Three Key Takeaways.
- Aaron Craft struggles, but still came up big. Craft has become a hero for the fans of advanced metrics and hard-nosed defense, but he struggled tonight for a large part of the game. He played his usual excellent defense, but the shots were not falling and he made several ill-advised passes and missed his first five shots before getting his shot to fall. His totals were not impressive (11 points, four rebounds, and five assists) he provided the defensive pressure that kept the Bearcats from breaking through when they came on strong in the second half.
- Give credit to Cincinnati for rebounding. They may have come up short in the second half against the Buckeyes, but Bearcat fans should look back on the second half of this season fondly. After the team could have (and probably should have) imploded following their brawl against Xavier, the team struggled while it was getting players back from suspension, but then rebound to finish the season impressively going from close to the bubble to becoming a #6 seed with an impressive run that saw them knock off a #1 seed (Syracuse), a #2 seed (Marquette), and a #3 seed (Georgetown) before losing to a Louisville team that will be playing in the Elite Eight on Saturday. Mick Cronin and his players took a lot of heat in the aftermath of the event, but now they deserve some praise.
- Where was William Buford? Several key players came up big for the Buckeyes, but their senior guard was not one of them. He finished with just four points on 1-8 shooting. In fact, you could point to him picking up his fourth foul with 9:16 left as the turning point in the game. After that point the Buckeyes took over and never looked back. Everybody is allowed to have a bad game, but when you get this far into the NCAA Tournament you need to be able to rely on your seniors for somewhat consistent play. The Buckeyes will need more out of him if they are going to beat the Orange on Saturday.
Star of the Game. Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State. The third most lauded of the Buckeye sophomore, exploded in the first half with 20 points on 8-12 from the field including 3-5 from 3-point range. While he cooled off considerably in the second half finishing with 26 points on 10-17 from the field it was his first half explosion that helped carry the Buckeyes at the beginning of this game. With the way that Thomas has been playing, do not be shocked if you hear his name mentioned as a potential early entry.
Sights & Sounds. Neither coach was as demonstrative as Bo Ryan was in the last game, but the Buckeye fans were seated directly behind us. What was unusual about them (or at least the ones behind me) was that they were not as loud and boisterous as I would expect, but instead were more analytical. Maybe I just got lucky, but all game long they kept on commenting on great Craft was on defense.
What’s Next? The Buckeyes get the matchup that everybody was pointing to when the brackets came out. Syracuse may not be quite as formidable as many had thought now that Fab Melo is off the team, but as they proved tonight they are a more than worth adversary. Jared Sullinger should have his way on the inside without a great defensive presence to disrupt him, but the Orange have a variety of perimeter players to throw at Craft, Thomas, and company. We cannot imagine any way that it does not turn out to be a great game.