Catch-52

By Ramzy Nasrallah on March 12, 2012 at 2:00p
29 Comments
Same tailor; same barberThe Champs of 1960: Larry Siegfried, Gary Gearhart, Coach Fred Taylor, Jerry Lucas, Mel Nowell and John Havlicek

If there is one advantage that Bowl Season has on March Madness (aside from football's overwhelming superiority as a sport) it's that half of its participants go home happy. Life is significantly better in bliss, and bowl season - for all of its disgusting corruption and mythical championship hand-wanking - sires a lot of happy fans.

March Madness still has wider appeal in part because almost everyone dies. A team may win to see another day, but that's how life is measured in the NCAA Tournament; you live and die in cruel 24 hour increments. Bowl season has nothing like it. Yet.

The lonely winner of March, of course, gets to live forever. That is the sole finisher's gift in college basketball: Irrevocable immortality. Kind of puts winning the Fiesta Bowl against a Notre Dame team that had no business getting a BCS bid into proper perspective, doesn't it.

Since 63 teams (or whatever it is now; those pointless play-in games are basically New Orleans Bowls without the benefit of football) end their season sullenly looking at their shoes, basketball has installed an unspoken tradition of recognizing Sweet Sixteens, Elite Eights and Final Fours as little blue ribbons by which 15 teams choose to remember their no-cigar March runs.

Ohio State basketball has a whole bunch of these ribbons. The Buckeyes claim 13* Sweet Sixteens, which include years like 1968 back when the tournament featured 28 teams with four having first-round byes, like Ohio State (do the math - the Buckeyes began the tournament in the Sweet Sixteen).

That should provide a revelation into the next set of shinier, more prestigious fake ribbons: The Buckeyes have 12* Elite Eights on the books. Yes, it is an achievement just to garner selection to the NCAA Tournament, but when the postseason begins with only eight teams - as was the case until 1951 - "Elite Eight" is a misappropriated capstone. Ohio State has a few of those abbreviated tournament advances shuffled into that ribbon pile as well.

So now you realize where this is going: The Buckeyes have ten* Final Fours. Only two of them are of the formula we're all accustomed to, i.e. winning four tournament games to get there. Without knowing the details, being presented with 13 Sweet Sixteens, 12 Elite Eights and 10 Final Fours you might conclude that Ohio State should have, maybe, a half-dozen titles?

As you already probably know - regardless of your previous intimacy with the backstory - the Buckeyes have one crown that came in 1960. So it's been 52 years since an Ohio State team lived forever.

Every run since has either left the Buckeyes partially-dead or mostly-dead, depending on if there was a ribbon attached to the corpse. Not one team since has captured irrevocable immortality

Among its Big Ten brethren, Ohio State isn't living too badly with its solitary championship. Indiana is without peer with five titles (on two fewer Final Fours than Ohio State; imagine that) while Michigan State has two. Michigan and Wisconsin also each have one. Then it gets ugly.

Purdue, the only school with a winning record against every other Big Ten team and the winner of the most regular season titles hasn't been to a Final Four in 32 years and holds zero titles on one title game appearance. Minnesota, as is the case in football, was awesome long before your grandparents were born, in an era that pre-dated March Madness.

Illinois never wins anything in any sport. Iowa shares the same Final Four drought as Purdue. Northwestern has never made the tournament. "Nebrasketball" is fun to say, but that's about it. Penn Sta-whatever; you already know.

"ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME!" - Ted Valentine warming his voice up for a day's workPictured: (Background) Ted Valentine. (Foreground) some basketball players.

So it's all relative when you consider the relative success of a clearly-defined football school in the realm of (what used to be) winter's thaw with that which is orange, round and bouncy.

For all of the grief that Thad Matta gets over his lineup rotations, he has the Buckeyes in position to make deep tournament runs every year. It now requires six straight wins, which is two more than that 1960 team produced in climbing basketball's tallest mountain.

Fifty-two years ago Fred Taylor also had the Buckeyes in position to make a deep run. Their core was known as the "super sophs" eight full years before the same nickname would be applied to the football powerhouse that won the Rose Bowl in snatching irrevocable immortality of their own.

Those immortal Buckeyes featured Jerry Lucas in the middle; the top recruit in the country as a high school senior two years earlier. Feeding Lucas the ball and wreaking havoc on opponents was fellow sophomore and the quarterback of the offense, John Havlicek.

Nearly the entire 1960 team was from Ohio. Only Gary Milliken of Waynesburg, PA (barely an hour from a Welcome to Ohio sign) came from outside the Buckeye State.

They rolled through the season with only three road blemishes against an otherwise thoroughly dominated opponentry. Their tournament foes en route to the crown were Western Kentucky, Georgia Tech, NYU and Cal in the title game.

The closest contest was a 17-point laugher in the Regional Final against Tech. Ohio State was never challenged, and never ceded domination. As a result, the 1960 team gets to live forever.

Like its 52-year old predecessor, the 2012 Buckeyes won the regular season title, though not as cleanly. They're also led by their own group of super sophs with Jared Sullinger, the top recruit in the country as a high school senior two years ago with a havoc-wreaking quarterback in Aaron Craft distributing the ball to him, fellow sophomore DeShaun Thomas and senior William Buford.

Yes, parallels are great for stoking the irrational flames of optimism, but parallels don't play interior defense or knock down outside shots at crunch time. Just ask Mr. Buford after any of his past three NCAA tournament exits.

The difference between Ohio State securing another little blue ribbon for surviving until next weekend or finding itself standing atop sixty-some odd corpses late in the evening on April 2 is as great as the divide between that 1960 team and every single one that has taken the court since.

But because the Buckeyes have earned a two seed and a seemingly easier path to and through blue ribbonry than the one constructed for them last year via Gene Smith's keen selection committee stewardship, there is a healthy degree of optimism that Ohio State just might find itself playing all the way through March, which would produce the program's 11th* Final Four (Indiana is still not jealous).

Matta definitely has them in position to join the 1960 team in evading the abyss indefinitely. The first test arrives Thursday evening; each obstacle will be unforgiving and progressively more difficult, which means the Buckeyes will have to get sequentially better at a clip they have not demonstrated since very early on in the season.

Like a select few Buckeye teams before them, they can do this. It isn't impossible. As numb to his still-relatively new title standard that Buckeye fans might already be, Matta didn't exactly come to Columbus to settle for regular season conference titles.

Perhaps this is the year that the Buckeyes finally evade the death march of March. This team doesn't seem too anxious for a funeral, and it's been far too long since an Ohio State basketball team lived forever.

29 Comments

Comments

Packer3Baller's picture

Love the optimism Ramzy. Can't wait to watch the guys compete this weekend. One step at a time on that road to NOLA. GO BUCKS

If winning isn't everything, why do they keep score?

Maestro's picture

Me, Me, Me, Me, Me!!!!!!

vacuuming sucks

Joe Beale's picture

I never get tired of jokes about TV Teddy. He's earned it all.

VestedInterest's picture

Well, I would say good. Vegas doesn't make their favorites based on what their heart says. Only "we" as fans do that, Vegas puts their allegiancies where they stand to gain the most money of course.

Now, if you're asking if the team knowing this is good or bad, then I would say not so good for obvious reasons.

buckeyefanatic's picture

I dropped two hundy on them when I was out there in January. I got 6 to 1 odds as well which I think is really crappy based on their feb and march performances.

Too many Buckeye fans are out there betting for Vegas to have really accurate "odds" on Ohio State winning. I did it because I am a hopeless romantic and a sucker for showing what a fan I am.

Last year we had such a better team ... still stunned that we didn't come home with more ribbons.

How many batteries does it take to beat Michigan football?   1AA
Want to beat Michigan? There's an App for that.

sharkvsghost's picture

Ramzy never misses. Another well-written and enjoyable piece, sir.

swing hard in case you hit it.

Leanenaud's picture

I'm going to NOLA the weekend after the Final Four. I've been entering contests to win the Final Four prize package so I can turn it into a 10 day debauchery fest. How sick would that be?

Rooster Buckburn's picture

If we see some semblence to the Buckeye team that just finished the B1G tourney - I think we have reason to feel optimistic.  On another note, wasn't Bobby Knight on that '60 team as well?  

VestedInterest's picture

yep, Lucas was a boss, ever see the B1GIcons piece on him?

AJBor41's picture

I love that Lucas used to ignore Fred Taylor's instructions about boxing players out to get a rebound.  Lucas didn't believe in it, because he said he studied enough missed shots to know where the ball would go.  So, why bother finding a dude and putting his butt on him, when he could just go straight to where the ball would be and go get it?

RBuck's picture

Yeah Knight was there but never got much PT. Joe Roberts is also not shown and he was a sometime starter or the 6th man .

"It's just another case of there you are". ~ Doc (1918-2012)

baddogmaine's picture

I'm fascinated by the wide range of opinions about the Buckeyes' chances this year. Bovada.net, printed in USA today, has us as the second favorite (after KY). Others don't think we'll get past Florida State in the third round.

I don't fully understand the optimism for a number of reasons. First, I'm not sold on Matta as a coach who can steer a team through the Dance - our recent record of early flameouts is pretty unambiguous. I'm also not a fan of "they're unstoppable when they hit their shots." Well, yes, we are. But we don't. We certainly got revenge on MI and PUR in the B1G, but the only reason why revenge was even in the discussion is because our uninspiring performances in February made it a necessity. Basing a title run on only the good is a bit like "Florida State could beat anyone when they put it all together." True that - they beat NC and Duke twice each on the way to a season with but two losses more than us. This week they DID beat a #1 and a #2. And yet they do not get talked abut in the same way as OSU. And I'm not sure why OSU continues to get treated like a team that in February did not lose to MI, to WI, that needed a last second shot to beat NW who did not even make the tournament, and lost two out of three to Sparty. Do we deserve a different standard? we'll soon find out.

If we do deserve it we have a draw that will let us demonstrate it. First two rounds should not be serious challenges. Florida State will be - though I think our Achilles heel is defending killer point guards and FSU has solid guard play but no one who can shred us; and I don't think the Seminoles can do the gang tackling of Sullinger that has also been effective. And of the #1s I think Syracuse is the most suspect. Last year we had land mines every step of the way aferthe first weekend - we *should* have gotten to the NC but the schedule did us no favors. This year the door is in front of us.  (I actually think that the field overall is weaker this year - the 3s and 4s are weaker than last year. IN, Baylor, Louisville, Marquette, FSU, WI, Georgetown, MI - any of those give you nightmares? I think the 2s have easier paths than last year. We may have the toughest #3, but the weakest 4 and 1.)

Keys are what they have been. No injuries or foul trouble; and Buford playing like a senior who wants to be drafted in the first round as a complimentary player but not a star (which he isn't). Sully got two quick ones on Sunday; Craft ended with 4; and Buford went 4 for 12. These happen against FSU and we could be watching the Elite Eight from Columbus for the third year in a row.

btalbert25's picture

I would say when you look at the win at Michigan State, and the quality of play in the B1G tourney, that may have been the 4 best games consecutively Ohio State has put together all year.  This is just my personal opinoin of course.  2 weeks ago, I didn't think this team would make it out of the first weekend.  I still didn't believe we had seen their best basketball and that they were regressing.  Then game the last 4 games.  I think they appear to be a different team.  It's not to say there won't be a brain fart and the team loses early.

However, you can't just discount that they are playing really good right now, and it's the best time to be playing really good.  I don't know if this team is a championship winner or not, but I would be shocked if they lose in the sweet 16.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

I agree. MSU and Ohio State are neck-and-neck as the second best teams in the country, behind Kentucky.

Yesterday, MSU was unconscious in the 2H, while the Buckeyes went cold. Ohio State and MSU are the two best defensive teams, period. Yet Ohio State got decent looks in the 2H; they just didn't go down. The refs didn't help, either. The quality of bball in that game was very high; some fans might not recognize that, including some of the so-called experts. 

I see both Ohio State and MSU making the F4, but having to play lights out to beat Kentucky. Fortunately, if that does happen, MSU would have to face them first. 

The next group of teams - which I see as about 4th to 6th best in the country, in no particular ranking, but in order of where Ohio State would face them in the bracket - is Syracuse and Kansas/UNC. Could Ohio State lose to these teams? Absolutely, but I like our odds. Those teams would have to play well while Ohio State would have to play so-so or worse.

Ohio State could also lose to FSU, Wisconsin, or Vandy - but those teams would have to play well while Ohio State plays poorly.     

ILbuckeyes's picture

I agree with the majority of this post except saying that ohio state could play so-so and beat Kansas, UNC or Syracuse. Those teams are very good, and not saying we cant beat them but if they are playing well we will have to be playing pretty good too.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

My wording wasn't very clear: I meant to say that if Ohio State played Syracuse/UNC/Kansas and both teams had average (or so-so) games, the Buckeyes would have an advantage. By a slight margin perhaps, those teams would have to elevate a little compared to how Ohio State was playing, which wouldn't be a big surprise, given Ohio State's inconsistent efforts at times this year. But I also agree with others that the Buckeyes are rounding into shape at just the right time.

If the Buckeyes play Kentucky, they'll have to play their best and hope that Kentucky doesn't play its best.

Maestro's picture

Baddog, you always have very thought out responses, but after a few beers there is no way I am reading that entire post.  Will try again tomorrow.

vacuuming sucks

LadyBuck's picture

I personally think that the biggest thing to get used to is going to be officiating. As much as we gripe about the officials we have (TV Teddy and Showtime Ed most prolifically), the Big Ten does get away with quite a bit. The question is whether or not they let us continue to play no-blood, no-foul, or if they call every little thing. I think if we (or MSU) can adust to that style of officiating, and we play hot, we can win the whole thing. Imagine the fouls Sully would draw that he didn't get during conference play. 

Obviously, I'm looking at the glass as half full. I think we have a team that can make it through March. Plus, never discount getting hot at the right time. The fact that we are starting to play the best basketball of the year now is huge for us. We have everything going for us, screw the negative nancies and media. If we aren't optimistic for our chances, who will be? Someone has to win, so why not us?

BeerNBuckeyes's picture

My favorite part of reading a Ramzy article? Without even looking at who wrote it, I know it is him. Ramzy is a true wordsmith.

Also, I have not been feeling very confident about this tournament. But once the pairings were made, I obviously like the position the team is in this year over last year (which was ridiculous.) I now find myself worrying about the likes of West Virginia... but this article did help to pull me off of the ledge a bit. I guess we'll just have to be patient and see if this team will play the kind of basketball we all know they are capable of playing. 

thatlillefty's picture

I believe in this team!

RedStorm45's picture

Thad's previous 2 seeds...'06 lost to Georgetown (big east team) in the 2nd round.  '10 (ET's team) lost to Tennessee in the sweet 16.

I think Craft is my new MVP after watching the big 10 tourney.  Opposing PGs aren't going to be used to his D...and our offense stalls with him off the floor.  6 assists on Sunday is concerning, especially because our offense went to NBA-isolation in the last 10 minutes and gave us 12 points.  Other than that, this team looked unstoppable for a good 80-90 minutes in Indianapolis.

krunk22's picture

Ramzy, you'll be happy to know that as of this year's conference tournament win over purdue, the buckeyes now lead the overall series against them 84-83.  So now Purdue has winning records against every big ten program except THE Ohio State University.

JakeBuckeye's picture

I don't think some fans realize how NCAA tournament-primed this team is. Aaron Craft is the absolute key. I believe he is the definition of an NCAA tournament player. He's going to completely throw off team's point guards, which will throw off their entire offenses. If Sully and Deshaun just play like they have been recently, along with what I already mentioned about Craft, this could be special. Now, if Willie B. gets going too, call it a game son.

Poison nuts's picture

Live Forever.

"Death created time to grow the things that it would kill" - Detective Rustin Cohle.

buckeyefanatic's picture

Awesome take on the situation, as always.

- Buckeyefanatic, writing from the cozy couches of The Flying Saucer in Addison, TX

How many batteries does it take to beat Michigan football?   1AA
Want to beat Michigan? There's an App for that.

trweaver77@wowway.com's picture

Sigfried is the second from the left.  He was the QB for the team not Havlicek.  What a great team.  If Lucas' knees were healthy it could have been 3 in a row. 

TW

osubuckeye4life's picture

Great article Ramzy!

I like OSU's chances much more now that Melo is out for Cuse. 

If they get past the Sweet Sixteen, I like their chances.