Night Line: Buckeyes Find Signature Win In BloomingtonPosted by BHayes on March 6th, 2013
Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.
They don’t come much better than this. In fact, they might not come any better than this. Ohio State walked out of Assembly Hall with a convincing 67-58 victory over Indiana on Tuesday night, securing a resume-defining win that could easily be considered the scalp of the year in college basketball this season. Only Wisconsin can join the Buckeyes in saying they walked out of Bloomington victorious in 2012-13, but the Badgers didn’t have to do it on Senior Night, nor with the rights to a Big Ten title on the line. Neither factor seemed to matter much to the Buckeyes, who put together a near-flawless final 10 minutes to earn the win. The loss for the Hoosiers may raise questions about their presumptive status as the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, but it also may serve as a perception-changer for the Bucks. Crazy as it sounds, one massive win may be all it takes to erase from the memory banks a season’s worth of misses versus the Big Ten’s upper echelon. Ohio State suddenly feels like a March contender.
It’s been business as usual in Columbus in many ways this season — another 20-win campaign, 12 more Big Ten victories (after tonight), a high seed awaiting on Selection Sunday. But these Buckeyes have flown a course far further off the national radar than Thad Matta teams of years past. Tonight’s startling victory may change that trajectory, but a glance at the Buckeyes’ profile also begs the question of why it took us so long to notice. Sure, the Bucks whiffed in a lot of big spots this season. But when you take inventory of their schedule (a whopping nine games against teams in KenPom’s current top 11), it’s pretty evident that a lot of good teams might have suffered the same fate given the circumstances. A handful of those games were there for their taking, with contests at Duke, Michigan and Michigan State all fitting that bill, so it isn’t as if they did much to embarrass themselves in those defeats. Tonight’s win doesn’t erase all doubts about the Bucks, but it puts previous missteps in a far more forgivable light.
But this isn’t just about fans and media viewing a team differently — the squad on the floor Tuesday night is also an improved one from the start of the season. Offensive diversity may still be lacking around Deshaun Thomas, but the Buckeyes make you come out and beat them — with a capital B. They do not turn the ball over (14th nationally in turnover percentage) and remain one of the best defensive teams in the land (12th in defensive efficiency): two traits that eerily mimic the skill set of their leader, Aaron Craft. Thomas’ offensive abilities are supremely important to this team, but the most indispensable Buckeye is the junior point guard. Thad Matta and company have built their identity around him, and the continued development of that persona is what suddenly has Ohio State peaking in March.