Ohio State Basketball: Contenders

With 11 minutes to go in the first half, the Ohio State Buckeyes went down 20-10 against Minnesota during the Big Ten’s Super Saturday.  The best player in the Big Ten, Keita Bates-Diop, was struggling from the floor, and the OSU defense couldn’t handle Minnesota’s Jordan Murphy and his game down low.  However, through their slump, the Buckeyes stayed committed to playing physical basketball and taking advantage of every opportunity.

The very first points on the board came off a steal that led to an easy transition dunk for Bates-Diop.  This was a preface of things to come, because, even though at times they weren’t getting the ball in the hoop, the Buckeyes continued to force turnovers.  In fact, they ended the game with 10 steals and 22 points off of 15 Minnesota turnovers.

Ohio State’s second made shot was a transition layup that was set up by a Sweet n’ Low bounce pass from CJ Jackson to Kam Williams.  This was another fast scoring opportunity made possible, not because of outstanding offensive playmaking, but because they were playing smart, tough Ohio State basketball. The Buckeyes finished with 11 assists.

The third score for the OSU came after CJ Jackson missed a 3 pointer from the corner.  He followed his miss and came up with an offensive rebound that put him right next to the hoop with a wide open shot.  Jackson’s floater put his team ahead 6-2.  OSU finished with 12 offensive rebounds.

Unfortunately, after a few layups underneath to make the score 11-10, the shots stopped falling.

The Golden Gophers went on a 9-0 run and took their ten point lead.  This left the fans that had made the long trek up to NYC wonder whether it looked like, perhaps, the Buckeyes didn’t have the magic.  Maybe they were having an off day, or this talented Minnesota team was just finally finding their stride again.  Maybe Ohio State had been overachieving for the last few weeks, and they were finally falling back to earth.  Either way, OSU was struggling and their opponent was surging.

Of course, we all watched the game so we know how it ends.  The Buckeyes saved the first half doing the same things that they had been doing through the first 9 minutes of the game.  They kept forcing turnovers, they kept making good passes, they kept getting rebounds, on both the offensive and defensive ends, and eventually, someone’s shot went in.

All of the sudden the floodgates opened to reveal the January Buckeyes once more.

Steal, pass, score;
block, pass, pass, score;
inside, outside, score;
steal, pass, miss, offensive rebound, put back, score;

Ohio State took the lead and then took a commanding lead and then they started dominating.  A 10 point deficit turned into a 12 point lead and the score was 34-22.  A 24 to 2 scoring run in which the Buckeyes dominated every facet of the game– shooting, defending, rebounding, passing– and they did it with Keita on the bench for 5 minutes.

This team believes it’s one of the best teams in the country.  After taking care of business at Rutgers, holding off a late surge from Northwestern, and obliterating Minnesota in Madison Square Garden, they come home with an 8-0 conference record and a top-15 ranking.  Their four-game homestretch, starting tonight with Nebraska, comes at the perfect time, giving the Buckeyes an opportunity to flex their muscles against the middle of the Big Ten in preparation for what could be a Top-10 matchup at Purdue on February 7th.

Chris Holtmann has put this team in a position to do something that they haven’t done since the 2012-2013 season: hold a top 10 ranking in January.  If they win their next four games, they will own a 21-4 record, including a 12-0 start to conference play.  Four games is a tall task, especially with the physicality of the Big Ten, but Ohio State has shown that it has the coaches, players and drive to do it. The next step is Nebraska, and then Penn State and Indiana and Illinois.

Keita Bates-Diop has come back down to earth after his four-game “prove-it” tour, but Ohio State hasn’t.  The Buckeyes are still dominating teams, still proving that they are not just “the surprise of the season” as every major sports publication is dubbing them.  They want everyone to know that they aren’t overachieving.  They are contenders.

Their next step is Nebraska, but this Buckeye team has its sights set higher.

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