Good morning, happy if not well-rested Buckeye fans. How's your vertigo from the camera angles used last night?
There are about a dozen truly great things in life. To name just a few: eating ice cream on a hot summer day, kissing someone for the first time and knocking Cincinnati out of the NCAA tournament1.
With an 81-66 throttling of the Bearcats in a regional semifinal game last night in Boston, Thad Matta's Buckeyes are back in the Elite 8 for the first time since the 2006-07 team advanced all the way to the championship game. This is just the program's
fourth2 third appearance in the Elite 8 since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
Think about that for a minute. In the last 27 years, Ohio State has three Elite 8 appearances and two of them belong to Thad Matta. Don't ever leave, Coach.
The Buckeyes were led by the one-two punch of Deshaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger on offense. Thomas finished with 26 points -- with 20 of those points occurring in the first 20 minutes of the game -- on 10-17 shooting. He now has 75 points in his three tourney games, leading all players in the field (while also averaging 8.7 rebounds per game).
Sullinger turned in another ho-hum double-double, his 16th of the season, with 23 points and 11 boards. On the other end of the court, he largely neutralized Cincinnati's Yancy Gates, holding the big to seven points on 3-7 shooting and just five rebounds, well below his season average of 12.4 and 9.1, respectively.
The emergence of Thomas as an elite offensive threat could not have come at a better time as the two are feeding off of each other at that end of the court. Last night, we were treated to unselfish passes in the paint as part of what can only be described as a blossoming offensive bromance between the two.
Thomas summed it up best in the postgame presser, saying "We've learned that teams are double teaming us and playing the right guy out of the double‑team. He seen me flashing, now they double‑teaming me, so now I see him flashing."
Added Sullinger, "I think it makes it so much easier for me to find Deshaun because nobody knows where he's at but me."
They're becoming bucket-making BFFs and that's great news for us.
Meanwhile, Aaron Craft continues to do what he does and by that I mean he's making life absolutely miserable for opposing point guards. Although he didn't register a point until the second half, Craft finished with 11 points, six steals, five assists and four rebounds.
After the Bearcats had stormed back from 12 point halftime deficit to take a 52-48 lead, the Buckeyes went on a 17-1 run to ice the game. Cincinnati committed five turnovers during the run, with three of them forced by Craft. His stellar play led to the line of the night on Twitter.
With each passing game, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year's legend grows. Gary Williams described his defense in utter amazement on the BTN's postgame, while Buckeye video coordinator Greg Paulus offered this high praise:
"He’s the best I’ve ever seen. I know Tom Izzo said after our game that he’s never seen anyone like him, and he’s coached a few games."
Our leader, indeed.
LET'S NOT BE COOL. After the game, Jared Sullinger said something that I thought was pretty interesting when he mentioned that Ohio State was really two teams:
"We've got two types of basketball teams: We've got the cool guys and then the blue collar guys. I thought to start the second half we got into the cool guy mode and we kind of let our guard down. Coach Matta basically told us before we started the second half that they was going to come at us with everything they had because Cincinnati is just the type of team that does not give up. I mean, we just came out and decided to be cool guys, and they came out and they stung us, and then we got ourselves back into another basketball game."
I think we've all seen what this team is capable of doing when they're operating in blue collar mode. It was on display in the first half when the Buckeyes were racing out to a double-digit lead and again when they put together the 17-1 run to finish off the Bearcats. We saw it during the regular season with the destruction of Duke, the pasting of Indiana at the Schott and when Ohio State thoroughly dominated Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament.
Likewise, I think we're all too familiar with the "cool guys" approach. It may have first surfaced on the road in Bloomington or against the Illini in Champaign, but it was never more evident than in the 63-60 home loss to Wisconsin, when it appeared as if Ohio State was on the verge of stretching big leads on several occasions only to have it come collapsing down around them at the end of the game.
If this team keeps its pedal on the gas, it's going to be a tough out, all the way through to the championship game.
FEELING FOR WILLIE. I've gone from frustration to anger to just sadness when it comes to William Buford.
What happened to his confidence? Isn't this the same player that once pulled off one of the greatest scoreboard moves of all time after scorching Penn State on its home court? Isn't this the guy that nailed a championship three in East Lansing on the final game of the regular season?
Dating to a mid-season slump that coincided with Deshaun Thomas taking on a bigger role in the offense, Buford has been invisible more often than not. Last night was a particularly painful performance as he finished with as many points, four, as fouls, on 1-8 shooting from the field.
Matta did his best to keep Buford's confidence up, saying, "William Buford played his best defense in his career at Ohio State that first 20 minutes, and that was something that we had really challenged him in guarding (Sean) Kilpatrick," but it may take more than kind words from coach.
We keep waiting for him to get back on track, but the senior is running out of games. With Syracuse's zone defense looming, Saturday would be a great time to snap out of it.
THE ORANGE COMETH. Speaking of Syracuse, tipoff for Saturday is set for 7:05pm on CBS.
The top-seeded Orange, now at 34-2, advanced in a thrilling 64-63 win over Wisconsin in St. Louis. Despite having a chance to win the game on the final shot Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor was forced into taking a 25' three-pointer, which he promptly air-balled. Those shots only go in against the Buckeyes, it seems.
Forward C.J. Fair paced Syracuse with 15 points, while guard Scoop Jardine finished with 14 points and four assists as the Orange became just the third team to top 50% shooting against Bo Ryan's Jurassic Period defense.
SPARTY NO! Michigan State, the Big Ten's other team in action last night, also went down, and like Wisconsin, they went down at the hands of a Big East squad as Louisville dominated the entire way to a 57-44 victory.
ETC: Ted Ginn re-ups with San Francisco... Minnesota's Mbakwe is awarded a sixth year... Missouri, the team that cried about its seed before getting bounced by a 15, tops the list of teams never making the Final Four... Ohio State is Gordon Gecko, Michigan University is Hans Gruber, Cincinnati is Lex Luthor and Syracuse is Keyser Soze... Mike Leach really likes the thought of a 64-team playoff for football... Utah's AG forges on against the BCS (godspeed, sir)... Wut?
- 1 Okay, okay, maybe I wouldn't put knocking the Bearcats out of the tournament ahead of a football win against Michigan, but the point stands. Last night was awesome.
- 2 Thanks, Boban!
- 3 Party at Porcini!