Rapp Around: Random Thoughts

By Jeff Rapp, April 6th, 2010

With all the March Madness that bled into April and last night’s epic finale between Duke and Butler, I felt the need to thunk the side of my head and see if a few of the loose thoughts bounding around in there would fall out onto my computer screen.

This was one of the nuttiest NCAA Tournaments in memory and it’s not surprising considering there were very few truly elite teams in college basketball this season. The tournament was wide open, which leads to thought No. 1:

— It was all right there for Ohio State. Seriously, the Buckeyes had a legitimate shot to get to the title game and possibly win it this year. I felt that way going in. I still feel that way.

Sure, the Buckeyes had their warts and most of them were exposed in the loss to Tennessee. Evan Turner got very little help offensively for a large chunk of the game, Dallas Lauderdale returned to his slumber, David Lighty got into foul trouble. Thad Matta had only one decent scoring option to call on from his bench. And so on.

The Volunteers’ size at all positions, depth and athleticism made for a tough matchup, and as we all now know, this tournament is about matchups.

And yet, Ohio State was winning the game with less than a minute to play and was basically a play or two away from surviving and advancing, which is what this thing is all about. You win a game like that and squeeze by and there’s no telling how much it will fuel you for the next batch. The Buckeyes themselves are a perfect example of this when you recall the Turner hoist at the end of the Michigan game in Indianapolis and how OSU went on to win the Big Ten Tournament.

Granted, that kind of lightning doesn’t strike twice very often. But if the Buckeyes would have been just a little more fortunate against UT, do we really think they would have had no chance to beat Michigan State? Or Butler? Or even Duke?

That leads to thought No. 2:

— As I watched the Final Four Jim Nantz made sure to gush the phrase “the Big Three” whenever he clumped together Duke standouts Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith. Those guys are terrific talents and smart basketball players, but does anyone who followed Ohio State all season want to trade Turner, Jon Diebler and William Buford for them? How about throw in Lighty for Lance Thomas? Or, for that matter, Lauderdale for Brian Zoubek?

I don’t see much of a difference except that Scheyer is a little more polished than Diebler and Smith is slightly more athletic than Buford. Still, I don’t make that trade. Duke isn’t very deep either but has a very promising young shooter (Andre Dawkins) and a pair of 6-10 sophomores (twins Miles and Mason Plumlee) on its bench. Even though those players didn’t even score in the title game they provided a handful of decent minutes and rest for the starters.

Ohio State by comparison is about a player short of Duke. And don’t forget the Buckeyes lost to Butler in Indianapolis by eight points earlier this season without Turner; Duke won by two. OSU led at halftime but succumbed in the second half without the nation’s top player.

That leads to thought No. 3:

— I have covered Ohio State men’s basketball since I had the beat while writing for the Lantern during the 1988 Big Ten season. Over that time, of course, there have been some players who were more endearing than others. Some of my favorites were Tony White, Jim Jackson, Jamaal Brown, Michael Redd, Brian Brown, J.J. Sullinger, Matt Sylvester and Greg Oden. I also would put several members of the 2009-10 team on the list, guys like Diebler, Lighty and Hill.

But Turner goes onto a very short list, not just because of the excellence he displayed this season, but because of his honesty, wit and unique perspective on life. This kid – or ETthekid as he refers to himself on twitter – has been a breath of fresh air for the program, college basketball and the media.

I don’t remember ever being happier for an OSU athlete as I’ve been than to see Turner reap all the various POY awards (although I was ecstatic for Eddie George 15 years ago) and I can tell you it may be emotional even for me to see No. 21 raised to the rafters.

That day is coming – and it will be another occasion to celebrate the all-around ability, dedication, perseverance, joy of life and love of school in the possession of one Evan Marcel Turner.

That leads to thought No. 4:

— How do you move on without a shining star like Turner, who presumably will announce his intention to enter the NBA draft within the week?

Pretty well, thank you.

The Buckeyes are going to be a preseason top-five team even without Mr. Everything on the roster. Why? Well, Matta will be blessed with the exploits of Lighty, Buford and Lauderdale, who will be seniors, and a budding star and one of the best juniors-to-be in the country in Buford.

He also will welcome in the nation’s top-rated recruiting class. That six-man haul includes forwards DeShaun Thomas and Jared Sullinger, who will pay immediate dividends, as well as a smattering of guards who can aid the need for backcourt depth and ball handling.

I’ll have more on this very soon in another version of Off The Ledge, but trust me when I tell you I am not the only one who believes Ohio State will be very, very good next season.

In fact. Dick Vitale just unveiled six teams he believes will be the elite of college basketball in 2011. They are, in order, Duke, Ohio State, Michigan State, Villanova, Purdue and Butler.

That leads to thought No. 5:

— Is there any doubt the organizers of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge aren’t already figuring out a way to pair the defending NCAA champs with OSU?

That game, if it happens, most likely would be at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Buckeyes hosted and defeated Florida State in the Challenge on Dec. 2 while the Blue Devils traveled to Wisconsin and suffered their first of five losses that same night.

Duke has played on “neutral” courts such as in Greensboro Coliseum several times in the event, but here’s betting it’s Ohio State visiting Cameron. Might have to make a road trip if I’m right and see the Duke advantage for myself.

That leads to thought No. 6:

— As much as I love collegiate hoops I find the whole Duke experience, well, a little pukey. And still I don’t deny Mike Krzyzewski his legacy as one of the all-time great coaches or that Duke is among the very best programs in the country.

The Blue Devils don’t cheat as far as I can tell and Coach K does impart life lessons with his teachings, which is great to see. Somehow it comes out in a nauseating tone, though, kind of like Prince Mike’s nasal tisk-tisking. Last night, he tried to make the point that his team was also a great story just like Butler.

Uh, wrong. You operate with 13 times more of a budget than Brad Stevens does, almost every game your team plays is on national television and you’ve been getting the benefit of the doubt from referees for, oh, about 20 years now.

I also found it comical how Krzyzewski said in the wake of a pulled Indianapolis Star illustration a few days ago that depicted him with blue horns that, in effect, anyone who disliked the Duke program has a deep-seeded problem to address.

Face it, Coach K, you are the Evil Empire, like it or not. Plus, for all your accomplishment as a motivator and a winner and a cult hero of biochem majors on campus with no outside life, you are NOT the greatest game coach I’ve ever seen.

This has been evident for years when you examine how beatable Duke becomes in close games with teams of similar ability. Un-Christian Laettner making one of the greatest last-second plays in the history of the NCAA Tournament adds to Coach K’s legend but somehow his lame insistence to not call a timeout or a play at the end of the 1999 final against UConn doesn’t seem to take from it.

Remember that moment? With the Huskies up by one point and the clock ticking under 10 seconds, he allowed Trajan Langdon, a spot-up shooter and not a playmaker, to try to make a one-on-one move with the championship on the line. Langdon traveled.

Last night with 3.6 seconds left he ordered Zoubek to miss a free throw after making the first and Duke ahead 61-59. Gordon Hayward grabbed the rebound, got to the timeline and launched an on-line halfcourt shot that just missed – for the national championship. Coach K had all the percentages in his favor there but once again made a questionable decision.

Too bad the Bulldogs couldn’t have made it hurt – for all time.

— By the way, if you are wondering why some people think Duke fans are a bunch of snobs, check out this photo:
http://scores.espn.go.com/ncb/photos?gameId=300950150&photoId=565245

— Finally, I have never had a problem crediting other writers and reports when they add relevance to a story. Sportswriters and sports analysts often get a bad rap – even though some of them clearly are jerks – so I thought I’d point out a couple articles I read in the last 24 hours that were particularly well done.

One of them is by ESPN’s Pat Forde, who gave a terrific summary of last night’s game in this piece: http://sports.espn.go.com/ncb/tournament/2010/columns/story?columnist=forde_pat&id=5059524

The other is a take on the Tiger Woods situation by Rob Oller of The Columbus Dispatch, a columnist I enjoy. Here is Rob’s piece:
http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/sports/stories/2010/04/06/tiger-the-master-of-contrite.html

Enjoy the beautiful spring weather and we’ll check in next time with Random Thoughts on spring football.