Final Four Within Reach, But Region Contains Pitfalls

By Kyle Rowland on March 26, 2013 at 9:45a
The good news for Buckeye fans: Your team has Aaron Craft

It’s appropriate that the court at UD Arena is below ground level, because Ohio State might as well been in an underground bunker the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Bombs were bursting all around the West Region, upsets galore sending higher seeds home. 

The No. 1, 3, 4, 5 and 7 seeds all became victim to the dreaded bracketbuster. All that remains is the second-seeded Buckeyes, No. 6 seed Arizona, No. 9 seed Wichita State and No. 13 seed La Salle. There’s also rubble strewn from Spokane, Wash., to Madison, Wis., and points in between.

To Buckeye Nation, the Final Four looks as easy as 1-2-3. But Ohio State found out on Sunday how easy it is to lose in the wacky month of March. Not even a 13-point lead with six minutes left in the second half is safe. The Buckeyes managed to squander that healthy advantage with one of Iowa State’s top players missing the entire second half, which overlapped with Aaron Craft’s three minutes of terror.

“I don’t think there’s ever a perfect matchup,” said Ohio State head coach Thad Matta.

In years past, Ohio State has had close calls – and defeats – in the early rounds, including 2007, when the top-seeded Buckeyes almost lost to Sean Miller-coached Xavier. Miller, of course, was an assistant under Matta at the Cincinnati school and took over his post when Matta went north on I-71. Ron Lewis saved the day against the Musketeers, and Ohio State eventually landed in the national championship game.  

Coaches preach the one-game-at-a-time mentality in every level of sports. That loomed large after the Buckeyes were knocked off in the Sweet 16 of the 2011 tournament as the No. 1 overall seed. Ohio State entered the tournament as the clear favorite with a team loaded at every conceivable position. Still, every team becomes susceptible to an upset when the ingredients sour. A perfect storm developed that March night in Newark when the Kentucky Wildcats ended a dream season.

“It was a good thing Gene was in charge that year,” Matta joked. “But that was definitely, definitely a tough bracket. That was a challenge. And, quite honestly, in the Kentucky game, we had a cold half of shooting. Those things happen in terms of matchups.

“As a coach, you can whine and complain, but you sort of just say ‘It is what it is, it’s who we have to play.’” 

The reaction was far different on Selection Sunday when Ohio State’s bracket was released. Instead of college basketball’s traditional powers, the Buckeyes got a dose of mid-majors. No. 1 seed Gonzaga and No. 3 seed New Mexico proved overrated and undeserving of high seeds, this after years of tournament letdowns.

What teams did two years, a decade or 30 years ago doesn’t impact this year’s teams, though. This is the NCAA Tournament – three weeks of the unforeseen and unbelievable. It’s a time when players, coaches and universities can become remembered for a singular moment. 

Not to get caught up in the hype, the Buckeyes didn’t buy stock in the collapsible region. It harkens back to the 2010 tournament, when Ohio State entered the postseason as one of the hottest teams in the country – sound familiar? 

The West Regional host.There's no peeking ahead to the Georgia Dome. 

Kansas was the No. 1 overall seed and when it was placed in the Buckeyes’ region, many thought the Final Four was a pipe dream. Then Northern Iowa knocked the Jayhawks out in the second round, paving the road with scarlet and gray banners all the way to Indianapolis, that season’s Final Four host.

But just as quickly as those thoughts shifted two rounds ahead, Ohio State lost in the Sweet 16. Lessons from the Matta era have been passed down to this season’s squad with the message’s central theme being focus on the current 24 hours.

“As we saw the last couple years, one half of bad basketball can end your season,” Ohio State assistant coach Jeff Boals said. “If you don’t focus on the now and present, you’re in trouble. I don’t think we’re good enough to look ahead.”

But the Wichita State shocker on Saturday night caught at least one player’s attention. How could it not? Any time a top seed goes down early, it’s as if a freak snowstorm broke out in the South.

Ohio State sophomore forward LaQuinton Ross said he watched the game intently and was happy to see Gonzaga lose. It was the stiffest competition Ohio State was set to face, he said. Teammate Lenzelle Smith Jr., held a differing opinion.

“It tells us to stay humble and let you know you can’t look past any team,” he said. “We have to be ready to go. It comes down to whoever is the best team that day is going to win that game.

“I hear a lot of people say, ‘Ohio State should be there at the end.’ But we can’t be one of those guys thinking that.”

“The best team on the West Coast is who we play next,” he said. “I’ve seen Arizona and they are loaded. They are extremely talented.”

The Arizona Wildcats have the Buckeyes’ full attention now. Arizona guard Mark Lyons is averaging 25 points per game in the NCAA Tournament, but Craft and fellow defensive ace Shannon Scott could put a dent in Lyons’ scoring output. It will be another offense vs. defense game for Ohio State, something it has thrived in during the current 10-game win streak.

The Wildcats are a team that can beat anyone when they catch fire – the type of team that worries any coach in March. Matta described them as “loaded.”

“The best team on the West Coast is who we play next,” he said. “I’ve seen Arizona and they are loaded. They are extremely talented.”

You might have forgotten that this is a team that started the season 14-0 and rose to as high as No. 4 in the polls, behind wins over Florida and Miami. A 12-6 record in the underwhelming Pac-12 and five losses in 10 games entering the tournament downgraded the Wildcats’ potential.

“I am happy with the draw we got, but it is a challenge because you don’t know what you’re walking into,” Ohio State’s lone senior, Evan Ravenel, said. “It’ll be fun.”

L.A., Hollywood and Staples Center present experiences that Ohio State’s players will recall fondly. But a return trip to the Final Four provides a lifetime of memories.

Fun indeed.


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LouGroza's picture

They need to stay loose, focused, and play their game. Here's to hoping they don't look over and see Jack Nicholson setting in the stands.

buckeyepastor's picture

They need to play as if this is a 1 or 2 or 3 seed they are facing, because it pretty much is.  The popular idea that when the top-seed is defeated the road gets easier is a dangerous one. The top seed got defeated because the team that beat them is capable of out-playing them.  And if capable of out-playing them is capable of out-playing anyone.    
Looking at Arizona's last two games and meaning no disrespect to their opponents, it looks as if they've cruised.   One thing I'll say about the match-up is I like the idea of our battle-tested team going up against a squad that hasn't been "hit in the mouth" in a while.   

"Woody would have wanted it that way" 

ILbuckeyes's picture

I am nervous as hell for this game.  Arizona has great potential and we are playing in what will be basically a home game for them.  Hopefully Amir and Evan slow down Tar-idk how to spell his name and Craft and Scott can slow down Lyons.  If that happens and we continue scoring we could be okay

slippy's picture

What do we need to slow down about a guy who scores 6.6 points and gets 6.2 rebounds per game?

Boxley's picture

At this point in the tournament , there are no bad teams left. Any one can win the rest of their games at this point, which is what makes this play off format so darn good.
Go Bucks!

"...the man who really counts in the world is the doer, not the mere critic-the man who actually does the work, even if roughly and imperfectly, not the man who only talks or writes about how it ought to be done." President T. Roosevelt

BigMoosie's picture

Can't get dominated on the boards in this game.  Zona is a great rebounding team but we've beat teams like Indiana & Michigan State that rebound the ball just as well. This matchup scares me too but I think we play tough and march on.

osubuck57's picture

This could be another ISU game.Arizona is a very good team.Definately a home game for Arizona.But if we want the big prize,gotta be able to do it anywhere,anytime!!


cronimi's picture

OT, but are we not getting a Skully this morning (other than the partially written one that was pulled)? Or was Johnny's questioning of the Craftgasms everyone had Sunday and Monday too volatile, and he was taken out back for 're-education'...?
EDIT: Now I see what happened.

okiebuck's picture

This seems a fitting time to quote Crash from the movie Bull Durham as he was prepping Meat on how to talk to the press about getting to the show; it applies to the Bucks as they head to L.A.;
"I'm just happy to be here; I want to do whatever I can to help the team AND; we take em one game at a time...

"Fate has cards that it don't want to show"

DJRoss926's picture

Is it too much to ask for more than a no-show from Amir down low?
I'm not expecting Walton in '73 numbers but 1 point, 2 rebounds, and 3 fouls will not cut it the rest of the way. 

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

Thad answered a question on last's night call-in show about Amir. Said they've tried about everything to get him to keep the ball high when he catches it so he doesn't get stripped. He's frustrated but kept being positive because he is Thad Matta.

DJRoss926's picture

I want so bad for him to succeed, that's good to hear. There are sporadic flashes of brilliance but unfortunately the consistency has not been there.

slippy's picture

Amir does some little things really well that don't show up on the stat sheet.  Watch on a Craft drive (where Amir didn't set the pick up top) how he screens off the bigs down low.  He's done that a lot this year and is pretty good with it.

Squirrel Master's picture

this is what I have been saying on here. He isn't great offensively and he is barely decent on defense, but he does the little things that help the team so much more than what most people see. I mean there has to be a reason why Matta still plays him, if he was as inept as some believe then I would think Matta would have benched him a long time ago.
Again, I am not saying he should be a starter or anything, just that I think people should lay off him a bit and let the kid grow a bit. There has been precedence where a player like him has made a big jump his junior/senior years.

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

IBleedSandG's picture

When Lyons was at Xavier, I remember him being a good player (he always seemed to kill UD, for what that's worth), but I think he has played above his talent level the first two games of this years tourney. We'll see how he does vs. Craft and Scott.
I doubt we rebound as poorly as we did vs ISU. They just went after missed shots and lose balls a lot harder than we did for the majority of the game. I remember one three they missed bounced in the paint and all the way out to the 3 pt. line and at least 2 Buckeyes kind of watched it bounce right to a Cyclone player. That can't happen. Thad said at halftime, "We're standing flat-footed out there!"
It'll be a tough game, but I wouldn't say I feel nervous about it. But it's only Tuesday.


Olentangy's picture

isn't every court below ground level?

How firm thy friendship

MediBuck's picture

This is definitely not going to be an easy game. This Arizona team is dangerous when not inconsistent, and their ceiling is quite high. As we can see now, the Pac-12 was underrated all season, and I was shocked by the seedings that Oregon and Zona picked up. Hoping for the best on Thursday! O-H!!!

"There is a force that makes us all brothers, no one goes his way alone." --Woody Hayes

BrewstersMillions's picture

If you go up by 13 at any point in this game, you better run it to 25. Ohio State let Iowa State off the mat on Sunday. Do that again and you might not have a chance for someone to bail you out. If this team gets a lead, I'd love to see someone show the killer instinct to put it away, whether that's 6 or 8 in a row out of Ross or DT, or back to back to back to back stop\blocks\steals on the other end, something to put it out of reach.

Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

Way easier said than done.  We did what you mentioned to get the 13 point lead and runs like those aren't easy to sustain.  I'd be happy with solid play and think we would have held off Iowa State if we would have played smarter on both ends, meaning less offensive turnovers, less fouls and making them work harder for their shots.  Bottom line, the next time we play like we did against Iowa State will be our last.

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BrewstersMillions's picture

Oh I agree that you can't expect a 7-0 run to go to a 19-0 run at this stage but trading 1 point for 2 and 2 for 3 goes a long way in letting the air out of your opponent. I guess I'd be cool with sustaining a lead, and trading buckets for a while...I'm not cool with going on a run and then giving up a run right after.

Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

I agree.  I was thinking that 13 point lead was going to last until at least under 2 and Iowa State was going to have a chance to tie with a last second shot, but I didn't think it would disappear in two minutes.  Our play once we got that lead was very disappointing.

Read my entire screen name....

Bucks43201's picture

Exactly. When you get them down...put 'em away!

"You win with people." - Woody Hayes

thatlillefty's picture

I just wish it was Thursday already. The suspense is killing me.

Dougger's picture

I'd like to say "there's a reason they're the six seed" but at this point i don't think it really matters.
Whatever the bucks outcome this weekend (hopefully 2-0, which i think they will accomplish) I am already mentally preparing myself for talking heads to either say "their road was too easy" or "buckeyes didn't deserve their seed" or any variation thereof. 40 full minutes of our defense and i think we win it. less than that itll be a lot closer than we'd like.

I like football

PhillyBuckeye27's picture

While I don't think Lenzelle should be starting on this team, I do respect him for saying what he said about "being humble and not looking past any team".  While he is BAFFLINGLY (is that even a word) inconsistent, that shows some leadership right there!
Whatever happens Thursday happens.  Still an honor to be a graduate and a fan of the best school in the land!
Go Bucks!


Arizona scares me more than anyone left in that region. If any coach in the country knows Thad Matta and his strategies it's Sean Miller.

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

Earle's picture

Pitfalls?  This region is like one of those archeological sites from the Indiana Jones movies.  One false step and you get impaled by metal spikes, plunged into a pit of vipers, or chased by a giant boulder.  Or need Aaron Craft to hit a last-second 3 (of all things) to save your bacon.

Have you tried Not Your Father's Root Beer?  It tastes just like the real thing, but it packs a punch (5.9%ABV).  It's a little sweet for me though.  Two is my limit.

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

The Final Four is in site, but right now all I want to see them do is focus on beating Arizona.  If we can shut down their sharpshooters with our solid defence, which I think we will then we'll be set up to make that run to the Final Four!  Is it Thursday yet!?!?!?  Can't wait!
Go Bucks!!!