The week that was
The winning streak continued, Aaron Craft’s bandwagon gained more fans, and with wins over Iona and Iowa State, the Buckeyes reached the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive year — the longest active streak by a Division I team. Ohio State is one of four Big Ten teams still alive in the tournament, with Indiana (East), Michigan State (Midwest) and Michigan (South). No other conference has as many.
The week ahead
Ohio State coach Thad Matta knows what he’s in for. Arizona is coached by Sean Miller, who was promoted at Xavier after his boss left for Ohio State in 2004. Two years later, Miller’s Musketeers nearly derailed Matta’s Buckeyes on their road to the NCAA championship game. Arizona, the No. 6 seed in the West, is big, fast and athletic (remember Tennessee and Kentucky?), and its size could give Ohio State as many problems as any team it has played. If the Buckeyes can turn over the Wildcats’ guards, one of two Cinderellas — No. 13 seed LaSalle or No. 9 Wichita State — await in the Elite Eight.
How good are they?
The Buckeyes have climbed to fourth in Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency rating behind Florida, Louisville and Indiana. They’re peaking at the best possible time, obviously, and they have the easiest regional bracket left. The question now is: Are they even better than fans thought they would be? In November, this seemed to be as far as many thought they would get after they lost Jared Sullinger and William Buford and added no pop in recruiting. This is also the point where two of Matta’s better Ohio State teams, in 2010 and ’11, bit the dust. Is this team out of surprises?
It would be hard to be hotter than Craft right now, not after his shot on Sunday with a half-second left buried Iowa State. He added 13 assists and eight steals in the two wins. With 46 points on 26 shots from the field, Deshaun Thomas was more in the flow of the offense than in the Big Ten tournament. Not a big threat from three-point range most of the season, the Buckeyes did damage in Dayton by making 16 of 33 — and that’s the weakest area of Arizona’s defense. LaQuinton Ross continued to make an impact with eight rebounds in 20 minutes against Iona and 17 points in 21 minutes against Iowa State. Sam Thompson had his first double-double with career highs of 20 points and 10 rebounds against Iona, and Shannon Scott tied his career high with 10 assists in the game.
OSU’s “small lineup” is problematic for opponents to defend, though it was likewise for the Buckeyes on the boards. Iona had 14 offensive rebounds and Iowa State 12, and Arizona averages 11.3 offensive rebounds per game. Ohio State will have to gang-rebound much better than it did against Iowa State. The Buckeyes had 34 fouls called against them in three games in the Big Ten tournament; they were whistled for 37 in two games in Dayton. With new officials comes new interpretations of how much contact defenders can dish out.
The Thomas watch
When Deshaun Thomas Jr. was born March 22, 2012, his father couldn’t share the moment. Deshaun Sr. was in Boston with the Buckeyes and scoring 24 points in a Sweet 16 victory over Cincinnati. Said Dad: “I know one day when he’s getting to talking and he asks that question, ‘Dad, were you there?’ I’ll say, ‘Son, I was there in spirit. I had a great game against Cincinnati ... and it was all for you ….’ ” When DT2 celebrated his first birthday on Friday, Thomas scored 24 points for him again, against Iona, and he was in University of Dayton Arena to see it.
Outside the lines
John Adams, the NCAA’s national coordinator of officiating, said on CBS after the Iowa State game that the charging call on Cyclones guard Will Clyburn with 1:41 left “probably” was incorrect, and that Craft should have been called for a blocking foul. Iowa State led 75-74, and the call negated Clyburn’s made layup as well as a potential free throw that could have increased Iowa State’s lead to four. CBS studio analysts said the officials missed the call, but replays were inconclusive as to whether Craft’s right heel was outside or above the charge arc in the lane, in which case a blocking foul should have been called. “I spoke with the official” who made the call, Adams said later in a statement, “and he determined the defender established legal guarding position outside the restricted area prior to the offensive player leaving the floor to start his shot. When asked, the official said he did not see the defender’s foot over the restricted area line.”
“I think we know I’m a defensive guy. So I think I’m in the backyard (saying) ‘three, two, one’ (and) taking a charge.” — Craft, asked if he grew up counting down the seconds and dreaming of making a winning shot for Ohio State.