Battle-Tested & Confident, Ohio State is Poised for a Run

By Kyle Rowland on March 18, 2013 at 10:00a
21 Comments
Thad Matta's Buckeyes are battle-tested and confident

Confidence is defined as the feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something, or a firm trust. Those 16 words perfectly encapsulate the state of the Ohio State basketball team. 

What was once a team in disarray just one month ago has evolved into March’s darling. The Buckeyes, unbeaten since a Feb. 17 loss at Wisconsin, are a trendy Final Four pick. That’s what an eight-game win streak will do, along with arguably the best offensive and defensive duo in the nation – Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft.

The season has been a steady progression for the Buckeyes, from unproven youth to an entire roster gelling and reaching a potential that seemed to go unnoticed until the past month. As Ohio State lost closely to elite teams, Matta’s patience was tested, especially during practices that needed drills done time and again. Now, with the NCAA Tournament looming, the reward for staying within the circle has validated Matta and his philosophy.

“I’m so proud of this basketball team and what they accomplished,” he said. “What we’ve been through - 21 straight games in the Big Ten and to stand alone as conference tournament champions, this team has done a tremendous job staying together.”

It’s not often that a Final Four favorite twice was on the receiving end of a whipping that left them bloodied and blistered. Add Ohio State to that infamous group. The Buckeyes were listless in road losses at Illinois and Wisconsin. Each time they responded with a stretch of improved play and big wins. 

“Obviously you want to win every game, and I hate to say you have to lose to learn a lesson, but sometimes we’ve had to do that,” Craft said.

Forgive Ohio State for the ups and downs. It had to replace two starters from a team that won 30 games and advanced to the Final Four. And Jared Sullinger and William Buford weren’t your average starters. Sullinger was a two-time All-American and Buford departed as the program’s third all-time scorer.

Keeping a program humming is no easy chore in college basketball. One only needs to look at Kentucky and Florida in recent seasons for the realization that winning at the highest level isn’t just putting five guys on the court together.

“Every team develops,” Matta said. “Some get it quick, some don’t get it at all.

“When you lose two great players, the next year is extremely challenging, especially when you’ve gone so far. Kids can take things for granted. They can assume things are going to happen because they have the scarlet and gray on. From the day the season ended in New Orleans last year, they’ve done a great job.”

In the buildup to the season, players and coaches spoke of unchanged expectations. It was surprising considering the makeup of the team. Deshaun Thomas’ scoring ability was a known commodity, but who would be his sidekick? As it turns out, that question has gone unanswered the entire season. But it hasn’t mattered.

“We have a brotherhood here. Everyone likes being around each other.”

Balanced scoring, superb defense and an unfailing bond has spurred the Buckeyes to the soaring heights currently being experienced. 

“We have a brotherhood here,” junior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said. “Everyone likes being around each other.”

One player, aside from Craft and Shannon Scott, that’s elevated his game is sophomore forward LaQuinton Ross. The Mississippi native’s first two seasons at Ohio State have been nothing short of adventurous. He took a detour last year, enrolling in the summer and then being ruled a non-qualifier by the NCAA before practice started in October.

The snafu was cleared up, but Ross’ year was lost nonetheless. Flashes have been evident this season, though it’s mixed in with moments of confusion at both ends of the floor.

In Michael Jordan’s house, Ross was a key component in Ohio State’s run to the Big Ten championship. In the title game, he had multiple rebounds and baskets in a decisive sequence in the second half.

“I thought he was tremendous,” Matta said. “He’s turning the page. He’s more engaged and starting to see the benefits of hard work.”

Ohio State not only carries momentum into the tournament, it also takes a Big Ten schedule's worth of hard knocks along for the ride. The talent level in the league is one thing, but the style of play is the ultimate preparation for the slog through March Madness.

“It was a brutal season, just all the bumps and grinds of the Big Ten,” said Ohio State sophomore Sam Thompson. “But I think it’s prepared us well. There aren’t too many styles we haven’t seen or too many types of players we haven’t seen.”

That well talked-about loss was the other form of preparation. The message wasn’t getting through, so it was up to the team’s leaders to crack the code.

“We just looked at each other, and we didn’t have anyone else to lean on,” Craft said. “It was us. No one believed in us. We wanted to take ownership as a team. It was on us as players. We haven’t played perfect, but we’ve definitely grown and stayed poised in tough situations.

“The mentality has to be the same.”

The second definition of confidence is the state of feeling certain about the truth of something.

“We’re feeling pretty good, hopefully not too well,” Craft said. “The worst we could do is get complacent. This is when the fun begins. All the hard work we put in all year comes down to this. If you’re not ready to play in the NCAA Tournament, you probably shouldn’t be there.”

From the sound of things, it appears Craft is fairly certain the Buckeyes are primed for success.

21 Comments

Comments

Grant Edgell's picture

Fantastic to see the Bucks land a 2 seed with Gonzaga as their 1 and non-dominant teams from 3-through-8. Cruising into the dance with the best team in the country, only to be grouped with North Carolina, Kansas and Kentucky a few years ago was brutal. Not a surprise to see the national media and others on the bandwagon this year considering the late surge and our tournament draw.
 
This is awesome from Craft: “We just looked at each other, and we didn’t have anyone else to lean on.”

buckeye76BHop's picture

Great article and couldn't agree more.  They're poised for a run and this is the exact recipe for success they needed.  Win the B1G tourney and look out everyone....it could happen.  I'm retracting my second round departure and I'm sure Jason is too now.  It's on and popping...love seeing OSU BBall team playing like this.  It's awesome to see;-)

"There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you."

"I love football. I think it is most wonderful game in world and I despise to lose."

Woody Hayes 1913 - 1987 

bhartman13's picture

Matta really has done a great job molding this team and making them believe in each other.  Also the way he has worked with guys like Scott and LaQ to make them trust in his system has been nice to see.  Scott's defense has been off the charts and LaQ has been scoring more consistently and damn that 3 point stroke is pretty.  I think this team is poised to make a run, and to think of the potential if DT gets hot and starts rattling off some long balls.  The talent is there and now they are clicking at the perfect time with 8 straight wins.  I am so pumped for next weekend and love the West bracket draw!!  Dayton, LA, and Atlanta, sounds like a nice path.

Ohio Guy in Jersey's picture

And don't forget Sam Thompson's evolving offensive game too.
Just a great job by Scott, Thompson, LQR, and Craft to keep improving. DT has struggled shooting the ball lately, but has been very clutch at the end of games. If Smith gets out of his funk too, watch out.

bhartman13's picture

Oh I didn't forget about Slam, and once I posted I thought about going back to add a few sentences about how well Thompson has been playing.  Another example of a player who is locked in and playing with confidence.  
If Lenzelle can start knocking down shots then great, but right now I'm hoping he can just rebound, finish on fast breaks, and play good defense.  I prefer Scott on the floor over Smith at this point.

zbd's picture

Iona is 20 miles from Manhattan, New York.  They have around 4,000 students.  About the same as in a biology class at OSU. David and Goliath if there was one.

buckeyes763's picture

Good point but hopefully Goliath doesn't disrespect David this time. We might be the only team that can beat ourselves right now.

BuckeyeBoyer85's picture

Since the beat down in Madison, OSU hasn't given up more than 60 points. The recipe for success in the tourney usually is defense, guard play and the bench. We have all three rolling right now. A favorable draw is also nice, I just hope we don't get caught looking ahead. One game at a time.

Edit: Sam Thompson is a well spoken young man. He always provides great quotes and honest observations.

Wayne Woodrow Hayes

BrewstersMillions's picture

Last year OSU was able to cash in on DeShaun getting hot in addition to Sullinger being the rock that he was for 2 years. I'm feeling pretty good that Ross can be the guy OSU needs to take a little heat off of DeShaun. If Craft can keep beating people off of the dribble, that gives OSU three consistent offensive options and allows Craft to contribute with easy buckets and\or drive and dish options. They can offset the lack of post presence with those three guys. I really like their matchups as well in the bracket they are in. I see no reason why they shouldn't be the odds on favorite to emerge victorious out of their bracket-and they just so happen to have the best coach in their bracket as well. I'm not worried about this team like I was a month ago, they are clicking at the right time.

Do I come off as arrogant? Shame on me, I was hoping it would more obvious.

T4EHill's picture

I'm more excited about this year's tournament than last year's! Keep that defense going Matta and your hard work will pay off!

"There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you." Woody Hayes

trukjo's picture

I credit the shooting improvement in Slam & Q to Chris Jent and lots of hard work. We are very lucky to have Chris on staff.

RedStorm45's picture

It's crazy that DeShaun has played about as bad of an 8-game stretch as he has all season during the win streak.
I don't buy as much into the win streak.  Sure, there's more confidence, but all it takes is one game to mess it all up.  Tennessee.  Kentucky.  Stuff happens.  If they face a team that can light it up from 3, we might be in trouble.  That said, I'll take us to Atlanta.

O-H-I-Owe-U's picture

Do you think this season represents Thad's best coaching job? 

81Alum's picture

Yes, superb coaching. Won't doubt Matta again.

81Alum's picture

A surprising number of "experts", especially on Yahoo are predicting the Buckeyes as a Final Four team. Greg Doyel on CBS sports picks the Bucks to win it all (and play scUM in final).

Hovenaut's picture

Defense wins championships.......

It's been some ride so far, think our guys can hold their own against anyone. Hope to see some offensive breakthroughs now that they've survived the B1G.

Is it Friday yet?

I am not very smart, but I recognize that I am not very smart.

Charlotte Buckeye Chip's picture

Here is my ONLY worry.  We play solid to great Defense.  The B1G Conference as a whole plays good D.  But that's in-Conference.  The refs were letting EVERYTHING go yesterday in the Title Game.  That's been the case all season.  I hope this doesn't change in the NCAA Tourney.  If we get in foul trouble early, we don't have the weapons the climb our way back.  I hope this doesn't happen, but we have a team that fights and scraps for every ball.  I just hope the refs let the players decide the game.  Go Bucks!!!

~Charlotte Buckeye Chip

buckeyes763's picture

As long as Craft doesn't get in foul trouble I think we could be okay. We have 3 big guys that can get into foul trouble and it's pretty irrelevant which is in the game because none of them score. I would almost prefer the big guys get in foul trouble so we can go to our small lineup like we did yesterday. Put AC, Scott, Thompson, Ross, and Thomas and the floor and we have our best defensive and scoring lineup, IMO.

Buckeye1996's picture

Non buckeye fans can say what they want, but one thing is for sure is that our buckeyes are a tough out. I'll bet most coaches want nothing to do with us. Go buckeyes!

cunneda's picture

No matter how far it goes; it's been a great ride this year. GO BUCKS !

Cunneda

Doc's picture

I really like this team. They are playing well as a team together. I hope they make it to the top of the ladder this year.

"Say my name."