by Stix Lightfoot
As the end of the season approaches, the Ohio State basketball team has quite a challenge ahead. After dropping two out of their last four games, the Buckeyes will need to finish strong if they want to be considered for a number one seed in the National Tournament. Easier said than done. Ohio State closes their regular season with games against Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Michigan State – all of whom will be formidable opponents.
As of now, the Buckeyes are 23-5, with four out of the five losses coming against teams currently ranked in the top 25. The first three number one seeds for the “Big Dance” are almost set in stone (barring a complete collapse) with Kentucky, Syracuse and Missouri. This leaves the fourth spot wide open for a cluster of teams with four or five losses. Ohio State will most likely have to win out in order to obtain the coveted number one seed, which would give them wins over Michigan State, Wisconsin and a Big Ten Tournament championship to add to their resume.
In order for the Buckeyes to finish the season strong, they will need good shooting performances in each game. Ohio State has been streaky shooting the ball throughout the season, often times as a result of the play of the senior guard, William Buford. Buford is shooting 43% from the field on the year, but has struggled at times to make open looks, which the team needs to help spread the defense and give sophomore star Jared Sullinger the room he needs on the inside.
The good news for Ohio State is, as the old saying goes, “defense wins championships.” Every team Thad Matta coached has been notoriously tough on the defensive side of the ball. This has been the staple throughout the season, allowing only 57 points per game. The defense is led by sophomore point guard Aaron Craft, who averages 2.3 steals per contest, the 15th best average in the NCAA. Craft is arguably considered the best on-the-ball defender in the Big Ten, giving headaches to opposing players trying to bring the ball up the court. His tenacity not only creates turnovers, but disrupts the other team’s entry passing. This makes a team rely more on one-on-one driving situations, for which the Buckeyes counter with great help-side defense from the athletic big men and swing players. As a team, the Buckeyes also do a great job of hedging out on screens and recovering, making it very difficult for teams to operate under a pick-and-roll type offense. This is a result of great coaching and maximum effort on every possession, something that will go a long way come March.
The remainder of the season hinges on whether or not Ohio State is able to play its game. If the team can, look for a strong close to the season, and get a favorable look from the tournament committee. If not, it could be another long off-season for the boys from Columbus.