Buckeyes Boost Postseason Resume With a Win Over the SpartansPosted by Deepak Jayanti on February 25th, 2013
Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.
In addition to bubble talk over the next few weeks, bracketologists will consider teams’ resumes based on their quality wins even if they are a lock for an at-large bid. The most recent bracket prediction by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has Ohio State slated as a #5 seed in the East Region, but after Sunday’s 68-60 win over Michigan State, the Buckeyes can begin to make a case for an even higher seed. Other than their win in January over Michigan, OSU does not have many quality wins on their resume. They couldn’t keep up with Kansas at home and they were close but came up short against Michigan State on the road a few weeks ago. On the flip side, they don’t have any “bad” losses either, so they are just stuck in the middle of the road where they might have to settle for a mid-range seed unless they can rack up some wins over highly-ranked opponents soon. Aaron Craft willed his team to a huge win yesterday and it means more than just a boost to their resume because they did it on a day when Deshaun Thomas was not offensively effective.
Thad Matta‘s squad beat Tom Izzo‘s team in their own game — they won “ugly” by playing stingy defense and basically out-muscling their opponent during the second half. Thomas finished the game with 14 points but shot just 4-of-16 from the field. He was held scoreless for 15 minutes during the first half as the Spartans’ Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne hounded him with their length and intensity. To make matters worse, the Spartans outrebounded the Buckeyes by six, which didn’t help OSU in the paint either. But after 25 minutes of just hanging around the game, Matta urged his team to step up on defense and Craft executed on the court.
There was no tougher player on the court than Craft as he held Keith Appling to 1-of-6 from the floor and just three points. Craft is obviously known for effective on-ball defense but he was relentless in attacking the basket consistently to get to the free throw line, where he shot 7-of-8 from the charity stripe. The junior point guard finished the game with 21 points and had a partner in crime in Evan Ravenel who was also extremely active on both ends of the floor — holding his own against Derrick Nix in the post and setting ball-screens for Craft. The big man grabbed five boards and scored 10 points which was instrumental in helping the Buckeyes hold off MSU in the second half. His screens won’t show up on the stat sheet but they allowed Craft to muscle his way to the basket at least five times as OSU built a 10-point lead heading into the final minutes. Both Ravenel and Craft proved on Sunday they don’t always need Thomas to be on his game as long as they can continue to stay aggressive and play effective defense.
How does this win help Matta’s team over the next few weeks? First, it helps with their confidence with the possibility of finishing strong with three games left against Northwestern, Indiana, and Illinois. Winning at Indiana is unlikely considering how hot the Hoosiers have been lately, but Craft and company should be able to handle the other two games. Assuming that they win two out of the next three, a 12-6 record in the nation’s best conference would be a great accomplishment for a team that hasn’t found a consistent second scoring option all season. It is unlikely that Matta will suddenly have one of his sophomores — Shannon Scott, Laquinton Ross, or Sam Thompson — step up to score 13 PPG rest of the way, but he will take any win that is a result of effective defense from his guys. With Craft around, there won’t be a dearth of defense or toughness, that is for certain.