Five Things We Learned from a Repeat
By Brandon Castel
INDIANAPOLIS — It was another championship celebration Sunday for Ohio State Coach Thad Matta and his players.
After locking up the regular season Big Ten championship with a 29-2 record, the Buckeyes repeated as Big Ten Tournament champs with a 71-60 win over Penn State in the tournament title game.
It wasn’t always pretty, but Ohio State did what it came to do, and they did it without playing their best basketball. They have won six straight games in the conference tournament and 47 of their last 51 games overall.
They head into the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed and they will face the winner of the play-in game between Texas San Antonio and Alabama State.
Here’s a look at the five things we learned from Sunday’s Big Ten Tournament title game.
1.They are who we thought they were. We knew this team was good enough to win the Big Ten Tournament and we knew they weren’t going to come over to Indianapolis and lie down. This team wanted to win the championship, they wanted to win every game they played, and in the end, they did exactly that. We learned that this group of Buckeyes is exactly who we thought they were. They were the most talented, most competitive and most complete team to take the floor at the Conseco Fieldhouse, and they left as the champions we knew they were.
Even when they weren’t at their best, this team has enough pieces and enough determination to win tight games. It starts with their defense and that is really what carried them to the championship. In three games, the Buckeyes held their opponents to a combined 38 percent (63-166) from the field and 34 percent (23-68) from behind the arc. They out-rebounded their opponents by 9.3 per game and they tied the record for most blocks by a team in a Big Ten Tournament with 21.
2. Diebler has officially diversified his game. When Jon Diebler first started putting the ball on the floor earlier this year, I remember thinking to myself “how cute.” It seemed to be working for him because defenders didn’t expect him to do it, but I figured once they caught on, the experiment would be over. Well, either teams haven’t watched any film of Diebler since the middle of the season, or he really has become dangerous at driving to the hoop.
He did it a number of times in Sunday’s win over Penn State, and a couple of times he made his defender look really bad. There was a spin move in the lane that left a defender in the dust and another drive where he finger-rolled it in like he was Tim Hardaway Jr. If he can continue to develop that aspect of his game in the tournament, Diebler could really make himself a much more attractive commodity for NBA teams.
3. Buford has his shot back. I’m not sure what was wrong with William Buford in the early part of the conference tournament, but whatever it was, he seems to have put it in the past. Buford wasn’t overly pleased with his performance Sunday, despite the fact he led the team in scoring with 18 points and was 7-of-14 from the floor. He did miss three of his five attempts from behind the arc, and pointed out that he didn’t have as many rebounds and assists as he would when he’s on top of his game, but the one thing Ohio State needs most from Buford is aggressive scoring. It looked like he started to get his shot back on track after that scuffle with Jordan Morgan in the second half of the Michigan game, and he continued that Sunday. He was aggressive offensively and the ball seemed to be coming off his hand the way it was towards the end of the regular season. It appears, for now anyway, that he has shot himself out of that mini-slump he was in.
4. Thomas might not be ready for primetime. After the first two games of the Big Ten Tournament, we were all raving about Deshaun Thomas and his ability to provide depth off the bench. Thomas was played great all-around basketball and it looked like he might really be ready to contribute for the Buckeyes in the NCAA Tournament. Sunday’s game was a bit of a step back for young Deshaun. It’s not that he played a terrible game, he didn’t really have much of a chance. Matta ran him out there pretty early in the first half and Thomas proceeded to chuck up two quick shots before Matta quickly yanked him out of the game. The first one, a three, about shattered the backboard without ever drawing iron and the second one bounced off the rim and over the top of the basket. Thomas had never even looked to pass and he quickly found himself back on the bench. His final stat-line read 0-2 in two minutes with zero points.
5. Lauderdale certainly is. It’s easy to forget, but Dallas Lauderdale has been here before. He hasn’t played a whole lot more than Thomas down the stretch, but his value to this team is infinitely greater. Lauderdale started on the team that lost in the Sweet 16 a year ago, and his ability to block shots makes him a game-changer at the defensive end. He’s a liability at the free throw line and doesn’t bring much to the team offensively, but he did score six points on 3-of-4 shooting Sunday. He also had three big blocks and pair of rebounds in only 12 minutes, and there is absolutely no doubt that Lauderdale will be asked to play a critical role for Ohio State at some point in the tournament. My guess is sooner rather than later. Lauderdale seems to have kept a great attitude throughout the season, despite being replaced in the rotation by a freshman, and that will be key for the Buckeyes this March.
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