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Established October 31, 1996
Front Page Columns and Features
Last updated: 03/22/2012 9:57 AM
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Opinion
Around The-Ozone Water Cooler — Which player is the key to Ohio State's chances at an NCAA championship run in 2012?
By the-Ozone Staff

The-Ozone is currently running a poll asking the same question above, "Which player is the key to Ohio State's chances at an NCAA championship run".

The choices in the poll consist of Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas, Aaron Craft, William Buford and "other". Though maybe a sixth option should have been "random guy from opposing team who doesn't go off".

We here at the World Headquarters didn't feel quite right passing the buck onto our readers without also addressing the question ourselves.

Though we hope you don't mind that we did it with more than just a click of the mouse.

Brandon Castel — There are so many reasons to pick all four of Ohio State’s key players as the factor in whether the Buckeyes will make it back to the Final Four, and ultimately to the NCAA championship game.
 
Take Jared Sullinger away from this team, and Thad Matta would probably be watching this weekend’s games from his couch back in Columbus. Then again, take away what Deshaun Thomas has done in the month of March, and it’s hard to imagine the Buckeyes would have escaped their half-hearted effort against Loyola-Maryland, let alone their second-round matchup with Gonzaga.
 
All year, I’ve said this team will only go as far as William Buford can take them, so naturally I’m going to pick Aaron Craft as the key to Ohio State’s NCAA title hopes. We have seen how good this team can be when Sullinger and Thomas are both scoring. We knew how good Buford can be when he gets hot, but at this point it seems almost unrealistic to think he suddenly going to catch fire for the rest of the tournament.
 
The Buckeyes can beat Cincinnati, and probably even get out of the East Region riding the backs of Sullinger and Thomas, who might be the most lethal one-two punch in the region. They aren’t going to get past a team like North Carolina or Kansas, however, without some scoring from someone other than the “Big Three.”
 
That of course is Sullinger, Thomas and Buford, but the Buckeyes are at their best when at least one other guy is contributing. They got key scoring off the bench from Evan Ravenel in their win over Michigan State in East Lansing, and Lenzelle Smith had a few really nice games this year, but the one guy who could change the way teams have to defend Ohio State is Craft.
 
If he can put the ball on the floor and get to the basket, and hit his pull-up jump shot the way he did against Gonzaga, it will force teams to guard all five spots on the floor. It will limit the opportunity to double down on Sullinger, and it should free up Thomas to have more room inside and out. If teams still choose not to defend Craft, he has to make them pay the way he did against the Zags, while continuing to play some of the best defense in the country.

Ben Axelrod — The general consensus before and even during this season has been that William Buford is they key to an Ohio State national championship run.

But if that were really true, would the Buckeyes even be in the Sweet 16 right now given their lone senior’s inconsistencies? I don’t think so, but I do think that I know who the key to OSU’s first national title in 50-plus years is, and it’s Deshaun Thomas.

Just a few weeks ago, I would have strongly disagreed with this notion. Even as recently as the Big Ten Tournament, I pointed out to multiple colleagues that the Buckeyes have a tendency to lose when Thomas is their leading-scorer. But after watching the way in which Thomas led OSU in each of its first two NCAA Tournament games last weekend, it’s hard not to think that he’ll be the X-factor in a potential OSU title run, especially when you take the following into consideration:

OSU’s Sweet 16 opponent, Cincinnati, starts four guards, all of whom played in 30 or more minutes in the Bearcats’ third round win over Florida State. That means for the majority of Thursday night, Cincinnati will (attempt to) guard Thomas with 6-foot-4 Sean Kilpatrick. Good luck with that.

In a potential Elite Eight appearance, the Buckeyes would likely meet up with Syracuse, who’s known for its vaunted 2-3 zone. After watching the Orange twice in person last weekend, it was clear to me that the key to beating Syracuse’s zone is to have a player capable of hitting an elbow/foul line jumper in the middle of the zone. Neither UNC-Asheville or Kansas State proved capable of doing this, but that shot is Thomas’ bread and butter.

And then there’s this: on almost every national champion, there’s a player who what I call the “I’ve never seen someone do X like Y” factor. For example: I’ve never seen a player have as much fun playing basketball as Carmelo Anthony or I’ve never seen a player score at will in the post like Sean May or I’ve never seen a player dance like Joakim Noah. Well the fact of the matter is, I’ve never seen a player rebound on the offensive end of the floor like Thomas. It’s not hyperbole or romanticism when I say that he just wants it more than anyone else does. That may be because he wants to score more than anyone else on the floor, but he knows he needs the ball to do that, and any shot- on either end of the floor- gives him the chance to do that and usually results in him doing so. And if he does it well enough for four more games, the Buckeyes could be hoisting up a trophy when all is said and done.

Tony Gerdeman — For once, I'm going to be honest with you. I answered this poll question as soon as it went up and I chose William Buford.

It was the obvious answer to me. The Buckeyes aren't going to win a National Championship without Buford shooting well. They can't afford a 2-12 performance in any round going forward. They will need as much perimeter shooting as they can find, and Buford is the easiest place to look.

In fairness to you the readers, however, I must remind you that in my 'First Thoughts' piece from the win over Gonzaga, I said this: "If Ohio State wins a National Championship this season, it will be Aaron Craft who leads them there and nobody else."

But despite those two revelations, I think the real answer is still Jared Sullinger. To win a championship, it is the responsibility of a team's best player to play at his best, and Sullinger is this team's best player.

If he plays up to his capabilities each time out, then he provides the foundation for any combination of complementation.

I've said a dozen times this season that the Buckeyes need a solid performance from three scorers in any given game to get a win. If Sullinger is one of those three, then not only is he focused on the game, but he is also putting opposing big men in foul trouble.

Given the pace at which Sullinger can score, the Buckeyes' need for additional scoring drops, as does the pressure on everyone else on the team.

There are several legitimate answers to this question, most of which I myself have given at one time or another. However, the first place to look is still Jared Sullinger. And it will be that way until he is in the NBA.

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