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Dave Thurman (3:35 pm)

Normally I am like Alfred E. Neuman of Mad magazine fame.  When I hear negative rumors circulating about Ohio State sports I usually brush them aside, because somebody is always talking and trying to stir things up.  Most of the time, the threats of impending doom don't materialize, and life goes on as usual.  But I have to confess that I am starting to get a little antsy regarding the future of Jim Tressel. 

Obviously every day there is a new article coming out that either predicts the imminent firing of Coach Tressel or compares his situation to that of Bruce Pearl, who was recently canned as basketball coach at Tennessee.  I am almost immune to the email alerts I get from ESPN, Bleacher Report, and other websites that mention something about Tress being in serious hot water.  I expect the sensationalistic media to react in this fashion, because they know that people love to read negative journalism and revel in the misery of a big-time rival.   Mentioning Tressel in the headline is guaranteed to hook readers.   

Now please don't get me started on the comparions to Bruce Pearl.  Over the years I have seen all kinds of pictures of Pearl cuddling up to bikini-clad coeds, often appearing to be drunk, and usually with that awful fake tan. Those of us who have followed Ohio State football the past decade know that Jim Tressel is a family man, dedicated to his job, and not a public embarrassment like so many college coaches.  I am convinced that he is also a man of ideals.  While I am not saying that JT is above reproach (and who is), I am confident that he is not a low life like Bruce Pearl and his ilk. 

That being said, I am beginning to get nervous.  Not because of the headlines from over zealous journalists, or the rants from opponent bloggers.  No, I am worried about the full scale witch hunt that is underway.  Usually when inquisitions begin they wind up finding something.  Part of that is because there is such an expenditure of time and money that they feel compelled to dig up some dirt.  And, let's face it, if you dig deep enough you are bound to find something.  The fact that the NCAA is sending in it's big dogs is scary.  Add to that the fact that the ESPN investigative news show “Outside the Lines” is snooping around Columbus and you get downright frightened.  They don't intend to leave town empty handed. 

This may not be Watergate just yet, but it is beginning to look like the biggest investigation of Ohio State sports in history.  And some people won't be satisified until they have the scalp of the headman himself.  Let's hope he is as squeeky clean as he has been portrayed. 

 
 
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Dave Thurman (12:18 pm)

Well I guess it's time for Buckeye Nation to focus back on what is their number one passion - football.  A great year in basketball ended last night with a heartbreaking loss to a determined Kentucky squad, that combined athleticism and excellent coaching to top OSU 62-60 on a last second shot by Brandon Knight.  You had a feeling this one would come down to a last possession, and it did.  After Jon Diebler tied it with a clutch three pointer, Kentucky responded with a big time shot from a kid who has shown repeatedly that he has ice in his veins.  It was a Final Four atmosphere and featured two teams that probably entered the tournament playing as well as anyone in the country.  Alas, only one team can exit victoriously and on this night that team was wearing blue.  However, even in defeat there was a silver lining for the team in scarlet and gray.

My Random Thoughts Looking Back:

1) Kentucky played with a little more passion
- I thought UK came out with a chip on their shoulder, especially Josh Harrellson, and at times looked like they just wanted it a little more.  I knew the Cats possessed more quickness than Ohio State, but thought the Buckeyes would win the battle in the paint.  That wasn't the case, and you have to tip your hat to the big guy they call Jorts.  He isn't pretty, but he played hard from the opening whistle until the final buzzer. 

2) Thad got outcoached - I love Thad Matta who is a brilliant recruiter and a very fine coach, but I think Kentucky had a little better gameplan and execution in this contest.  They established the tempo they wanted and seemed to make Ohio State play their game.  I thought Matta missed the boat on not benching Buford for a couple minutes in the second half in an attempt to calm him a little and slow him down.  Of course, love him or hate him, John Calipari is a top-notch coach. He might sell his own family members to win, but the man can develop a team.

3) Buford never settled in or settled down - As mentioned above, William Buford never did establish a rythym, and had the worst game of his career, finishing 2-16 from the field.  Part of that is due to great UK defense led by DeAndre Liggins.  But the ball seemed to be like a hot grendade in his hands, and too often Buford forced the action rather than involve teammates and let the game come to him.  It was an outstanding year for the junior from Toledo so you hate to see it end on such a sour note. 

 
 
Sweet Sixteen LiveBlog! Join us as the Buckeyes do their thing...
 
 
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Drew Thurman (9:55 am)

Cal and Matta alike? Ohio State fans have been clear all over the Twitter and message boards that they don't have much love or respect for John Calipari. The feelings seem to intensify from Buckeye Nation as Cal came out and said "Teams want to be us" this week.

So I'm guessing no one wearing scarlet and gray has any desire to see Calipari and Matta comparisons, but that is just what Alan Cutler has done. In a 5th grade sort of way, Cutler lists the things both coaches have done over the last decade, including wins and getting their players NBA contracts. He boils it down to say both guys are about defense and defense wins championships.

More comparisons. While many Buckeye fans were outraged by the arrogance of Calipari's comment, others were level-headed enough to remind everyone that it was the same attitude OSU fans show in football. Bruce Hooley of FoxSportsOhio.com echos those sentiments in his latest piece:

"(Teams) want to be us,” Calipari said on his radio show this week. “Understand that: They want to be us, not beat us. Be us. So they're coming at you, trying to say, 'You win against Kentucky, it shows that we're them.' "
    
The kindest translation of that is a variation on what Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel has often said more diplomatically, that opponents preserve their best effort for when they play the Buckeyes, in hopes of landing a signature victory.
    
It is not wrong in either Calipari’s case, or Tressel’s, but it is arrogant in both.

Hooley goes on to show the deep comparisons between OSU football and UK basketball, going back to compare Woody Hayes and Adolf Rupp. From there he shows how the programs have very much mirrored each other over the last few decades, starting with their coaching choices. As for this year though, Hooley is quick to point out that the roles have been reversed. It's OSU basketball that sits at the top, with the Wildcats playing the underdog.

 
 
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With the Sweet Sixteen showdown coming up with UK, we were lucky enough to get Glenn Logan from A Sea of Blue to answer some questions for us. He has some great analysis of what matchups to look for and what we might expect from this young Wildcat squad come Friday night. Hopefully his answers will entice you to check out A Sea of Blue, which is exceptional blog over on the SBNation. A big thanks to Logan for taking the time to talk to some small-timers like us...

1) For the Buckeye fans out there that haven't watched a lot of UK basketball this year, what do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of this team?

Strengths:
  • Shooting.  Kentucky is a very good shooting team, although not quite as good as the Buckeyes.
  • Speed.  The Wildcats this year are even faster, as a team, than last year.  Brandon Knight is not as fast as John Wall (nobody is), but he is just one step down in speed, and any team facing the Wildcats, especially a slower team, will regret it if they send their guards to the offensive glass.
  • Ballhandling.  Kentucky has the 9th best turnover percentage in college basketball.
  • 2-point defense.  The Wildcats are 6th in the country in defense inside the arc, and 6th in blocked shot %.  Kentucky is incredibly long defensively, and that gives teams a lot of trouble inside.
  • Execution.  Kentucky has become a very good, surprisingly good even, execution team.  They may be the best pick and roll team in the country.
  • Talent.  Kentucky may have more overall talent than any team in the country.
Weaknesses:
  • Depth.  Kentucky can only put 6.5 quality players on the floor.  I count Eloy Vargas as half a quality player, because he makes quality plays about half the time now.
  • 2-point offense.  Kentucky does a fairly poor job of scoring inside, although they have been better of late.
  • Getting to the line.  Kentucky, despite its attacking style, does not get to the line very much.  When they do, they are almost unbeatable, but they don't do it very often.
  • Steals.  Kentucky doesn't get many steals, because they simply don't attack on defense.  They lack the personnel to do so.
  • Experience.  The Wildcats are a very inexperienced team starting 3 freshmen.
  • Dumb fouls.  Remarkably, Kentucky doesn't do a great job at avoiding fouls, although they have been much better lately.

 
 
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Drew Thurman (10:53 am)

After cruising through UTSA and George Mason, the Buckeyes face-off against a very young and talented Kentucky squad this Friday in the Sweet Sixteen. The Wildcats, who come in on an eight game winning streak (27-8 overall), are a very formidable opponent and are much better than the four seed they were given. Most experts were easily predicting them as a three seed, yet they were instead placed as the weakest four seed. What a nice gift to the Buckeyes. In fact, many believe it is the most intriguing matchup in the Sweet Sixteen. Andy Glockner of SI had this to say:

"Down the stretch of the season, I thought the Wildcats were a very legitimate Final Four contender and very well would have picked them to make it to Houston had they not been saddled with this Sweet 16 matchup. There are so many things to watch for here. The surging Brandon Knight vs. the NORAD-like defense of Aaron Craft. Jorts vs. Sullinger inside. Calipari vs. Matta on the sidelines. Multiple X-factors on both teams. Multiple lottery picks in the upcoming NBA draft. A game worthy of April will be played in March. And that's not to say that Marquette vs. North Carolina won't be fascinating, either."

I'm not sure anyone else slated this Wildcat squad in the Final Four, but his point is a good one. The Buckeyes shouldn't be playing this team in the Round of 16.

 
 
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Dave Thurman (9:20 pm)

Sweet Sixteen: Led by a barrage of three pointers fueled by senior David Lighty, Ohio State advanced easily to the Sweet Sixteen, where they could face the two winningest programs in NCAA basketball history.  Before considering the potential gauntlet standing between the Buckeyes and the Final Four, let's celebrate a great weekend in Cleveland.

On Friday evening OSU manhandled UT-San Antonio 75-46 led by silky smooth William Buford who had 18 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists.  Then on Sunday, homeboy David Lighty lived up to his name lighting up George Mason with 25 points on 7-7 shooting behind the arc, leading the Bucks to a 98-66 victory.  Overall Ohio State was a sizzling 16-26 on three pointers, the most the team has ever made in an NCAA tournament contest.  Also notable was a career high 15 assists by freshman Aaron Craft, while Jared Sullinger tallied 18 points and 8 rebounds in just 22 minutes of action. 

Now for the daunting task facing the team.  First comes Kentucky, a program that has won more basketball games than any other in NCAA history.  This years Wildcats are young and not overly deep, but are talented and on a run with eight straight wins.  It would appear this contest will be all about matchups.  Kentucky has nobody to really match up with the size of Jared Sullinger and Dallas Lauderdale, but Ohio State lacks a player with the quickness of Brandon Knight.  Both squads shoot the three extremely well, and the team that gets hot behind the line may well depart victoriously. 

If Ohio State survives the Big Blue of Kentucky they could well face North Carolina, who barely survived Washington and will play the winner of Marquette and Syracuse.  The Tar Heels trail only UK in all time basketball wins, and would be another formidable foe, so next weekend could be an exciting one in Newark. Hopefully it will lead to Houston and a chance to win the National Championship.

Sully Makes a Different Final Four: The Naismith Award finalists for 2011 were announced today, and among the four is Buckeye freshman Jared Sullinger, who leads the top-ranked team in both points and rebounds, averaging a double-double for the season.  The other three finalists are Brigham Young's Jimmer Fredette, who is averaging 28.5 ppg, Connecticut's Kemba Walker (23.5 ppg) and Duke's Nolan Smith (20.9 ppg).  Although it would be an upset if Sullinger took home the hardware it is pretty heady stuff to be in this final four as a freshman.

 
 
Come chat up it up as we watch the Buckeyes take on UTSA. Stuck at work...click here for all the coverage.
 
 
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Dave Thurman (8:03 pm)

Ohio State added to their hardware Sunday afternoon, hoisting the Big Ten Tourmament trophy, which will look great next to the one they earned a week ago for winning the Big Ten regular season title.  Along the way, the Buckeyes earned the number one overall seed in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, being placed in the East Regional, where they will open with the winner of UT-San Antonio (19-13) and Alabama State (17-17).

Sunday's victory over Penn State was a little ho-hum, with Ohio State exerting their will early in the second half, and then playing solidly the rest of the way.  William Buford led the way with 18 points, and Jared Sullinger added 15 points and 11 rebounds for his seventeenth double-double of the year. 

Now it is on to the Big Dance, wearing the bullseye of being the number one team in the nation in both polls, as well as being slated as the number one overall seed by the NCAA committee.  As the Buckeyes prepare for their first round game this coming Friday in Cleveland I have a number of thoughts on the season, the tournament, and the selection process.

NCAA Committee Screws Things Up (Again): In what is becoming my usual reaction during the Selection Show, I was perplexed at what the committee was thinking (or maybe drinking).  Certainly Ohio State received no favors from the committee, possibly receiving the hardest path to the Final Four of any of the number one seeds.  Consider that North Carolina, seeded second in the East, may well be the best two seed in the entire tournament, and without doubt, Kentucky is the toughest four seed.  It seems ridiculous that a Wildcat team ranked in the top ten in both the RPI and according to the Strength of Schedule Index, should be a four seed, especially after they hammered Florida by 16 points in the SEC Tournament final.  Florida, meanwhile, received a number two seed, which makes no sense at all.  So, I think the Buckeyes pretty much got the shaft in having Kentucky placed in their regional as a potential third round game.  Other teams in the East to fear are Syracuse, Xavier, West Virginia, and Washington.  It is one tough region to be sure!

One thing that isn't a bit surprising, however, is the fact that Duke got handed the easiest route to the Final Four, being placed in the West with San Diego State as the number two seed, Connecticut as the three, and fast falling Texas as the four.  The NCAA loves Coach K and hates John Calipari, so it shouldn't be a shock to see how this all played out.  But you would have thought the Buckeyes might have been shown a little more love...especially with Gene Smith on the committee.  

Six Game Strategy: It only takes six wins in a row to cut down the nets, but that can be a whole lot tougher than it sounds.  So, what will it take for Ohio State to earn the title?  I doubt my thoughts are original, but it seems to me that the Buckeye roundballers need to focus on the following:

1)  Keep on doing what they have been doing - It sounds so simple, but a lot of coaches have overanalyzed things and changed their gameplans once the bright lights were turned on.  Ohio State only lost two games all season, both to excellent teams on the road, and both times due to a terrific shooting performance from an opposing player.  If it isn't broken, don't fix it, and 32 wins, a number one ranking, and two shiny new trophies ought to tell Thad Matta that this team is not in need of an overhaul.  Keep on feeding the rock to big Sully, spotting up Buford and Diebler for threes, taking care of the basketball, and playing good defense.  It has worked like a charm all year.

 
 
The number one overall seed in the NCAA Tournament is up for grabs as Ohio State takes on Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament Championship Game from Indianapolis today at 3;30 PM.  The Buckeyes struggled to beat PSU 69-66 In Columbus back in January but took it to the Nits 82-61 earlier this month at Penn State.  It is hard to beat a team three times in one season, but Thad's crew hopes to be up to the challenge and enter the NCAA's with momentum..