It was an emotional day in Columbus, Ohio this past Sunday, as the Buckeye Nation said goodbye to two seniors that have had an essential role in the program’s success of the past four years: Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. Craft has been a key player for all four years of his collegiate career, while Smith has had to build up his playing time over the years. Either way, both players were a part of the foundation for this year’s Ohio State team and were honored for their contributions this past Sunday in a 68-66 win over well-known foe Michigan State.
After a season of ups and downs, Sunday’s win over #22 Sparty was huge for Thad Matta’s squad, especially heading into the excitement and spirit of the college basketball postseason. Although the offense, which has been the main cause of concern for this Ohio State team, did not look great overall, it got the job done by putting together productive streaks of points, namely in the last few minutes of the game. This is a good sign for all supporters of the Buckeyes, as an efficient offense is essential in finding any sort of success when the competition increases in the next couple weeks. Speaking of the coming weeks…
Big Ten Tournament
Even with their impressive win over Big Ten powerhouse Michigan State, the Buckeyes still failed to clinch a first round bye for the upcoming Big Ten Tournament taking place in Indianapolis. Ohio State will enter the tournament as the #5 seed and will face off against lowest-seed Purdue on Thursday at approximately 2:30 PM. The full bracket can be seen here, courtesy of Big Ten Network:
As you can see, if the Buckeyes take care of business against Purdue, as they have in both of their regular season match-ups, they will go on to face #4 seed Nebraska, who will enjoy a first-round bye as a result of a successful conference season. Ohio State has not played well in their most recent meeting against Nebraska, getting upset in Lincoln. If they can put together some kind of watchable offense to go along with their stellar offense, the Buckeyes should not have too much trouble with the Cornhuskers. If the Buckeyes prove themselves worthy enough in the early rounds, they will likely have to face rival Michigan in the semi-final, assuming that they take care of the winner of the Illinois/Indians contest. It will be an interesting few days in Indianapolis and, when it is all said and done, the Buckeyes could wind up impressing a few critics by making a bit of a run in the 2014 edition of the Big Ten Conference Tournament.
Ohio State beats both Purdue and Nebraska by a decent margin, but falls to Michigan in a tight game in the semi-final.
Ahh, the best time of the year. No other postseason in sports can match the excitement, surprise and size of the NCAA Tournament. The Buckeyes have fared quite well in the past several years at the Big Dance, but after the season they have gone through this year, anything is possible. Ohio State comes into the final week before Selection Sunday with a 23-8 regular season record and a chance to bolster their reputation with a strong showing in the Big Ten Tournament.
The latest AP poll, which is not exactly the “tell-all” source for tournament seedings but still gives some helpful information, the Buckeyes squeeze into the top 25, ranking #24 following their win over Michigan State. This ranking would put the Matta’s squad in contention for either a 6 or 7 seed as it look right now. In those situations, the Scarlet and Gray would be facing off against the 11 seed or the 10 seed, respectively. To give an example of what caliber of a team that would mean, last year’s 10 seeds consisted of Cincinnati (22-11), Colorado (21-11), Iowa State (22-11) and Oklahoma (20-11), while the 11 seeds were made up of Saint Mary’s (27-6), Minnesota (20-12), Belmont (26-6) and Bucknell (28-5). That should be the same kind of competition that Ohio State should be expecting this time around in the Round of 64 – decent but manageable.
Aaron Craft – The senior will be looked upon once again as the leader of this Buckeyes team in the high pressure situations of the NCAA Tournament. Being a player that has averaged nearly 30 minutes per game in all of his four season at Ohio State, he definitely has the experience to monitor the mental aspect of the college basketball postseason.
LaQuinton Ross – As he has been all season long, Ross will continue to be the feature player in this Buckeye offense. The junior has averaged 14.8 PPG to go along with 5.5 RPG this season, and he will be looked upon for some clutch baskets in what looks to be a series of tight games ahead for the Buckeyes.
The Buckeyes are given a 7 seed in the tournament and grind out a close win (like nearly all of their victories have been this year) and go on to play the number 2 seed in their region. If the Buckeyes get lucky and run into a 2 seed like Virginia or San Diego State, then they could have a chance at extending their streak of 4 consecutive Sweet Sixteen appearances. In all likelihood, however, I do not see Ohio State advancing past the Round of 32 this year. Their stingy defense and veteran leadership will keep the games close, but in the end, the offense, which has been dreadful at times, does not have the firepower to hang with the other top teams in the nation.
By Jay Cannon (@CST_Jay)