First Thoughts after Gonzaga

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Last updated: 03/17/2012 9:44 PM
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Men's Basketball
First Thoughts From Ohio State's 73-66 Win Over Gonzaga in the Third Round of the NCAA Tournament
By Tony Gerdeman

This version of the Ohio State Buckeyes is like a strict, yet inattentive parent. When they're actually paying attention to their kids, those kids are held completely in check, almost to the point of being afraid to move.

When the Buckeyes turn their attention to something else, however, those same kids are capable of burning down department stores or kidnapping gas station clerks.

That was the story of today's win. Picture March Madness like a big family get together. The Buckeyes arrived, took the coats off their children, and then sent them on their way, telling them to "be good" as they ran off.

For about the first twelve minutes of today's party, the kids (Gonzaga) were wreaking havoc. They were breaking things, touching food that they weren't eating, and basically just getting into things that they didn't need to be getting into.

Then, when the Buckeyes finally saw what was going on, they snatched Gonzaga by the shoulder, shook them a bit, and then bled them dry of their hyperactivity.

Gonzaga fell in line for a while—the Buckeyes led by two at the half, after all. But, like all punk kids, they can only deal with being obedient for so long.

Ohio State built a ten-point lead at 52-42 with 14:22 to play, and then turned their backs on Gonzaga because that's just what inattentive parents do.

The Zags cut that lead to five, and just as they were about to cut it even more, Jared Sullinger grabbed an offensive rebound off of a Deshaun Thomas three-point miss and got fouled putting it back up. His two free throws then made it a seven-point game.

After building another ten-point lead, the Buckeyes got a little more lax than they probably should have. They grabbed another drink and then sat down to play some Euchre. After starting out with a Loner on the first hand, all thoughts of their children went out the window.

The Zags then went on a 13-3 run to tie the game at 61-61 with 4:03 to play. While calling trump, the Buckeyes took a look at the scoreboard and saw what was going on. They had just caught their kids in the act.

"Hold on," the Buckeyes said though gritted teeth, putting their cards down as they got up out of their seat.

"I thought I told you!" they yelled at Gonzaga. Gonzaga froze. The Buckeyes then grabbed the Zags by the arm and read out a riot act better saved for premium cable.

Then they made Gonzaga go and sit out in the car until they were ready to go. The Buckeyes then went on a 7-0 run to make it 68-61 with 34 seconds to play, and the game was effectively over, though not before Ohio State sat back down to enjoy a few more drinks and few more hands.

First Thought

Aaron Craft
Photo by Jim Davidson
Aaron Craft

I've said it all season long, this team is better when Aaron Craft is a scoring threat. He doesn't need to take a huge number of shots—he only took nine shots in this game—but just the activity of him being a threat makes everybody better.

I don't really think it's a coincidence that on the day he tied his highest scoring output of the year (17) he also had a season-high in assists (10).

In fact, not only is the team better when Craft is a scorer, but Craft is better as well. When he scores at least 15 points in a game this year, he is averaging two assists more per game than when he doesn't.

Basically, when he is a scorer, he is also a better passer and playmaker.

He picked up some of the first half scoring slack when Deshaun Thomas was struggling, and also scored key baskets in the second half when the team was looking for a leader.

Aaron Craft
Photo by Jim Davidson
Aaron Craft

The amazing part about Craft, however, is that even though he had season highs in points and assists, his defensive effort was just as impressive.

Gonzaga's point guards were 3-15 from the field, and it's unlikely that Kevin Pangos will get Aaron Craft's man-scent off of him anytime soon.

He harassed players today like a telemarketer, and there is no 'Do Not Call' list for Aaron Craft.

If Ohio State wins a National Championship this season, it will be Aaron Craft who leads them there and nobody else.

Wide Ranging Thought

Jared Sullinger
Photo by Jim Davidson
Jared Sullinger

Jared Sullinger opened the game by scoring outside of the paint, which I thought was the right move. He didn't force anything against Robert Sacre, and instead chose to play a smart game.

Unfortunately, he then picked up his second foul and sat for most of the first half. When this happens to him, I think he then tries to fit 30 minutes of shots into the second half of play. This, of course, then leads him to forcing poor shots, and getting them rejected.

I think at times he forces up so many poor shots that some teammates are reluctant to give him the ball because they know the inevitable result.

That being said, when he forced shots down the stretch in this game, for the most part he either got fouled or made shots. He gets too emotional at times, but part of that emotion stems from the confidence that he has in himself to succeed.

That's not really a trait that you want to handcuff.

Starting Thought

How about drawing up something easy for William Buford to start the game? Something short, something simple, that way his confidence starts strong, and he can then expand further out on the perimeter as the game goes on.

When his first shot is a three-pointer, and it's a miss, there's little reason to think that things are going to be okay for him. Perhaps by getting him easier looks, any inevitable struggles can be put off a little longer.

Shameful Thought

Gonzaga's offensive rebounding in the first half was downright embarrassing. Sometimes offensive rebounding can be chalked up to unfortunate bounces, but there's no chalking it up for an entire half.

The Zags had nine offensive rebounds in the first half, and it was because they were in the position to do so. It wasn't bounces, it was effort. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, they matched Gonzaga's effort in the second half and held the Zags to just four offensive rebounds in the final twenty minutes.

Explosive Thought

Deshaun Thomas
Photo by Jim Davidson
Deshaun Thomas

As I said above, Aaron Craft was picking up Deshaun Thomas' scoring slack for much of the first half. That is, until Thomas took over in the final five minutes of the first half and outscored Gonzaga 12-7 by himself.

Early in the game he forced a couple of shots, but when he was closing out the half, he was simply in control of everything around him.

When he goes on tears like this, I get the feeling that he is almost having an out-of-body experience, and he can see himself playing the game from above. That would also explain how he always knows where the rim is.

Corrective Thought

Speaking of Deshaun Thomas, there was a play in the first half when one of the Gonzaga players broke for the basket at the three-point line and drove for a sure dunk. Thomas saw this play happen from the start because he was standing in the paint at the time.

After taking one step to cut the play off, he stopped and decided to give up the dunk rather than foul or contest it. Fortunately for Ohio State, Evan Ravenel decided to intervene and gave the necessary foul.

Then, with under seven minutes to play in the second half, and Ohio State leading by four points, Gary Bell broke for the basket in a dunk attempt and this time Thomas decided to do something about it. He blocked Bell's dunk, and kept the Zags from seizing momentum. They tied the game a short time later, but that was still a huge play by Thomas.

Final Thought

William Buford shot 1-6 from the field in the second half, and 4-13 in the game overall. It's probably time to anoint Craft as one of this team's three scorers, and then whatever happens with Buford is just a bonus.

Buford can score 30 points on any given night, but to expect him to even score 15 will probably leave Thad Matta wanting. It's time for him to become a complementary scorer and not a primary one. At least then the expectations are lower and the team won't be missing what they weren't ever counting on.

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