Friday Skull Session

By Jason Priestas on March 30, 2012 at 6:00a

It already seems like a long time ago, but it's only been a little over four weeks since Thad Matta, frustrated by a lack of effort in practice, shut things down and told the team to vacate the gym.

That Buckeye team was mired in a late-season slump, dropping three of five conference games just as the race was heating up. Instead of finding ways to win, a squad with 11 underclassmen was still coming of age and painfully discovering that 40 minutes of effort, not 30, or even 35, was needed to be great on a consistent basis.

The Ohio State team that finds itself in New Orleans, one win away from a shot at national championship, appears to have learned what it takes to finish. It's a leap you see so many good but young teams make and it's not possible unless everyone embraces the commitment needed to go from a team that had to claw its way into a tie for the conference championship to one that will still be playing ball on the last day of March.

Jared Sullinger has returned to his freshman year form, no longer willing to let the lack of calls take him out of his game. Aaron Craft continues to play the role of team leader and spark plug, setting the tempo at both ends of the court. Deshaun Thomas is the tournament's leading scorer, while Lenzelle Smith Jr. has emerged as a surprising and much needed source of points.

Even William Buford, struggling through a frustrating senior season, is contributing in ways that aren't always obvious. It was Buford, the team's lone senior, who refused to let the team leave after Matta had attempted to cut that February practice short.

During the grind of the season, especially with unexpected losses popping up, we don't often appreciate just what we have in this team, but with time quickly running out and the NBA beckoning, we're running out of opportunities to do just that.

I'm going to miss this crew, but before I do, I'm going to enjoy a Saturday night treat against one of college basketball's blue bloods.

With any luck, we'll get a chance to do it one last time on Monday night. It won't be easy getting there, but the last big game played by a Buckeye team in the Superdome wasn't either, and that was as much fun as you can pack into a night.

AS IF YOU NEEDED ANOTHER REASON TO LOVE AARON CRAFT. As part of the banquet and awards circuit that accompanies the Final Four, Aaron Craft was named the Elite 89 award winner by the NCAA for being the student athlete with the highest "cumulative grade-point average participating at the finals site for each of the NCAA's championships".

Craft, an exercise science major with a 3.88 GPA (!!), will have to find a home for this award next to the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and Academic All-American and All-Big Ten awards he's picked up in recent weeks.

Love this team.Four of these guys are 65-10 at Ohio State. The fifth has
been a part of 116 wins. (Photo: Alissa Clendenen)

THAD MATTA THINKS YOU'LL DO JUST FINE AS A BEST MAN. Pete Thamel of The New York Times has the story of how Thad Matta, faced with squeezing a wedding in before taking his first coaching gig, managed to lock down his new boss, Western Carolina Coach Phil Hopkins as the best man at his wedding.

Barb Matta unintentionally summarized her husband’s ascent by explaining why he could not wait a week to give his family more time to travel to North Carolina for the wedding.

"Thad had to go out recruiting," she said with a laugh.

Oh, and the sweating? It's always been a problem.

"There was sunshine coming through the stained glass windows," Barb said. "It was a nice warm day. He was so hot in the church I had to wipe his face before we could kiss."

It may not be the most romantic tale ever told, but it sure beats thinking of Bret Bielema leering across the craps table.

JERRY LUCAS WOULD HAVE MADE AN EXCELLENT AMBASSADOR. recently caught up with the Buckeye great and he shared a pretty entertaining story about his first Olympic game, played while a sophomore at Ohio State.

In the 1960 Olympics you were the leading rebounder and co-leading scorer for the U.S. team that won the gold medal, and you were a perfect 14-14 from the field in a game against Japan (84 FG% overall during the Olympics). Was that the best team you ever played on, and what are your memories of the Japan game?

JL: It was obviously an incredible team and the best Olympic team the USA had until the pros started playing. I remember the Japan game very well. They were not very big, and being my first Olympic game it was important to me. I had learned a few Japanese phrases so at the start of the game I said "Good morning" to the Japanese center. He looked at me, backed out of the mid-court circle, and bowed to me. He ended up speaking Japanese to me during the whole game and I just kept saying "Ohio", which is ironic because my home state is the Japanese word "good morning"!

Ohayou to you all.

THAD MATTA'S COACHING TREE, IN FULL BLOOM. Illinois made things official yesterday, announcing John Groce as the school's replacement for Bruce Weber.

Groce, who coached under Matta at Ohio State and helped reel in the "Thad Five" in 2006, becomes the latest part of Matta's coaching tree to take root at a basketball-crazy school. Arizona's Sean Miller and Butler's Brad Stevens all cut their teeth under Matta, as did Dayton's Archie Miller and Charlotte's Alan Major.

With current Buckeye assistant Jeff Boals being the hot name to take over for Groce in Athens, look for this tree to keep growing.

ETC: Kentucky's John Calipari, doing his best to prevent overconfidence from seeping into his team, says it's ridiculous to think that his Wildcats could beat an NBA team... Bowling Green will play Buffalo at Columbus Crew Stadium on the night before the Ohio State-Michigan game... UNC's Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall and John Henson declare for the NBA draft... Texas Pro Combats are pretty ugly... Michigan and Notre Dame, veritable talent black holes... Haha. Poison, son... DERP.


Comments Show All Comments

LadyBuck's picture

Happy Friday, Jason. 

I like to think that anything is more romantic that Bret Bielema staring at you across a craps table. Except for maybe Brady Hoke trying to do the same. Which would be creepy. 

I think that Groce to Illinois is a great hidden hire for them. I love the way OU was playing defense by the end of the season, and he's known as a great recruiter. I've heard that Illini are less than enthusiastic about this hire, but I think he'll surprise them for sure. As a Buckeye fan, I kind of dread this hire, because it's another good coach with mad skills and a lot of inside knowledge on this team. The coaching battles between Coach Matta and Groce will be quite interesting indeed. 

At to that derp, he definitely herped. 

buckeyedude's picture

Here's a Japanese, "Ohio" to everyone!

I love this overconfidence thing that Calipari has going on.

It reminds me a lot of the 2002 ESPN interview of Larry Coker before the national championship game in Arizona. The interviewer, can't remember his name, kept asking Larry, not if, but by "how many touchdowns was Miami going to be Ohio State? 3? 4? 5? C'mon Larry!"

Calipari could learn a thing or two from Sir Holtz.



btalbert25's picture

Reading the article I think Calipari did a pretty good of downplaying the hype around his team.  He said they couldn't be at any NBA team and that sure his team may have more good players than others, but there are some great players in this final four.  

Run_Fido_Run's picture

I don't think it matters whether Calipari is overconfident or is smartly downplaying the hype around his team. It's how deeply his players are buying into the hype.

If I were a spy pretending to be a reporter, I'd be hanging around the UK players all this week telling them they're the greatest team in the history of college bball - asking questions like, "If this team were in the NBA, would you make the playoffs, or maybe just miss out (i.e., finish 9th or 10th in their conference)?" If one of them blushed, "I don't know about all that," I'd respond, "Come on, y'all would crush the likes of Charlotte and Cleveland!"

Some Buckeye plants need to drop by the UK locker this week and deliver the trophy to them. "Hey, you guys might as well take this now, save us the trouble of giving to you later."

btalbert25's picture

That's what scares me about THIS UK team.  2 years ago, they had the most talented team in America and they weren't mature and they bought into the hype and got beat by West Virginia.  I mean seriously, not one was that teams starting center and point guard first round draft picks, their BACKUP center and point guard were first round picks.  They had another first round pick Patrick Patterson.  Cousins and Wall were pinheads and it cost them. 

I don't see any imaturity on this team.  Davis and Gilchrest are not only great players, they play much "older" than true freshmen.  Even though he's had his rough patches and isn't the beat PG Cal has ever played, Teague is pretty tough and is a better PG than many older PG's in America.  

I guess my point in all this is, this is a pretty rare Calipari team.  Not only are the incredibly talented, they are mentally tough.  Jones has had a tendancy to disappear once in a while, but he's been very good in March.  This team may get beat, but it won't be because they are over confident. 


ArTbkward's picture

I'm hoping that Calipari has them so focused and amped up for tomorrow's game, being in-state rival Louisville and all, that they can't quite match that intensity for the Final.

You know what I mean- gearing up so much for the penultimate game against a rival that the team falls a bit flat in the bowl final game.

We should strive to keep thy name, of fair repute and spotless fame...

(Also, I'm not a dude)

btalbert25's picture

If Louisville can keep from turning the ball over and letting UK get out and run they can win that game. I don't think it's necessarily as uneven a matchup as everyone else does.  Biggest thing is keeping Siva and Dieng out of foul trouble.  If they can both stay on the floor, this game could be much better than people are picking it to be.  

Never count Pitino out either.  I love that he's the underdog. 

awwwwwwop's picture

Rick Pitino said that underdog is also his favorite position to be in, well it would be, if he could last more than 5 seconds.

"Who cares? Go Bucks." - Aaron Untch

Nappy's picture


I never saw a football player make a tackle with a smile on his face

Pam's picture

Ohayou gozaimasu to you too.  (I work for a Japanese company)

German Buckeye's picture

If Willie B scores 18+ by shooting better than 45% from the field and has 6-7 rebounds, and everyeon else plays as they have, then we will win running away.  If he throws up a 2-14 and 6-7 rebounds, we may still win, but it will be a close game.  Wouldn't it be nice to see all five starters play to their potential for two games in a row!!  Look out if they do...

Run_Fido_Run's picture

I agree, but having 5+ guys firing on all cylinders at the same time rarely seems to happen even with the better teams. Maybe WB gets into a groove, but then one of the other players who has been money lately has a rougher shooting night.

As Thad and many others have stressed, it begins with the "blue collar guys" defense, focus, and intensity. The absolute primary key of the game is to keep KU out of transition. If they can force KU to play half-court bball, by taking care of the ball, crashing the offensive boards but in smart ways, racing back on D, and by being alert at all times, I like their odds even though we'd expect 1-2 Buckeyes maybe not to be on fire shooting, necessarily.  

Nappy's picture

I think it's important for WB to hit a couple early shots to get his confidence going.  If WB and Thomas play well and Sully can at least equal Robinson, I like our chances.

Those Texas Pro Combats are hideous. Far worse than anything I've seen on Oregon but maybe not as bad as Mich U's bumble bee lookin things. 

I never saw a football player make a tackle with a smile on his face

Is it Saturday Yet's picture

So nervous for basketball tomorrow.  I can feel the hangover looming.

I liked the Texas alt unis, but I also liked Serpentor when his story line was introduced,  the Age of Apocalypse timeline, and more recently, the Uncanny X-Force uniforms.  The change made to Peter Parker, equipping him with biological webshoooters was also an improvement and Sam Jackson's image used for Nick Fury in the ultimate universe was so fantastic it changed his appearance in the movies.  Change is important for progress.  I think alternate uniforms bring excitement and can influence recruits who want to have a little variety with their tradition. Changing the uniforms for one game keeps the change exciting. Doing it every game is crazy.  Even with schools who change the uniforms often talented kids still seem to want it.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Hilarious! Thanks for the morning laugh.

Is it Saturday Yet's picture

The developing NFL draft picks link is interesting.  It shows OSU in the middle of the B1G conference, but also had 11 more players drafted than the 1 and 2 on this board.  I kind of read that as it saying Iowa and Wisconsin underachieved with all the NFL talent they developed and had playing for them.  I also remember hearing during the OSU basketball game with Iowa that every Iowa senior offensive lineman is on an NFL roster or something insane like that.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Quick OT (rhetorical) question: How is it possible, on the eve of the Final Four weekend, that like 60-percent of 11W reader attention and/or comments is focused on 2013 fball recruiting?!? 

Heck, I could understand if that attention was focused on spring fball. I've devored every scrap of news and analyses on Urbz's and the team's progress at this stage of the new regime, myself.

In reality, though, there were about 15 comments in response to Ross' outstanding piece yesterday on the 2012 Buckeyes offense, whereas since then we've probably had 100+ comments about h.s. juniors, some of whom might never visit the Ohio State campus, and/or whom Urbz might not even be interested in recruiting.

I'm not criticizing; I'm just baffled.

Squirrel Master's picture

Because its Ohio State. Down here in Kentucky they talk about basketball all the time during football season. Heck, half of the season isn't even over and people are already talking about the basketball teams.

Now I know it may be different if Kentucky or Louisville's football teams were any good but there still would be a large portion of fans still talking about the basketball teams if Kentucky ever made it to a BCS bowl.

It's just how it is. Plus you know you would be all over the grey box if Pocic or Foster committed like the rest of us. Even if it happened during the game tomorrow!

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

Run_Fido_Run's picture

But, again, I'm mainly surprised that the talk about h.s. juniors well exceeds the talk about the current Ohio State football team (i.e. spring football).

Squirrel Master's picture

I do wish to have more stories about the spring practices. I guess that is why we really do need a full-time beat writer.

The speculation does run rampant about future recruits a bit.

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

yrro's picture

I think there's a tendency with Ross' posts that no one has anything useful to contribute. The reaction is "damn, that's thorough... I cannot add anything to this debate that will sound close to as intelligent."

btalbert25's picture

A good sports writer here in the Cincinnati area started up a nice sports blog called  It was a very good blog, had some good reds and bengals coverage and it was an ambitious start up.  He had a very loyal following, but ultimately he had to quit because he just couldn't make a living off of the site. 

What's that have to do with anything, well he maintained that the only websites on the internet making money were porno sites and football recruiting sites.  I have to say that recruiting (for some reason I'm not sure about) is just a money maker.  People can't get enough of it.   It doesn't make a lot of sense. 

Squirrel Master's picture

Craft's GPA is 3.88. I wonder what happened that he ended up with a B? I feel bad for that professor, "You were the one who gave President Craft a B!".

that's all, I gotta go run out and get my winning Mega Millions ticket now. Half Billionaire here I come!!!

If you won the lottery, you wouldn't get a cent before the championship game on Monday and you just don't have enough to go to NO, Would you borrow your ass off to afford to go to the game and pay them back a cool million? It wouldn't mean much with that kind of money but would you be willing to pay that to go see the bucks win it all?


I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

cbusbuckeye's picture

He got the B in Chem, nothing to scoff at considering how difficult the class is, especially with his workload as an athlete

Squirrel Master's picture

Very true. I got a C in Chem and an A in Chem lab. I am sure his Chem course was much different than mine though. Probably neurological chemistry or something! I am a bit surprised his major is Exercise Science, not that its not a difficult major. I just expected him to be in a major like Krentzel was. Now that was a smart dude! And a champion! Something I expect Craft to be.

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

Denny's picture

He's a sophomore, so it could be organic -- if that's required for Exercise Science.

But hell, I'm a chemist -- certified and everything -- and I got a couple of Bs (and one C) in chem courses while at OSU. Good on him.


Baroclinicity's picture

When I was there in the mid 90s, the O-Chem and P-Chem series were generally considered to be the hardest undergrad series of classes out there.  Glad I never had to take them.

When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Squirrel Master's picture

I was an accounting major so I only needed the general studies Chem course. The lab might as well not even been Chem lab 102. Should have been Chem lab 25. The level of experiments we did was on par with mentos in Diet coke! I could have watched Mythbusters and learned more.

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

RedStorm45's picture

I thought I was the only accounting guy here...haha at least I'm not working tax this spring.

Squirrel Master's picture

Yeah, no taxes for me. I work for the University of Louisville. I don't deal with taxes but budget, monthly reports, annual reports, fiscal year end. I get reported out like crazy. Sucks because the fiscal year ends in June so we are about a month away from getting really busy. At least I have time to enjoy the tourney now.

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

Denny's picture

The general organic lectures weren't bad when I took them (though my brain seems well-wired for organic chemistry). I got a BA so I took a different set of P-chem courses than most -- but even those were pretty well-beyond me. I took the honors organic lab sections and they were by far the best and most challenging courses I took as an undergraduate.


Jason Priestas's picture

What's the quote about Linus Pauling? Something about him proving "that chemistry could be understood rather than being memorized"?

Yeah, didn't help me.

Denny's picture

Heisenberg says "relax", Jason.


William's picture

I'd listen to Heisenberg, he can get a bit nasty.

cbusbuckeye's picture

I finally "understood" Chem midway through Chem 123 my freshman year...too bad the damage to my GPA had already been done thanks to 121 and 122

William's picture

Haha the average for my chem 121 final was 57%, thank god my grade was higher than that. 

RedStorm45's picture

Yes.  My buddy and I made a deal...if either of us win we're leaving immediately for NOLA, we'll worry about the lottery winnings later (of course, we'll claim it first and all that).


I heard last year that Craft had a B in a class because he was on a road trip with the team and the professor wouldn't let him make up a quiz so he got a 0 for a quiz.  I believe it was during the Illinois telecast one of the announcers brought that up.

Buckeyebrowny919's picture

"Come to Miami where we appreciate you when you go full derp."




To give anything less than your best, is to sacrifice the gift - Steve Prefontaine

Squirrel Master's picture

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

marvorama's picture

Wow, Jerry Lucas is a beast:

How on earth were you able to get 40 rebounds in one game, and what is your secret for rebounding?

JL: It goes back to when I was a child. I would take 5,000 shots every day with a purpose. I did things that other players never did. I would intentionally miss shots for eight straight hours just to see where the ball would go. I knew where every missed shot was going so 99% of the time I did not block out because I already knew where to go. I also had great timing and determination and the heart of a champion.

RedStorm45's picture

Yep, the great rebounders don't just box out well, they understand the percentages of where missed shots will land.  Tough thing to do and not really "fun" to try to figure out.

That OSU team could have gone down as an all-time great team if not for Cincinnati in '61 and '62.

BrewstersMillions's picture

Rebounding is sort of a lost art in my opinion. Some guys grab a ton of boards but aren't great 'rebounders' per se. There is a commitment to it that some people just don't make (and in some cases dont have to). Dwight Howard grabs his double digits by just being the big dude on the floor but I don't think he's a great rebounder as it were. I got to see the greatest ever do it for the Bulls in the late 90's with Rodman. He was a tall guy but played so much bigger and stronger than anyone around him and it always amazed me how he'd out rebound Shaq,Mourning, Ewing, etc. Dude knew positioning and was the KING of the self tap rebound. Fun to watch. FYI for you death poolers out there-odds on Rodman are plumetting, he's a lock to not make it through 2012. 

altrn8ngcurrent's picture

It may not be the most romantic tale ever told, but it sure beats thinking of Bret Bielema leering across the craps table.

Still a better love story than Twilight!

Abe Froman's picture

Speaking of hangovers, boy sometimes Cancun turns into the beast that it is known for. Throw in some family members to aide in the drinking and I am feeling the heat of the hangover. Dear old Dad didn't even make it to breakfast and sitting poolside at 11 am gets mighty dry. Luckily the bar is open.

This years team has been a roller coaster and whether we are up or down tomorrow, I will still watch and cheer on O H I O. I think I am stil drunk.......

Basking in the wake of mediocrity.....

Baroclinicity's picture


^  Ha!

When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

RedStorm45's picture

Does the Superdome have temporary seating in for the game? Some of these pictures coming out of there look crazy but the seating chart doesn't look the same as it does for football, yet the seats don't look temporary from the pictures.  I know in Indy the court was in the middle of the field, but in Atlanta it kind of went along the endzone (baskets being towards the sidelines) and they put in temporary seats around midfield (if that makes sense).  Maybe I'm looking at that chart wrong, but doesn't that stadium have a lot of room behind the benches for football anyway?

Run_Fido_Run's picture

On the bright side, T. Taylor has struggled shooting threes in domes, so an especially cavernous atmosphere might compound his problems.

In contrast, I'm not sure that Tank even looks at the basket/rim. When Tank shoots, the ball is magically pulled through the net by an invisible string. Maybe Tank uses some kinda Spiderman trick?

Also, if Amir, Amir gets into the game, he won't need to worry about the cavernous backdrop as long as he's following Craft's recommendation of what to do with the . . . ball.   

RBuck's picture

Just read something the other day that percentages for all teams drop about 4% in domes in all three categories...FG, FT and 3pfg.

Long live the southend.

Nappy's picture

Butler may have single-handedly padded that stat against UCONN

I never saw a football player make a tackle with a smile on his face

Run_Fido_Run's picture

KU has done a great job, during the tournament, of ramping up its defense and closing games in the last two minutes. As others have pointed out, though, they haven't exactly dominated the other 35-38 minutes of these games.

KU led Detroit only 27-23 with 3.5 minutes left in the 1H before gradually pulling away.

Purdue had KU on the ropes, leading 42-32 with about 16 minutes left in the 2H and by 3 pts with 2 minutes left in the game.

KU was up only 1-pt on NC State with a 1.5 minutes left in the 2H.

KU also led UNC 68-67 with four minutes left in the 2H, before UNC self-imploded.

Moral of the story: Buckeyes need to jump out early on KU and step on their necks. At times this season, Ohio State has jumped on some good teams right out of the gate, but then coasted the rest of the way. If they are able to get up early, I feel that the Buckeyes are now mature enough to show KU no mercy.