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Established October 31, 1996
Front Page Columns and Features
Last updated: 03/29/2010 11:41 AM

Men's Basketball
Top 10 Surprises from Hoops Season That Was
By Brandon Castel

Evan Turner with the Big Ten regular-season championship trophy.
Photo by Jim Davidson

The Buckeyes didn’t accomplish their goal of making it to the Final Four during the 2009-10 season, but there was plenty to celebrate in Columbus. With Evan Turner leading the way, Ohio State won the regular season and tournament titles in the Big Ten and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time four years.

With the year that was fresh in our memories, we take a look at the 10 biggest surprises of the season for coach Thad Matta and the Buckeyes following their season-ending loss to Tennessee.

10. Bucks win 29 games with a six-man rotation. They said it couldn’t be done. They said it would never last. They said the players would never make it. And yet Ohio State won 29 games and came within one win of the Elite Eight playing four guys nearly 40 minutes a night. Maybe Bruce Pearl is right, that it finally caught up to the Buckeyes in the second half of their loss to Tennessee, or maybe guys just weren’t hitting shots. Either way, that’s one heck of a run to make using only six guys for most of the year.

Kyle "Mad Dog" Madsen gets a dunk.
Photo by Jim Davidson

9. Kyle Madsen contributes off the bench. Who thought at the beginning of the year that Madsen would be the one guy to contribute positively off the bench for Ohio State this season? That one person deserves a gold star, but for the rest of us, Madsen’s magical senior season came completely by surprise. Early in the year it looked like Madsen might average more fouls than rebounds this season, but somewhere along the way “Mad Dog” discovered a lights-out 17-foot jumper from the baseline that almost never missed. From there, his confidence seemed to grow in other areas. While he was never a “high-impact” player, Madsen gave Matta what he needed in relief of Dallas Lauderdale by shooting 57 percent from the floor.

8. P.J. Hill and Jeremie Simmons don’t. As a follow up to the first two, it was equally surprising to see Hill and Simmons spend most of their seasons with their butts firmly planted in their seats on the bench. Simmons dealt with a strange eye issue midway through the year, but for the most part it was just a lack of trust on the part of Matta. It’s not all that surprising considering Evan Turner’s move to point guard, but to think the two combined to start all 33 games last year only to average 12 minutes a game this year (in the game they actually played in) was a surprise.

7. North Carolina was the worst loss of the season. It was implausible to think when the Buckeyes lost to 77-74 to the Tar Heels back in Nov. that it could possibly be one of their worst losses of the season, but that certainly turned out to be the case. Only the loss at Michigan can even contend with the loss to UNC, who failed to make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large bid, and that game was played on the road without Evan Turner. All things considered, the loss on a neutral site (Madison Square Garden) with Turner in the lineup to a team that went 5-11 in the ACC has to be the worst of the year.

William Buford vastly improved his all around game this season.
Photo by Jim Davidson

6. William Buford’s all-around game. The kid still isn’t a great decision-maker, but it’s hard not to be impressed with the strides Buford made as an all-around player during his sophomore season. Labeled as a defensive liability as a freshman last season, Buford worked hard on his defense in the off-season and actually became an asset for the Buckeyes much of the time on D. As a result, he went from playing 29 minutes a game last year when David Lighty was out to playing 35 minutes a game this year despite Lighty’s return to the lineup. He finished second on the team in scoring (14.4 points per game), but also second in rebounds (5.6 per game) and assists (3.1 per game). His rebound spiked to 6.8 per game during Big Ten play and he upped his free throw percentage .839 during the conference season. We knew he was going to progress, but who thought he would come along so quickly in those other areas in just one year?

5. Lighty off all-defense team. When David Lighty got to Ohio State, coach Matta told him he would have a chance to leave as one of the best defenders in school history. Apparently Matta’s colleagues did not even view him as one of the best defenders in the conference this season. They conspicuously left him off the all-Big Ten Defensive Team despite the fact he can cover any position from point guard to power forward while routinely drawing the toughest matchups in the league. His 58 steals were most on the team.

Jon Diebler takes his turn at cutting down the net after the Buckeyes won the Big Ten tournament.
Photo by Jim Davidson

4. Big Ten Tournament title. This one wasn’t a surprise considering Ohio State was the best team in the conference during the regular season, but it makes the list at No. 4 because of how close it came to never happening. The Buckeyes were 2.2 seconds away from being sent home in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament before Evan Turner hit a stunning buzzer-beater from 37 feet to shock Michigan. They went on to beat Illinois in double overtime before cruising past Minnesota in the title game.

3. Bucks win Big Ten title after 1-3 start. If the tournament title came as a big surprise, then the regular season championship had to make the list after an ugly start to the conference season. With their best player sidelined for a month, the Buckeyes opened Big Ten play by dropping three of their first four games. They were on their way to a 1-4 start before Turner led them back from 14 down in the second half to stun then-No. 4 Purdue in West Lafayette. The Buckeyes rallied to win 13 of their last 14 games in conference play, becoming the first team in 50 years to climb back from a 1-3 start to win the conference.

Evan Turner's ability to play the point was the key factor in OSU's success this season.
Photo by Jim Davidson

2. Evan Turner’s smooth transition to PG. It’s not every day a coach takes a 6-7 small forward with a knack for turnovers and tries to make him a point guard. Forget that, it’s probably never been done before, and yet Matta rolled the dice on his star junior this season. He put the ball in the hands of No. 21 and the results exceeded even his own expectations. After posting a pair of triple-doubles early in the year, Turner overcame a broken back to carry the Buckeyes to the conference title. Despite playing a new position, Turner was the best player in the Big Ten and possibly in the country. He led the conference in scoring and rebounding while finishing near the top in assists. More importantly, he did what all great point guards do: make everyone around him better.

1.Turner’s return from back injury. Of all the surprises that took place during the season, none surpasses Evan Turner’s improbable return from a broken back. After dropping hard from the rim to the floor in December, Turner was diagnoses with two fractured vertebrae in his lower back. The diagnosis alone was enough to make people ask if he would even play again. He did. Just one month later Turner was back on the court against Indiana after missing only six games. Just as surprising was the fact it took him only three games to return to form, as he scored a career-high 32 points in the upset win at Purdue. He would go on to win Big Ten Player of the Year and Most Outstanding Player in the conference tournament, and he is a finalist for the Naismith Award despite missing a large chunk of the year.

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