March 20, 2011
Led by a barrage of three-pointers fueled by senior David Lighty, Ohio State advanced easily to the Sweet Sixteen, where they could face the two winningest programs in NCAA basketball history.
Before considering the potential gauntlet standing between the Buckeyes and the Final Four, let's celebrate a great weekend in Cleveland.
On Friday evening, OSU manhandled UT-San Antonio 75-46, led by silky smooth William Buford, who had 18 points, six rebounds, and five assists.
Then on Sunday, homeboy Lighty lived up to his name, lighting up George Mason with 25 points on 7-7 shooting behind the arc, leading the Bucks to a 98-66 victory.
Overall, Ohio State was a sizzling 16-26 on three-pointers, the most the team has ever made in an NCAA tournament contest. Also notable was a career-high 15 assists by freshman Aaron Craft, while Jared Sullinger tallied 18 points and eight rebounds in just 22 minutes of action.
Now, for the daunting task facing the team.
First comes Kentucky, a program that has won more basketball games than any other in NCAA history. This year, the Wildcats are young and not overly deep, but are talented and on a run with eight straight wins.
It would appear this contest will be all about matchups.
Kentucky has nobody to really match up with the size of Jared Sullinger and Dallas Lauderdale, but Ohio State lacks a player with the quickness of Brandon Knight. Both squads shoot the three extremely well; the team that gets hot behind the line may well depart victoriously.
If Ohio State survives the Big Blue of Kentucky, they could well face North Carolina, who barely survived Washington and will play the winner of Marquette and Syracuse. The Tar Heels trail only UK in all-time basketball wins and would be another formidable foe, so next weekend could be an exciting one in Newark.
Hopefully, it will lead to Houston and a chance to win the national championship.
Sully Makes a Different Final Four
The Naismith Award finalists for 2011 were announced today and among the four is Buckeye freshman Jared Sullinger, who leads the top-ranked team in both points and rebounds, averaging a double-double for the season.
The other three finalists are Brigham Young's Jimmer Fredette, who is averaging 28.5 ppg, Connecticut's Kemba Walker (23.5 ppg) and Duke's Nolan Smith (20.9 ppg).
Although it would be an upset if Sullinger took home the hardware, it is pretty heady stuff to be in this final four as a freshman.
Speaking of Naismith awards, Thad Matta is also one of four finalists for Coach of the Year, joined on the short list by Notre Dame's Mike Brey, BYU's Dave Rose and San Diego State's Steve Fisher.
While Sully is probably a dark-horse candidate for Player of the Year, Matta may be the frontrunner for the coaching hardware, steering the No. 1 ranked Buckeyes to a 34-2 record, while winning both the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles after losing national player of the year Evan Turner.
It would be great to see Matta capture this prestigious award.
Five Games It Will Be
As has been widely reported, the NCAA (National Collegiate Asinine Association) refused to reduce the suspension of the Tat Five, meaning that the Buckeye football team will be without many of its stars for critical games at Miami (FL) and at home versus Michigan State.
It will be interesting to see who will be throwing and catching the football for this young squad in those early games that could make or break the season.
Adding to the intrigue is Coach Jim Tressel's announcement that he will also sit out the first five games, which may be a clever attempt to keep the NCAA from bringing down further sanctions.
Good luck guessing how that will go.
Regardless, it is not a happy last few weeks inside the WHAC and the ugliness may not be over yet.
However, we at TSB remain firmly in Tressel's corner, believing he is not only an exceptional coach but a great molder of young men. While we may never know exactly what did or did not happen, JT is highly regarded by Ohio high school coaches who speak of his integrity in recruiting by his current and former players.
It would seem he made a serious error, but one mistake does not make someone a cheater or a criminal.
Not surprisngly, ESPN is on a witch hunt to lynch the Buckeye headman, but he has more class in his pinkie finger than their entire network possesses, including executives, writers and reporters.
So pack your U-Haul and hit the road, Kirk Herbstriet. I, for one, am glad to see you leave Columbus.
But good luck getting Jim Tressel to follow. He is firmly entrenched at Ohio State and while he may be down right now, JT will rise again!