First Thoughts

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Last updated: 11/30/2011 3:17 AM
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Men's Basketball
First Thoughts From an 85-63 Win Over #4 Duke
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Is it really too much to ask to get a close, exciting game around here? With 4th-ranked Duke in town, the 2nd-ranked Buckeyes were supposed to face their second test of the season, but this was no test. Heck, it was barely even an open book quiz.

Ohio State controlled every angle of this game, save for the gangly one, and kept Duke at arm's length from the opening tip. It was remarkable to watch the Blue Devils get dominated like they were, and even more remarkable to see the Buckeyes doing the dominating.

Ohio State made a statement in this game, and everybody heard it. They will make other statements throughout the season, but none will be as emphatic as the rooftop-shouting we witnessed tonight. And you know what? I think people will be okay with that.

First Thought—This is a team full of talented players, but they don't play as individuals, they play as complements. They play like an interlocking set of gears, and their ball movement was Swiss watch makery throughout the game.

What people call "the extra pass" isn't extra at all, it's just part of the offense. It's the design of the machine. Just another gear being turned by a different gear.

Aaron Craft controls the ball, Jared Sullinger controls the game, William Buford controls the perimeter, Deshaun Thomas controls himself, and Lenzelle Smith does whatever else is needed to do. Everything is interlocked and precise.

Like five fingers in a glove, but with a very heavy smack weight when it hits you flush. Duke 'challenged them to a duel tonight, and they took the full force of an answered challenge from Ohio State right upside their head.

Opening Thoughts—Before the game I found myself wondering what type of game Deshaun Thomas was going to have, because you just never know with him. I always expect his first three pointer to miss long by about a foot and a half, which is pretty much what happened on Thomas' first shot Tuesday night.

His second shot was closer, but it still missed. Then he hit his next eight shots and basically balled up my concerns like a wad of paper and drilled it right back in my face.

Thomas was incredible. He was decisive, but not rushed. Patient, but not slow. He never even forced a shot when he was making eight in a row. There was no heat check. It wasn't even a consideration.

He put the ball on the floor and converted. He caught passes out deep and drilled two three pointers. He was on the offensive glass and putting shots back up and in. He was everywhere on the offensive end.

Thomas was so effective that Duke had to bench Ryan Kelly because he couldn't keep up with him. It paid dividends on the defensive side for the Buckeyes as well, because Kelly had just been named the MVP out in Maui after averaging 17 points per game over a three-day stretch. He scored zero against Ohio State and had no place to play in this game.

Thomas finished with 18 points and could have had more if wanted to. He continues to display the maturity that many wondered would ever come.

Potential Thought—If Aaron Craft is going to be aggressive on the offensive end and hit his threes like he did against Duke, there will have to be a serious let down from his teammates for Ohio State to lose a game this year.

Craft isn't going to hit his three pointers all season long like he did tonight, but the potential is there each night for it to happen. When he and Thomas are hitting shots, nobody is going to touch this team because Jared Sullinger and William Buford will also be putting up points.

Duke had no answer for the Buckeyes, and only had two scorers in double figures. Nobody is going to beat this Ohio State team two on five this year. They probably won't beat them two on two, either.

Defensive Thought—Jared Sullinger is going to have issues on defense all season long against taller opponents. Mason Plumlee repeatedly backed him down to get shots off, and the officials let him get away with a few fouls that definitely would have been called at Cameron.

But Sullinger will also have to be somewhat lenient on defense—as he was against Duke—because he doesn't want to get into foul trouble. He knows that his presence is much more important than a basket here or there.

Quiet Thought—Is there a more silent assassin in college basketball than William Buford? Sullinger gets most of the talk, and deservedly so. Aaron Craft gets second billing because of his grit and defense. Deshaun Thomas gets third billing simply because you never know what he's going to do. If this team was the 'A-Team', then Thomas would definitely be Howling Mad Murdock. 

Then there's William Buford. A silent assassin. The Nike Ninja. So smooth the nets don't even jiggle when he's on.

He scored 20 on Duke and I don't think he said a word until he was finally pulled out of the game in the final moments.

Buford is always the forgotten man until he's running around a screen and hitting an 18-foot fadeaway to remind everybody that he definitely has the skills to do what you just saw, and he's probably going to do it again very shortly.

Before the season started, I didn't think Buford would even approach the almost 19 points per game that he would need to break Dennis Hopson's scoring record, but I'm beginning to have some doubts. It will still be tough, but I never thought Buford would be assertive enough to do something like that for a prolonged period of time. I'm still not sure, but there's no longer a doubt in my mind that he is fully capable of breaking Hopson's record.

Undressed  Thought—
Jordan Sibert has the potential and ability to be a very good defensive player in the future, but being pitted against Austin Rivers in this game had to be an eye opener.

Rivers had Sibert skating like it was an 'all skate' and Jordan was a teenage couple in love, because he was skating all night long.

Every minute on the court is meaningful for Sibert. Fortunately for him, it's unlikely that he is going to be facing anybody as quick as Rivers the rest of this season.

Well, at least until Duke and Ohio State meet up in the Elite Eight, of course.

Final Thought—Lenzelle Smith took one shot, but was just about as instrumental as everybody else. His defense and energy are always utilized perfectly, and Tuesday night's game was no different.

He hounded Rivers and anybody else who lined up across from him all night long. He made nothing easy.

If he's got a three-point shot now, look out.

Game Story
Game Notes
Box Score
Season Stats Year to Date

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