Ohio State added to its hardware Sunday afternoon, hoisting the Big Ten tournament trophy, which will look great next to the one it earned a week ago for winning the Big Ten regular season title.
Along the way, the Buckeyes earned the No. 1 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 its 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 17th double-double of the year.
Now it is on to the Big Dance, wearing the bullseye of being the No. 1 team in the nation in both polls, as well as being slated as the No. 1 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 by 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 No. 1 seeds. Consider that North Carolina, seeded second in the East, may well be the best No. 2 seed in the entire tournament, and without a doubt Kentucky is the toughest No. 4 seed.
It seems ridiculous that a Wildcat team ranked in the top 10 in both the RPI and the Strength of Schedule Index should be a No. 4 seed, especially after it hammered Florida by 16 points in the SEC tournament final. Florida, meanwhile, received a No. 2 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 No. 2 seed, Connecticut as the No. 3 and fast-falling Texas as the No. 4. The NCAA loves Coach K and hates John Calipari, so it shouldn't be a shock to see how this all played out.
However, you would have thought the Buckeyes might have been shown a little more love...especially with Gene Smith on the committee.
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 game plans 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 No. 1 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 Jon Diebler for threes, taking care of the basketball and playing good defense. It has worked like a charm all year.
2) Work on their perimeter defense
If there is an Achilles heel on this team, it is defending the three-point shot, which not only cost the Buckeyes dearly in their two losses but also caused some other games to be closer than needed.
3) Stay out of foul trouble
This is easier said than done, but with a seven-man rotation (relying heavily on just five), Ohio State must stay healthy and keep its 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 No. 1 seed can be a curse, and this squad needs to stay hungry and focused if it is 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."
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 to 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 its 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 its 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 permanently by earning the title on April 4th.