Five Things We Learned from Beating the Pesky Wildcats

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Last updated: 03/11/2011 7:32 PM
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Men's Basketball
Five Things We Learned from Beating the Pesky Wildcats
By Brandon Castel

INDIANAPOLIS — Friday’s win over Northwestern was the first post-season game in the collegiate careers of Jared Sullinger, Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas.

The three freshmen combined for 30 of Ohio State’s 67 points, as the No. 1-ranked Buckeyes held on to beat the Wildcats in overtime.

This win came one year after Evan Turner bailed them out with a half court shot at the buzzer in the first round of last year’s Big Ten Tournament. Fittingly, the Wolverines will have a chance for some revenge Saturday after knocking off Illinois in their quarterfinal game.

First, we take a look back at the five things we learned from Ohio State’s win Friday in their opening game of the tournament.

1.Ohio State will go as far as defense and rebounding will take them.

Thad Matta’s words turned out to be prophetic. Ohio State’s head coach said Tuesday that his team would have to play great at the defensive end because they can’t count on shooting 14-of-15 from behind the arc every game. Fittingly, they came Friday and missed their first eight shots from behind the arc. They finished 3-of-15 from long-range for the game and weren’t that much better from inside the arc (just 19-of-51).

It helped that they only turned the ball over seven times, but the Wildcats only had five turnovers. Where the Buckeyes won this game was on the glass and with great team defense. Aaron Craft was outstanding again guarding Michael “Juice” Thompson (5-12 shooting, 1-4 behind the arc), who is one of the premier scoring guards in the Big Ten.

They were as effective at slowing down John Shurna, who had extra motivation after missing the game in Evanston between these two teams, but David Lighty came up with a number of big plays at the defensive end. His block on Drew Crawford at the end of regulation was critical, and even William Buford had a nice block on Thompson in the final minute of overtime.

Add to that the fact Northwestern was out-rebounded 48-27 and it’s easy to see how the Buckeyes overcame their poor shooting night. They probably won’t ever be that bad again during the tournament, so if they can continue to play that kind of defense and rebound the ball the way they did Friday, it’s going to be a long run.

2. Northwestern’s style works for them, but it is agonizing.

It’s impossible to knock Northwestern coach Bill Carmody for the style of basketball he coaches, because, well, it works. Shurna and Thompson are nice players, especially for Northwestern, but there’s no way the talent level of these two teams was as close as six points. Northwestern stayed with the No. 1 team in the country by milking the clock on every possession the way they always do. It’s effective against better talent, but let’s be honest, it’s downright brutal to watch, and probably more agonizing to play against.

The Ohio State players say they’re used to it now, but I’m not sure you ever get used to that. It’s like a whole game of “Dave right” and every drive ends with a punt or field goal. It’s just boring. It’s not Carmody’s job to make things exciting, but I wish it was.

3. Sullinger is such a unique big man.

Ohio State freshman Jared Sullinger has been compared to a number of NBA big men, past and present, including Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Charles Barkley and Tim Duncan. I’m not sure he fits any of them. Sullinger is such a unique player for his size. He has aspects of all of their games in his, although I’m not sure he has Griffin’s athleticism, but what makes him great is that he is willing to stick to the things he does best. Friday’s game wasn’t a banner performance for him from an offensive standpoint, but how many 6-foot-9 guys with his strength and size are going to hit 10 straight free throws in overtime?

His ability to draw fouls is uncanny, and that’s considering the fact he doesn’t get a lot of calls because of how big and strong he is. I’ve never seen a player who was so instinctual on the boards. His determination to rebound makes him good, his instincts to know where the ball is going to come off the rim makes him great. To get 18 rebounds in his first Big Ten Tournament game is just another example of how mature he is.

4. When Diebler goes cold, it’s downright arctic.

Who was that guy wearing 33 for the white in Friday’s game, because it didn’t look like the guy we’ve been calling Jon 3bler. After hitting 17 of his last 20 threes, Diebler missed every shot he took from behind the arm in regulation. Had the game not gone into overtime, Diebler’s streak of consecutive games with a three would have come to an end. Instead, Diebler ripped a three in overtime to give the Buckeyes a 6-point lead with 2:21 to play.

I’ve never seen a guy go from that hot to that cold in less than a week, especially considering he had missed his last five threes before hitting 10-of-12 at Penn State. The Buckeyes don’t need him to hit 10 threes every game, or even seven, but they do need some consistency out of him. He’s been much better with that as a senior than at any other time in his career, but Friday was proof that hot shooting one game doesn’t carry over to the next, and vice-versa.

5. Craft is a better offensive player than given credit for.

Someone on the-Ozone message board (sorry to call you out) called Craft a liability at the offensive end. It’s true, that he has struggled at different stretches this season, but he’s also been very good offensively in other stretches. That’s pretty typical of a freshman. Not everyone is going to be Sullinger or Mike Conley Jr. his freshman year. Even Deaquan Cook went through some tough times in his one year at Ohio State.

Craft showed Friday that he can be an asset on the offensive end, especially getting to the basket. Hitting that first three was huge because his man was helping to double down on Sullinger, but it was the way he got inside and finished off the glass that made things difficult on Northwestern. Craft scored seven straight points to help the Buckeyes close out the first half on a 9-0 run, which really gave them the cushion they would need. Had this game been tied at the half, Northwestern might have pulled it out in regulation.

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