Thinking Out Loud: Are You Not Entertained?
By Brandon Castel
LOS ANGELES — Count me among those surprised by Ohio State’s upset loss to Wichita State on Saturday night. Maybe not the most surprised, but I certainly expected the Buckeyes to take care of business against a 9-seed in the Elite Eight.
Never in a million L.A. sunsets did I expect them to be trailing by 20 points at any point in this game.
That’s not a knock on Wichita State. The Shockers impressed me with their quickness and tenacity, but mainly with their refusal to back down. They were not afraid of the Buckeyes, and that showed when Ohio State was making its run at the end of the game.
It would have been easy for the Shockers to lay down and surrender. They had fought valiantly, and nobody could have disparaged them for letting the moment slip away from them against a more physically gifted opponent.
No, I expected Ohio State to win this game because they Buckeyes were playing their best basketball at the most critical juncture of the season. They were finally sharing the basketball, playing connected on defense and finding ways to score other than simply relying on Deshaun Thomas to a be a one-man show.
Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott and Aaron Craft were all playing as well as we have ever seen them during their OSU careers, and of course the emergence of LaQuinton Ross gave this team a dangerous scorer off the bench.
That’s something Matta’s teams have lacked since the last time he guided a team all the way to the Final Four. For me, the emergence of LaQuinton Ross as a compliment to Thomas was the No. 1 reason I expected this team would be too tough of an out for a group of guys who really haven’t played that much basketball together.
Ross had scored 17 points in back-to-back games, and his ability to make shots had allowed more room for Thompson and Craft to get inside the defense. That’s what I thought they would be able to do against Wichita State.
I thought wrong.
The Shockers did an excellent job of taking away Craft’s driving lanes. They forced him to his left and cut him off whenever he made a move to the basket. That forced him to swing the ball back to the perimeter to reset the play.
To me, that was a huge part of the reason Ohio State struggled so badly in the first half. They were giving Scott, Craft and Thompson all kinds of room to shoot long jumpers, but they were not going to let Thomas and Ross have the same type of room to operate.
Gregg Marshall did an outstanding job scouting the Buckeyes in just a couple short days, and he was able to do what I thought someone eventually would do to Ohio State during the tournament.
He had his defenders go over screens for Thomas and Ross, but under for the other guys. This really forced Thomas and Ross to have to put the ball on the floor in the first half, which was not a strength for either of them this season.
It also forced Craft and Scott to take a lot of long jumpers, which have not been falling for them much either. Craft, in particular, really struggled with the way Wichita State was defending him. It reminded me of the way Duke defended him back in December.
They gave him all kinds of room to shoot the ball, and if Craft’s jumper had been going in on Saturday night, I’m convinced the Buckeyes would be playing Louisville this week instead.
Personally, I never liked their chances against Louisville or Duke, but especially Louisville, and especially after what they did to Duke on Sunday. It would have been a wild week with both OSU and Michigan playing the NCAA semifinal games with the possibility of a rematch in the national championship game.
The Wolverines can absolutely shoot the ball well enough to beat Syracuse, and they seem to have captured a little magic with that unbelievable comeback against Kansas. The Jayhawks had that game won from here to Sunday, but credit Trey Burke for hitting some big time shots.
The key, to me, in that game will be Mitch McGary, who’s playing about as well as anyone in the country right now. Of course if Nik Stauskas is going to go 6-6 from three again, we can just book Michigan’s ticket to the final right now.
I picked Louisville to win it all before the tournament and I feel better about that now than ever. I think the Cardinals are better than any of the other three teams in the Final Four this year, and I believe they would have exposed Ohio State’s weaknesses.
They defend the paint and they don’t turn the ball over, which would have been a nightmare scenario for the Buckeyes. This team absolutely relied on its defense to create points for the offense, and that just didn’t materialize against Wichita State.
They forced eight turnovers in the first half and didn’t score a single point at the other end. They finished with six fastbreak points for the entire game, and all of those came during their frantic comeback in the second half.
To me, where they lost the game was not the first 10 minutes or the last three. They lost this game in the last five minutes of the first half and the first five minutes of the second half.
That’s when they needed to make a little bit of a push. They didn’t have to take the lead, or even tie the game at that point. They simply needed to chip away enough to put themselves in striking distance for a comeback run later in the game.
They could have really used some positive momentum at the end of the first half, much like they got against Arizona in the Sweet Sixteen. Let’s not forget the Wildcats had a 12-point lead on OSU in the first half of that game, but Thomas cut it down to four at the half.
That was all the momentum Ohio State needed. They ripped off a 10-0 run to start the second half, and basically won the game during that 10-minute stretch. To me, that’s the same stretch where they lost the game against Wichita State.
If the Buckeyes had been down by 12 or even 15 instead of 20, I think they would have won this game. They simply waited too long to play with the type of passion, toughness and intensity it takes to beat anyone at this point of the tournament.
Part of that has to fall on Thad Matta for insisting that he keep Ross on the bench to start the second half. This team needed to have its best scorers on the court in order to make a run at the start of the half.
We all saw what type of difference Ross made when they finally cut him lose midway through the second half, but it was simply too late. It’s just too difficult to overcome a 20-point hole with less than 15 minutes to play, at least without Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Ron Lewis.
Matta made so many right moves this season, it’s really tough to fault him for this one bad one.
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