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.
3) Stay out of foul trouble - That is easier said than done, but with a seven man rotation (relying heavily on just five), Ohio State must stay healthy and keep their main men on the court. After the first round game, every opponent is capable of beating them, and it is imperative that key players don't wind up sitting large chunks of time on the bench.
4) Don't read the press clippings - Being the number one seed can be a curse, and this squad needs to stay hungry and focused if they are to win out. There will be lots of pundits picking them to lift the trophy on April 4th in Houston. What has made this team special is that they have worked hard, played unselfish basketball, and concentrated on one game at a time. That same attitude will serve them well in the Big Dance, as well.
The Round Mouth of Stupidity: I always thought Charles Barkley was a great player who would have been wise to let his work on the court do his talking for him. But big Chuck never could keep his mouth shut, and more times than not his words have betrayed him. Mark Twain said, "Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt." And once again, on Sunday, the Round Mound of Rebound removed all doubt.
At halftime of the OSU-PSU contest he chided Ohio State, saying they weren't a great team because they allowed their opponents to dictate the style and tempo of play. But that wasn't enough for Barkley so he insulted the entire conference declaring that the game reminded him of Big Ten football, implying that both are slow. It's not enough that we have to listen to Mark May talk about SEC speed and Big Ten slothfulness. Now we are forced to listen to one of the slowest players in NBA history talk about something he knows nothing about. I would love to see chubby Charles suit up against the Silver Bullets and try and run away from them.
The funny thing is that the Buckeyes immediately took over the contest in the first few minutes of the second half by pushing the tempo, and taking Penn State out of their game. So, when it was all over, and the talking heads were providing their analysis, Barkley switched his story, saying he didn't believe OSU was a great team because of their lack of depth. Rather than man up and admit that they did exert their will in the second half, Chuck(Wagon) changed his tune. Maybe he is still sore that former Big Ten coach (and ex Buckeye player) Bob Knight cut him at the Olympic tryouts back in 1984 saying he was out of shape. Or maybe somebody on the panel stole his stash of donuts. Anyway, I would love nothing more than to see the Buckeyes silence him permenantly by earning the title on April 4th.