It is now official, Ohio State
is unofficially in its first Final Four since 1999 and first official
Final Four since 1968. Sound confusing? Well it sort of
is. We all remember the Buckeyes last memorable run to the Final
Four on the guard play of Scoonie Penn and Michael Redd, but as far
as the NCAA is concerned that run never happened. Much like Michigan’s
memorable run in 1992, and UMass in 1996, those games have been stricken
from the record.
The resurgence in the Buckeye
basketball program is pretty shocking given the series of improbable
events that were required to get here since the Jim O’Brien-Aleksandar Radojevic pay off scandal broke. Although
he had not had particularly great seasons immediately prior to the story
breaking, O’Brien was one of the most successful basketball coaches
in Ohio State history. His loss sent shockwaves through Columbus,
and the Ohio State program faced uncertain sanctions from the NCAA.
Andy Geiger acted quickly, too
quickly according to one Columbus Superior Court
Judge, and fired his
good friend, O’Brien. Amazingly, Geiger was able to lure Matta
from Xavier in spite of the undetermined sanctions that were sure to
follow. Somehow Geiger, to his credit, was able to sell Matta
on the future of Ohio State hoops.
In addition to firing O’Brien,
Ohio State enacted its own disciplinary actions on the program, penalizing
players that were not even there during the payoff, in effort to preempt
the actions that were sure to come from the NCAA. In spite of
these proactive measures and the complete forthrightness of the Ohio
State Athletic Department, the NCAA still took nearly a year and a half
to ultimately determine that Ohio State’s self-imposed sanctions were
I know this was an interesting
walk down a dark alley near memory lane, but what does it really have
to do with this Final Four berth? Well, somehow, in spite of the
uncertainty caused by the unresolved NCAA issues, Matta was able to
hold on to his prized 2006 recruiting class, the “Thad Five.”
Remember, it is not like these guys did not have other offers; Duke,
UNC, Wake Forest, and Indiana are some of the schools that were offering
to the guys at the same time. It is shocking to me, more shocking
than the rally against Tennessee Thursday night, that not one of these
In light of these facts and the
ending of their most recent games, the Ohio State victory over Memphis
was a bit of an anticlimax. Memphis was clearly outmatched at
nearly every position on the floor for the entire game. As a matter
of fact, in my preview I said that Memphis was playing to validate its
entire season, with that game yesterday, they proved what most were
thinking; their 25 game win streak was more the result of a cupcake
schedule than superior play. In short, if Jeremy Hunt was not
burying 27’ jumpers this game would have been over shortly after the
Chris Douglas-Roberts, Memphis’
leading scorer, was largely ineffective anywhere, and the only guy on
their team that I thought would get significant minutes in a scarlet
and grey uniform was sophomore forward Robert Dozier. Dozier played
very well in a losing effort; scoring nine points, coming down with
eleven rebounds, and playing some pretty disruptive defense.
Big-man Joey “Goliath” Dorsey
learned a valuable life lesson, keep your mouth shut. Dorsey provided
the Buckeyes all the locker room inspiration they needed. When
asked how Dorsey’s comments, calling out Oden, affected Oden, Ohio
State freshman point guard Mike Conley replied that they did not affect
Oden, they affected the whole team. In short, the entire team
took it personally and it was evident by the way they attacked Dorsey,
getting him in foul trouble early and keeping him there all day.
Dorsey was completely and totally
outplayed by Oden. He actually scored 0 (yes, ZERO) points and
collected more fouls than rebounds. His three rebounds were far
short of his own prediction of 20 and he was posterized by Oden on several
occasions and seemed to be unable to affect his shots in anyway when
they were matched up one on one. Based on his pre-game comments
and predictions, I think Mr. Dorsey might be a prime candidate for urinalysis;
I have no idea what he has been smoking, but it must be pretty good
Ron Lewis continued his impressive
run through the NCAA tournament/audition for the NBA draft, logging
another 20+ point game (scoring 22). Lewis showed range, basketball
smarts, and his ability to get to the rim. He has shown that he
is not afraid to take the big shot and that he has an affinity for making
it. This is the senior leadership that the Buckeyes needed, while
guys like Dick Vitale wondered aloud if they had it.
Mike Conley has been absolutely
devastating and undefendable. It is like he has had a moment of
self-actualization, where he realized that no one can defend his first
step. He has taken everyone he has faced during this tournament
to the hoop at will. His tournament performance has been so impressive
that he may have actually played himself into the first round of the
NBA draft this year if he decided to pursue a pro career this year.
He does not have great range, but he has all the intangibles and skills
that teams are looking for in pass first point guards. I cannot
help but wonder what he would look like in a Cav’s uniform; he is
already the best point guard in Ohio at any level.
How about the sudden emergence
of St. Joe’s phenom, David Lighty? All of a sudden he is “Johnny
on the Spot,” grabbing every important loose ball and coincidentally
being at the right place at the right time. His numbers do not
do his performance justice, but in the last two games, at times when
his team needed him most, Lighty has been there to make the play.
I am certain, that at least Lighty and Cook will be back in Columbus
next year and that is a pretty good foundation to build a team around.
…and finally, how about those
free throws down the stretch. I know that it has been pointed
out ad nauseum by ESPN that Ohio State made 18 of 18 free throws down
the stretch, but how about the fact that during that stretch, Ohio State’s
freshmen were 10-10 from the line. Talk about having ice water
in their veins. These are the kinds of immeasurables that speak
volumes about the composure of these young men. You get the feeling
that they have been here before, although they never have.
So now, it is time to look ahead.
Ohio State’s opponent in the National Semifinal will be decided today.
Frankly, I think they match up better with Georgetown’s slower pace
of play, but I would prefer to see the team get another shot at UNC,
this time with a big man to put on Tyler Hansbrough. UNC’s run
and gun offense and up and down the floor play will put obvious pressure
on Greg Oden and Ohio State’s bench, but the game that these two teams
played in November is among the finest I have ever seen. I am
looking forward to seeing it again.