Saturday, March 2, 2013

Thad Minute: Buckeyes grind out the month of February in hoops

PG Aaron Craft's career-high 21-point performance,
sparked the Buckeyes 68-60 upset win over #4 MSU
last Sunday afternoon.
The first weekend in the month of March, can mean only one thing, that Selection Sunday is just two weeks away. March Madness, for a lot of people, the madness has already begun or will begin this weekend, with a number of teams clashing for conference championships, NCAA tournament seeding, and "bubble" bursting implications on-the-line. Let's check out and see how the Men's and Women's basketball programs are doing, heading into March, or other wise known as the "greatest month of college basketball". OH-IO!

Lenzelle Smith, Jr. was lights-out early on, this
past Thursday Night, scoring a season-high 24-points
in Ohio State's 63-53 win at Northwestern.
This past month, the Men's basketball program at Ohio State sure had its up's and down's, but most importantly worked themselves though a tough stretch in conference play (the Big Ten, hands down the best conference in Men's CBB this season) to set themselves up for a potential Top 4 finish in the Big Ten Conference Standings, as well as, a top 4 or 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament here in a couple of weeks.

Beginning the month of February, the Buckeyes went out to Lincoln and got a closer-than-expected 63-56 win over the Cornhuskers to improve their record to 17-4 (7-2 in the Big Ten). The following week, the Buckeyes dropped a pair of games, first on Super Tuesday up in Ann Arbor to that team up north, in a back-and-forth thriller, 76 to 74 in overtime. A questionable no-call at the end of regulation, had Buckeye fans wishing for a rubber match with the Wolverines up in Chicago during the Big Ten Tournament. The Buckeyes, then hosted the #1 team in the country, the Indiana Hoosiers. After keeping it close for most of the 1st half, IU pulled away and took control of the game winning, 81-68. 

After the 0-2 week, the Buckeyes chances of winning the Big Ten Conference (their fourth-straight) took a hit, but all was not lost. The Buckeyes bounced back from the two-game skid, to get a not-so-impressive home win over the Northwestern Wildcats, 67-57. The game was close though out, and NW, who were playing with only seven scholarship players, were leading most of the night, the Buckeyes took over down the stretch, to avoid the home upset. The Northwestern game, should have worked as a bad omen for the Buckeyes, as they were hammered up in Madison vs. the Badgers in their next game, 71-49. The loss dropped the Buckeyes to 1-7 vs. ranked-teams this season, and once again showcased the Buckeyes struggles to beat quality opponents.

Following the blowout loss up in Madison, the Buckeyes have rebounded nicely, winning three straight games. The first, a blowout win in front of the hometown fans in Columbus vs. the Minnesota Golden Gophers (71-45). Next came, an upset win last Sunday against the #4 ranked Michigan State Spartans, 68-60. The Buckeyes received a pleasant surprise, from PG Aaron Craft in this one, dropping a game-high 21-points (career high). Once again, the Buckeyes beat the Wildcats of Northwestern a couple nights ago, on the road this time, with yet another hard-fought game against a short-handed Northwestern squad (scrubs vs. stars), 63-53. For the second game in-a-row, the Buckeyes had someone besides DeShaun Thomas (19.8 ppg) lead them in scoring, as Lenzelle Smith, Jr. came out firing up 3's, finishing with a game-high 24 points (season high for Smith, Jr.). It's been nice to see someone help out with the scoring along side D. Thomas. Thomas, who leads the Big Ten in scoring thus far this season, has been struggling recently with his shot. As he works out of this current slump, let's hope Craft, Smith, Jr., or one of the other role players, can provide the team with a second scoring option, that they have been looking for all season long.

With just two games remaining on the schedule (@ IU Feb. 5th, vs. Illinois Feb. 10th) for the regular season, the Buckeyes still cling to an outside chance (with a little help of course) of winning another Big Ten Conference regular season title. The more likely scenario, would be a Top 4 finish in the Big Ten standings, and a good showing in conference tournament in a couple weeks. Right now, the Buckeyes are slated as a 5th-seed in the latest projected NCAA Tournament bracket. With a good finish to the season, the Buckeyes could find themselves with some momentum and a higher NCAA tournament seed. Go Buckeyes!

Senior Guard Amber Stokes contributed 12 points,
in the Lady Buckeyes 67-60 win over the Lady Spartans.
The Ohio State Lady Buckeyes, finished off the month of February going 5-2 in Big Ten play, following the team's dreadful 1-8 mark in January. At 16-12 (5-9 in Big Ten), the Lady Buckeyes showed some improvement over this past month. The Lady Buckeyes started off the month on a three-game winning streak with wins over Indiana on the road (70-56), a double overtime thriller at home vs. Wisconsin (65-59), followed by a road win over Northwestern (59-52). A close 1st half in the ladies next game at Nebraska, the Lady Buckeyes saw their three-game streak come to an end, in a 58-39 loss to the Lady Cornhuskers. Following the Nebraska game, the Lady Buckeyes suffered a heartbreaking one-point loss at home to Minnesota (57-56). Since then, the Buckeyes have won two in-a-row with wins over Michigan State (67-60, at home) and Illinois (64-53 on the road).

The Lady Buckeyes are still lead by Senior Guard Tayler Hill, averaging 21.2 ppg (11th in the nation). A bright side for the Lady Buckeyes has been the balance scoring over the past few weeks of games, from the others on the team, helping out Hill. The Lady Buckeyes finish out their schedule tomorrow afternoon on Senior Day in Columbus vs. Michigan. At 16-12, the Lady Buckeyes chances of making the "Big Dance" this season, are slim and most likely, probably come down to them pulling off a couple of upsets in the Women's Big Ten Tourney and snagging the conference's automatic-bid. 

Unfortunately, the poor month of January costed them a spot in the NCAA tournament this season. The Lady Buckeyes are probably headed to the NIT postseason Tournament, and a nice showing there, would get the ladies over the 20-win mark on the season, and I would say that would be a nice overall record. After how bad the month of January went, I'm just glad the ladies didn't tank the rest of the season, and they showed some fight down the stretch.

I'll be back in a couple weeks with a special "Selection Sunday/Monday" edition of college basketball and fill you all in on the Men's and Women's NCAA Tournaments, along with an update on how the Ohio State basketball programs finished up their seasons. Until then, when did this become such a bad thing...