Big Ten Season Wrap-Up: Ohio StatePosted by Deepak Jayanti on April 5th, 2012
The last five minutes of the Final Four game were a blur for the Buckeyes. Despite cruising for most of the game, Ohio State tightened up during the final few minutes of the loss to Kansas. Jared Sullinger had some issues in the paint against the longer Jeff Withey and Thomas Robinson dominated the Buckeyes in the paint on the offensive end. But regardless of the outcome of the game, Thad Matta did an excellent job with his young Buckeyes as he led them to its second Final Four in six seasons. What used to be a great accomplishment for OSU basketball to make the Final Four has now become an expectation during Matta’s regime. And that’s a good expectation because he has raised the bar in Columbus with consistent incoming talent and superb coaching. Both of his best recruiting classes – one with Greg Oden and another with Jared Sullinger — have resulted in a trip to the Final Four. It is only a matter of time before Matta cracks the Final Four barrier and wins the national title. Every young coach had to go through some growing pains – Bill Self, Roy Williams and the latest addition to the championship table, John Calipari. Let’s take a trip back through the 2011-12 campaign and assess OSU’s overall performance.
- In a nutshell: Jared Sullinger returned to Columbus for another year of education, late night meals at Taco Bell, and a national championship. Even though he fell short of the title, a Final Four caps off two great years of college ball before he heads to the NBA. Thad Matta’s freshman class 2011 showed tremendous improvement as Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft added new facets to their game. Along with Lenzelle Smith, Jr., the core of that group should be back next season for another run at a Big Ten championship.
- Overachievement: The Buckeyes had high expectations before the season, so nothing that they did could technically be classified as overachievement. Thad Matta did a great job of preparing for the postseason after a late slump near the end of conference play. After their loss to Wisconsin at home, Matta got his players to refocus and come back for clutch wins on the road against Northwestern and Michigan State, sealing a share of the regular season Big Ten title. Even though they met a bar that was already set high, the turnaround over the last few weeks leading up to the Final Four is the closest aspect of their season that can be categorized as an overachievement for this squad.
- Underachievement: It is tough to criticize a team after making the Final Four, but if one has to pick a specific aspect of the Buckeyes that was consistent with their demise (specifically in the loss to Kansas), it was their lack of offense in key spots. When Sullinger had trouble scoring in the paint, the team could not find a consistent scorer during the final few possessions. Senior guard William Buford capped off a great career at Ohio State with two Sweet Sixteen appearances along with a Final Four, but many expected him to be more of a leader after four years in the Big Ten. Except for his shot against Michigan State on the road to clinch a share of the Big Ten title, Buford did not always assert himself during the clutch — at least, not as much as those expectations for him. Once again, it is tough to pick on a guy who was the glue of his team and scored 19 against KU in the Final Four, but during a great season for OSU, it was the one thing that may have been the difference between a loss last Saturday and a national championship.
- Final Grade: It depends where the bar was set before the season and by whom. Sullinger might think anything short of a championship is a failure but it is tough to argue with a Final Four and a regular season B1G title. Matta could have used the bench a little bit more, but he has proved over the last two seasons that he is comfortable tightening up his rotation during late February and the postseason. They beat Syracuse, one of the top teams the entire season in the regional finals, albeit without their best true post player. We were already being overly critical by calling out Buford’s play during certain games, but fans in Columbus and the rest of the Big Ten should be quite satisfied with Ohio State’s season, especially in March. The Buckeyes’ final grade this season is a strong A.