicki Meyer and EndZonesExtra.com editor Sam Pennington.
"We brought my right hand guy Mickey Marotti from Florida. He was with me at Notre Dame, he's been a colleague and a friend for over 20 years. He's the best that there is in the business.
"It's 180 compared [to the past]. Not that one's better than the other, it's just completely different. We train a certain way. We believe in a certain way of developing them, and getting guys ready to play."
That "certain way" involves constant competition among the players in their workouts. There must always be a winner and there must always be a loser. Both positive and negative reinforcement.
Also, the players are pushed to their limits so that the coaches can see how the players will react when they get there. Do they fight through? Do they quit? This is something the coaches need to know because they need to know who they can trust when it matters most.
"We'll do agility runs or agility drills," Marotti explained to reporters in December, "but instead of just going through bags or going around cones, you do it me against you. Ready, set, go.
"And there's a winner and a loser because we're trying to teach them that in the game of football and in sports, there's a winner and a loser. This is how winners feel and this is how losers feel.
"So we try to be competitive, and that brings the best out of everybody. It tells you a lot about a player in a competitive situation—they either rise to the top or they don't. It's usually correlated from the field doing drills, to the weight room, even in the classroom. It's all the same. There are no surprises."
There are no surprises because the coaching staff already knows what to expect on the field by what they've seen off of it. It's the ultimate indicator of future results, and it's one that Meyer will always rely on.
"That's the essence of who we are," he explained in an interview with WBNS 10TV's 'Wall to Wall Sports'.
"You will not survive here if you are not a competitor. It's too hard. It's tough. It's a fight or flight mentality. You want to back them into the corner and evaluate their reaction, because that's what football is.
"It's not, 'Let's get another set of ten.' That has nothing to do with football. You've got to get strong, but of the 120 schools that play Division I, how many schools are doing the bench press? Every single one of them, so obviously that's not the difference maker because there's some really lousy teams that bench press.
"It's the ability to force a guy into a corner and watch him fight his way out. Teach him how to fight his way out, but at some point he has to do it. The fighter, the competitor is the guy you will see on the field wearing the Scarlet and Gray. The guy who doesn't, you won't."
It's simple, yet apparently still different. The old offseason program has been completely gutted according to Meyer, and in its place is one of constant competition and constant pressure.
It is done with an eye towards the fourth quarter, when a play absolutely has to be made. When the difference between a win and a loss is the last bit of effort that a player has.
Meyer and Marotti want that last bit of effort to be their edge, their advantage, and they have a very specific and effective way of making that happen. Their track record is proven. The results are written on crystal trophies.
In Meyer's interview with 10TV, he declared that he wants this to be "the most difficult offseason in America."
He labels it "fight or flight", but he's not necessarily trying to run players off. Rather, he just wants to know which players are most likely to choose flight rather than fight.
It's the only way to get to know this team in such a short amount of time. By knowing now how players will react during a fourth quarter in November, Meyer will know better whom to rely upon when that time comes, thus eliminating any surprises.
And as we already know, if the workouts are done in the manner that Meyer has directed, there are no such things as surprises.
Shapiro's threats from prison: 'I'm coming for them'
Nevin Shapiro's says his work isn't yet done. As he sits behind a computer in a New Orleans prison, the rage still boils inside [Shapiro]. The angry e-mails this winter paint the picture of a man determined to destroy the UM football program. But UM remains optimistic he won't be nearly as successful as he claims he will be. "The public is going to hate me worse in the next coming months," Shapiro, serving a 20-year sentence for a Ponzi scheme, wrote in numerous e-mails over the past few months. 'It's going to be severe and catastrophic. My feelings are getting inflamed and I'm going to pop off pretty soon with regards to them and the NCAA. I'm coming for them both [UM and former players] and I'm going to be successful."
Floyd Mayweather questions Jeremy Lin
Read here if you want to see how dumb Mayweather really is. This coming from a guy who is scarred to fight Manny!!!!
Boxer Floyd Mayweather believes that New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin is getting national attention because of his race, rather than his exceptional play.
"Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he's Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don't get the same praise," Mayweather wrote on his Twitter account on Monday afternoon.
Lin's agent, Roger Montgomery, didn't immediately respond to a text message sent by ESPNNewYork.com. Leonard Ellerbe, Mayweather's top adviser, didn't return a phone call from The Associated Press.
Mayweather, however, responded to the story later Monday via a series of tweets.
"Its OK for ESPN to give their opinion but I say something and everyone questions Floyd Mayweather," the boxer tweeted. "I'm speaking my mind on behalf of other NBA players. They are programmed to be politically correct and will be penalized if they speak up.
"Other countries get to support/cheer their athletes and everything is fine. As soon as I support Black American athletes, I get criticized."
Lin has become the talk of the NBA -- and the sports world at large -- for his unprecedented play over the last five games.
Lin is the first player in league history to have at least 20 points and seven assists in each of his four career starts. The former Harvard grad has scored 109 points in his first four career starts, which is the most by any player since the NBA and ABA merged in 1976. In his last five games -- all Knicks wins -- the 23-year-old is averaging 26.8 points and 8 assists.
Jeremy Lin's high school coach Peter Dipenbrock calls in to talk about Lin's high school days. Is everybody talking about Jeremy Lin just because he is an Asian-American? Are you buying the Jeremy Lin-sanity?
Lin, an Asian American, is the first American-born player of Taiwanese or Chinese descent to play in the NBA. Lin's parents emigrated from Taiwan in the 1970s. A grandmother remained in mainland China.
Lin was an end-of-the-bench player for New York (13-15) for most of the season. The Knicks sent Lin to the D-League for one game in January and he played just 22 minutes in his first month with the team. In his first opportunity to play extended minutes, Lin scored 25 points and had seven assists in a win over the New Jersey Nets.
Lin has led the Knicks to a season-high five straight wins. He went undrafted out of Harvard and was released by the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets in the preseason before being claimed off of waivers by the Knicks.
Mayweather has drawn attention for racially insensitive remarks in the past. Mayweather went on a profanity-filled racist and homophobic rant against Manny Pacquiao in September 2010. In a video posted on UStream, Mayweather told Pacquiao, a Filipino, to "make some sushi rolls and cook some rice." He also said "we're going to cook him with some cats and dogs."