A big time showdown with the Indiana Hoosiers on the hardwood. Spring practice has started on the astro-grass. The weather must be warming up (soon?) in Columbus, Ohio. It’s Wednesday, let’s rumble!
Upset in B-Town
With the conference tournament and eventually the NCAA tournament still on the horizon, it can be tough to put a ton of stock into the importance of a regular season game these days in college basketball. There’s seemingly always tomorrow or another shot to fix what you have done wrong. Last night’s game in Bloomington, Indiana against the 2nd ranked Indiana Hoosiers was one of those exceptions, and the Buckeyes rose up to the challenge.
Here are the Hoosiers, in the midst of a rebirth of sorts under head coach Tom Crean, with a chance to clinch their first outright Big Ten title (on their home floor no less) in twenty years against their biggest hoops rival whom they dominated on the road a few weeks earlier. Coming into the game, I felt it was of vital importance to make a good showing and for reasons of confidence have a shot to possibly win it in the end. When Ohio State scored the final seven points of the first half to take a 28-25 lead into the locker room all bets were off on just hanging with the Hoosiers. The Buckeyes had come to win.
Led by Aaron Craft with 15 points and Deshaun Thomas with 18 points, they weathered the inevitable Hoosier storm early in the second half that saw IU hit their first five shots to take a 39-34 lead. Five points is as far as the Hoosier lead would get, as Ohio State answered with a dominating 14-4 run of their own. At the 7:07 mark it was a 50-48 Buckeye lead. When play stopped at 3:15, the Buckeyes led it by a commanding 61-50.
The Buckeyes did it with defense. Craft finished with four steals as did Shannon Scott. The Buckeyes smothered Hoosier power forward Cody Zeller making him earn all seventeen points he scored and got Victor Oladipo into early foul trouble that limited him to a mere seven points on the night. Perhaps most notably, they looked like the aggressors and took the fight to Indiana.
The win keeps a handful of teams still in the regular season championship chase. However, for anyone to have a shot a shared crown, Indiana must lose this weekend at Michigan. The win puts Ohio State at 22-7 and still in that run for a share of the title. A win over Illinois at home Sunday, without help, would put the Buckeyes at no worse than the 3 seed in next weekend’s Big Ten tournament in Chicago and allow them a bye in the first round. Seeding for the big dance now has the potential possibility of a two seed (beat Illinois and win the Big Ten tourney) to as low as a four seed (beat Illinois, go out in their first game of the Big Ten tourney).
However the chips fall for the regular season title race or how the tournament seeds turn out, Ohio State has proven to itself beyond a shadow of a doubt that they can not only compete with the best in the nation but they can beat them.
Seventeen days ago, Ohio State’s basketball team was demoralized in a 22 point loss on the road to the Wisconsin Badgers. Since that game, they have ran off a 4-0 mark, beating a top ten ranked Michigan State Spartan team at the Schottenstein Center and second ranked Indiana on the road on their senior night. With one game remaining Sunday at home against Illinois, perhaps the Buckeyes are beginning to figure themselves out at just the right time!
If you’re like me, the biggest news this week is that spring football practice has opened up and the football Buckeyes are back to work. There are plenty of questions and key positions to keep an eye on.
Most of us won’t have an opportunity to actually see much, if any at all, of the practices. We’ll have to wait until the Big Ten Network shows the Scarlet and Grey game live from Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium on April 13th.
So what will be the talking points that we will be reading about for the next five or so weeks?
With me, as always, it all starts up front. The offensive line returns four of five starters: Marcus Hall and Andrew Norwell at guards, Cory Linsley at center and Jack Mewhort at left tackle. Right tackle is the only spot where a starter does not return, that position was vacated by senior Reid Fragel. It seems likely that Taylor Decker will step into the position and probably never relinquish the spot until he either moves to left tackle or graduates.
We’ll naturally be talking about the progression of Braxton Miller. If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a million times: The 2013 season and its lofty goals will be firmly placed on the shoulders of XBrax360. Miller spent Christmas break out west in San Diego with quarterback guru George Whitfield who is renowned for making running quarterbacks passers and passing quarterbacks more mobile not to mention honing mechanics. He’s worked with some of the best in the NCAA and NFL. What type of impact did he have on Braxton Miller?
The one thing that Whitfield can’t give Miller is confidence in his decisions. That can only come from learning the playbook inside and out and from the support of Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman. When something is second nature, when you’re reacting instead of thinking, that you can truly allow your talents to take over and be fully realized. Miller told Sport Illustrated last week about the amount of work he has been putting in (obviously without coaching supervision) both solo in the film room and on the field with his receivers. The sky is the limit for Braxton Miller. Will he reach it?
Naturally one of the biggest talking points is going to be the backfield and its depth. Carlos Hyde is primed to carry the mail after a 1000 yard season in 2012. The questions becomes how many carries will Warren Ball, Bri’onte Dunn, Jordan Hall and the bruising Rod Smith take away from him?
Speaking of Jordan Hall, do we see him play the “Percy Harvin” role, or will one of the freshmen, namely Dontre Wilson or Jalin Marshall, step into that role and blossom? Marshall comes in as the reigning Mr. Ohio on the high school gridiron and looks to be (solely based on paper, high school highlights and scouting reports) someone who if given the shot may just run away with it. Unfortunately we won’t get to see either of them until August camp opens for the fall.
The receivers all return, but clearly improvement has to be made. While 2012 wasn’t the worst set of wide receivers we’ve seen at Ohio State, it clearly wasn’t one of the better ones either. A real “go-to” guy needs to be established. I like the early season chemistry between Devin Smith and Braxton Miller. I’m hoping this spring for an indication that they are ready to be the next “Smith to Ginn”.
When we turn to the defense, all eyes have to go directly to the middle: The middle linebacker position as in who replaces Zach Boren and on the defensive line as in who replaces Jonathan Hankins.
The coaching staff would like to see Curtis Grant fulfill his potential and be the stalwart middle linebacker he was projected to be. If he cannot, Camren Williams is waiting. Williams saw a lot of playing time in relief roles as a freshman in 2012. I expect he’ll be on the field at middle or elsewhere in 2013 a lot more. This may be the one matchup that all eyes are firmly focused on.
Hankins shoes are a lot bigger but there is stability on the roster. Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt seem like they can handle about anything thrown at them. I can’t wait to see how they handle the starting rotation this spring.
A name to get to know and a player to watch this spring is early enrollee Eli Apple. Another is early enrollee Cameron Burrows. Both are will be fighting for playing time at cornerback opposite Bradley Roby. Apple and Burrows both come into camp ranked in the top ten in the nation amongst cornerbacks by recruiting site Rivals.com and were key signings in the Buckeyes highly rated 2013 recruiting class.
Finally, one of the biggest positives the Buckeyes have coming into this spring compared to last year is that they are a full year into Urban Meyer’s system and it isn’t brand new to everyone. Also, having the entire staff around Meyer return is huge. Continuity within the staff and their familiarity with the players and vice versa should be a major positive for 2013 and especially in the coming weeks.
One thing to remember that makes this spring so important compared to others is that the Buckeyes did not have extra practices for a bowl game in December like is customary. Those practices can prove invaluable in getting younger players full speed reps.
As I mentioned above, Sports Illustrated put Braxton Miller on last week’s cover and did a great write-up on him and his preparations to for the 2013 season. I highly suggest checking it out if you can still find it on shelves.
In that same issue is a fantastic article on the 2013 Cleveland Indians, if that’s your cup of tea. I personally love that flavor and for the first time since 2008 (the year after they almost went to the World Series) actually have high optimism based on what the front office achieved this offseason and the players returning.
Red shirt freshman defensive tackle Se’Vonn Pittman has been released from his scholarship and will transfer out of Ohio State. Pittman was expected to be a contender for playing time in the spots vacated on the defensive line by Jonathan Hankins, John Simon and Garret Goebel. When we have more details on his release, I’ll be sure to pass them along to you.
Wrap it up
Any of you NASCAR fans? NBA fans? With spring football starting, baseball camps open, NASCAR and the NBA in full swing, this can be a pretty exciting time of year for sports! And let’s hope the weather is finally changing for the better! Until next week, Go Bucks!
Metallica track of the week
Let’s go “metal thrashing mad” this week and rip Damage Inc. from the new Quebec live bluray!!