Ignore The Seeds For This One
So you’re happy the Buckeyes basketball team was able to get past Minnesota on Thursday night in the Big Ten Tournament, but you expect the March success to be short-lived since 6th-seeded Ohio State faces 3-seed Michigan State tonight (approx. 9 p.m. Eastern, Big Ten Network).
After all, the Spartans are the third-place team, won the only meeting between the two in the regular season, and Tom Izzo is as accomplished as just about any other breathing coach this time of year.
The Buckeyes are flawed and were just lit up on Senior Day, 72-48 by Wisconsin, last weekend. MSU is favored and supposed to advance, so it appears to be a lost cause. Right?
Well, not really.
Actually, there is a pretty big case to be made that the Buckeyes could pull this off – dare I say should pull this off. Consider the following:
Let’s face it, the first meeting wasn’t a Rembrandt – and there’s no reason for the Buckeyes to feel like they were dominated. The difference in MSU’s 59-56 win was Denzel Valentine’s three in the final seconds.
It was a great play, to be sure, but bailed out a rather uninspiring Spartan performance at Breslin Center. Ohio State hung right with MSU on the boards and rallied from behind after falling into a nine-minute funk at the end of the first half.
D’Angelo Russell wasn’t on his game, finishing just 4 of 13 from the field, and the Buckeyes blew several golden-opportunity possessions with silly mistakes and missed free throws. In fact, OSU was 5 of 17 from long range and 5 of 13 at the charity stripe and yet still had a chance in the final moments.
It’s always a mystery as to where the Buckeyes’ motivations lie this season but logic would suggest they want to atone in Chicago.
OSU has a clear headache in senior forward Branden Dawson, who savvy, strength and willingness to crash the boards present problems. Dawson had a double-double against OSU last time with 15 points and 11 rebounds. However, he’s been banged up lately and didn’t even dress for his senior sendoff last week.
The Spartans other top players are Valentine and point guard Travis Trice, two players the Buckeyes could counter with seniors Sam Thompson and Shannon Scott, who know them very well and match up in theory.
We’ve been saying all season the seniors need to take ownership of this team and come through in a big game. What a great time to do it. If Amir Williams can make Dawson work inside while Thompson and Scott offset Valentine and Trice, you’d really have to like the Buckeyes’ chances.
Arguably, Ohio State is the deeper team if Thad Matta opts to give more than cursory minutes to Kam Williams and Keita Bates-Diop.
Plus. Russell, as usual, will be the best player on the United Center floor.
If you’re one to point to stats, those certainly don’t favor Michigan State, either. The Spartans do lead the conference in several rebounding categories but OSU looks down on Sparty in many others. The rest are virtually dead-even.
And if you’re still wringing your hands about OSU’s pedestrian showing at the free-thrown line this season, remember Michigan ranks 14th – dead-last – in the league in that category. Also, Ohio State was 22 of 28 at the stripe against Minnesota, including 16 of 20 in the second half.
Just In Time?
In the 79-73 win over Minnesota, Matta received two very encouraging signs – offensive efficiency from Scott and valuable involvement from sophomore Marc Loving.
Scott logged one of the best games of his career with 21 points, five rebounds and six assists against the Golden Gophers. He was 7 of 12 from the field and canned all six of his free throws.
The 6-7 had made just 4 of 21 shot attempts since returning from his three-game suspension and worse yet looked completely zoned out and lost on defense. On Thursday night, his body language was much better and so was his play.
Thrust into the fray when Jae’Sean Tate found early foul trouble, Loving ended up playing 25 minutes and was on the floor down the stretch as OSU sewed up the win. He was 5 of 8 from the floor and recorded 12 points and five rebounds. Matta also praised his recognition and rotations on defense.
It’s no secret that the Buckeyes look like a much more formidable team when Scott is adding scoring punch and putting pressure on the defense with his quickness. And a surge by Loving could be just the shot in the arm this team needs.
Did I mention Russell, who wears No. 0, has takeover ability? The Big Ten Freshman of the Year arrived to the Windy City in a good frame of mind and shook off an 0-for-6 start on threes against Minnesota well enough to hit 3 of 4 thereafter and cash in with 23 points.
The Spartans beat up Russell last time, and the tactic worked well. But the frosh has readjusted to all the forearms and love taps and is back on his game.
Plus, it should be noted that the 3-6 game, usually the last matchup of Friday’s quarterfinals of the BTT, always seems to be a foul fest. I can’t tell you why but I do have my theories. With that game buried out of ESPN or CBS coverage, the conference tends to use it as a training ground for up-and-coming officials still trying to prove themselves, which leads to lots of whistles.
That would not favor Michigan State.
Fear The Beard
While Izzo is one tough hombre, he doesn’t have as good a record as Matta in this event. In fact, Matta often seems to find some magic either in Chicago or Indianapolis and has cut down the nets in each city twice.
Last night, Matta won for the 25th time in the tournament along with securing career victory No. 400 and becoming the all-time winningest coach in program history with his 298th as OSU coach. He knows how to push the right buttons in this format and now his team has some momentum back.
Izzo, meanwhile, expressed concern about coming in cold to the event and that the Buckeyes already have a game under their belt.
All the above points are for naught if Ohio State reverts to the lost-lamb status of the Wisconsin game. But that isn’t likely. Plus, Matta has the chin whiskers to remind his players of that debacle.
After the Buckeyes beat Minnesota they told there coach not to shave.
Who knows? Against a not-so-great Michigan State team that little edge might be all OSU needs to survive and advance.