July 25, 2014

Aaron Craft lies with Huell, NBA jersey ads, Mark Sanchez and The Killers… While We’re Waiting

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It was an eventful week off with Denny filling in for me. I always love reading writing written by Denny so it was nice of him to pick me up last week. But I’m back, so let’s go.

First things first, please go vote for my podcast and the WFNY website in general at Cleveland Scene magazine’s Best of Cleveland 2014. Even if you don’t vote for anything else (you’ll have to meet the 10-topic requirement), please go over there, log in and mark the circles for the page and podcast. Thanks!

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Imperfect finish to an imperfect season: Bucks fall to Dayton

craftmissIt was the opener to the wall of games yesterday afternoon. In the in-state matchup that doesn’t happen very often, “little brother” Dayton had nothing to lose against the Buckeyes, and they played like it. The Ohio State Buckeyes showed their warts as they have all season long, and they went down just as they have in nearly every loss this season, looking like a team without a leading scorer. Former Buckeye Jordan Sibert and the Flyers provided the first upset of the tourney with a 60-59 stunner as Vee Sanford provided the game-winner with 3.8 seconds remaining, sandwiched between would-be game-winners from Buckeye heart and soul Aaron Craft. One unbelievable make and one heart-wrenching miss. The Buckeyes end the season 25-10, a far cry from many of the early season expectations. Now, they have to say goodbye to one of the most polarizing figures to don the scarlet and gray in the last half century.

The same things that plagued Ohio State all season long manifested again today: their lack of consistent play from the center position, the uneven shooting of their two leading scorers LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith Jr., the lack of outside shooting from Shannon Scott, and turnovers. But, the things that kept giving you hope all season long that they could turn it around were on display too: a surprise performance from one of those inconsistent players (Sam Thompson), clutch and gritty play from Aaron Craft, and tenacious defense that racked up stop after stop after stop. [Read more...]

Buckeyes land a No. 6 seed for 2014 Men’s NCAA Tournament

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Though things have seemingly been a nightmare since our own TD proclaimed Ohio State as a National Championship contender, the Buckeyes were made aware of their fate on Sunday night as they were handed a six-seed in this year’s NCAA men’s tournament.

Ohio State meets 11th-seeded Dayton in the “second round” of the NCAA tournament’s South Region as the teams meet Thursday in Buffalo, NY.

The Buckeyes (25-9) have been one of the most up-and-down teams in the field, rising to No. 3 nationally after a 15-0 start only to lose five of six and fall out of the Top 25 all together. Their Big Ten Tournament run came to an end on Saturday afternoon when they fell to the Michigan Wolverines in what many would call a “nail-biter.”

From ESPN.com’s Eamonn Brennan:

Aaron Craft is a smart dude with enough perspective to be able to laugh at something as visually hilarious as a high-level college basketball player missing a last-second 3 because the ball goofily slips out of his hands. The gifs won’t haunt him. But Craft’s slip in the final Big Ten game of his career Saturday was revealing about the Buckeyes as a whole. Thad Matta’s team defends like crazy, but it doesn’t score like crazy. There is no go-to finisher on call. That’s why Craft has to hoist the unlikely last-second 3-pointer in close games and why it’s hard to trust the Buckeyes with one of your bracket’s precious Elite Eight spots.

The Flyers (23-10) lost in the Atlantic 10 tournament quarterfinals to keep them on the NCAA bubble. Dayton last made the tournament in 2009. For either team to make it to the Final Four, they will have to also take on the Syracuse Orangemen, Kansas Jayhawks and top-ranked Florida Gators. Just a few days before we find out which team will have the chance to wear the ever-coveted glass slipper.

Buckeye Senior Day completes long strange regular season trip

craftdivesrdayBasing your analyses of the Big Ten basketball season on anything other than pure randomness has seemingly been a fruitless task. There’s no better example of this than the current campaign for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Let’s recap just a bit: Two losses to Penn State, the first two in Thad Matta’s tenure; wins at Iowa and Wisconsin, two of the biggest threats in the upcoming Big Ten conference tournament; losses at Lincoln, Minneapolis, and Bloomington. The Buckeyes won twice to open the conference slate and followed that with losses in five of six, followed by wins in six out of seven, then inexplicable losses at Penn State and Indiana. Fans of the scarlet and gray have surely been up and down the Columbus roundball roller coaster. Then, Sunday happened.

On Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr.’s Senior Day, a tall task stood in the way of a happy ending in the Michigan State Spartans. The two had squared off in a top-five showdown earlier in the season with Ohio State putting forth a miracle sprint to force overtime only to fall just short. This time, the Buckeyes used their vice-like defende to hold on for the win despite stalled offense and a parade of missed free throws in crunch time. The 69-67 Buckeye win kept the hopes of a Big Ten tourney first-round bye alive (these were ultimately dashed by the Huskers), but more importantly, it was a positive finish to a whirlwind year, sending out the seniors properly.

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Aaron Craft, the senior leader every team wants and only one has

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When one attempts to put into words the impact that Aaron Craft has on a basketball game, a team’s season, or a program in four short years, it proves to be an incredibly tough task. Running jokes about Craft’s tenure at Ohio State lasting the better part of a decade aside, he’s been the engine that keeps his team running, all the while saying the right things and excelling in the classroom. Ohio State basketball had seen some of its darkest days in Craft’s tenure with the team—and likely longer with losses in five out of seven January contests, including failures against bottom-dwellers Nebraska and Penn State.

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One loss….And I am officially sold

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Last night was an eye opening evening in my favorite sport. As I laid in my bed with a wicked sore throat, I had a few moments of clarity as conference play began all over the country. Iowa State, which is one of the five remaining unbeaten teams, is to me the clear front runner in the Big 12, a league that has been won by Kansas nine consecutive years. The SEC is easily the worst of the power conferences; one of their alleged better teams, LSU, was destroyed at home by Tennessee last night and looked bad doing so. But my biggest perception change for the better came from a team that lost.

I am officially sold on the Ohio State Buckeyes as a Final Four contender.

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OSU’s second miraculous comeback falls just short

lovingmsuAn outcome assured, I was armed with thoughts of disappointment. The Buckeyes, relatively untested through 15 games, headed to East Lansing for their toughest game on the regular season slate, and they didn’t look ready for it. A season-high 17 turnovers in the game’s first 32 minutes, the team’s two leading scorers in LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith Jr. a combined for 4-for-18 for 12 points, a scoreless first half from the starting backcourt of Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott, a run of 11-2 to close the first half, and falling behind by 17 points in the second half were going to be the key barbs to hammer home.

And then, sheer lunacy unfolded. The Bucks erased that 17-point hole to force overtime and nearly pulled off the stunner in the Breslin Center. Sparty on the strength of key threes from Keith Appling and Adreian Payne regrouped to hold on 72-68 in overtime, but it was the comeback and the emergence of new ready-for-primetime players that has me most intrigued moving forward.

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While We’re Waiting… Thoughts on the state of the Cavs

While We’re Waiting is a space on the WaitingForNextYear website where we share links every day. We’ve been doing it for about four years or so. Denny Mayo used to be much more amusing with his intros, if you recall. You know the drill: Email us with suggestions at tips@waitingfornextyear.com.

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What are the Cavs right now? Who is their core? Looking deep inside their system: “So far this season, despite a near abuse of the words ‘culture’ and ‘process’ in Mike Brown’s renewed jog with the team, the Cavs seem more like a DeMarcus Cousins Kings team than a culture team. Right now, their identity is a cult of personality… and that personality is the Rubix Cube that is Andrew Bynum.” [Robert Attenweiler/Cavs: The Blog] [Read more...]

Buckeyes beat Marquette in first early season test

smithjrmarqOne year later, following a non-game debacle on an aircraft carrier in Charleston, South Carolina, the 10th-ranked Buckeyes and 17th-ranked Golden Eagles finally got together to play some basketball. I’d be lying to you if I said that this game was some kind of classic game. In fact, it was ugly, and that’s coming from someone who sat through the Cavs-Bobcats game in person on Friday night! Two coaches and two teams that pride themselves on scrappy, defensive play and athleticism don’t always have good shooting to accompany that. The Buckeyes grabbed the win by a 52-35 margin as the two teams combined to score the fewest number of first half points this season in college basketball. Here are some thoughts on the Bucks’ key early season victory.

-When I first saw that Thad Matta chose to start both Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott in the backcourt to begin the season, I was confused and didn’t necessarily agree with the decision. First, it makes the Buckeye starting five incredibly small with the 6’2″ Craft, 6’3″ Scott, and the 6’4″ Lenzelle Smith Jr. sliding over to play the three spot. But, as it is, Sam Thompson comes off the bench as a super sixth man. But, you see why Matta likes this setup for defensive purposes. [Read more...]

Video: Aaron Craft solves rubik’s cube then signs it for fan

The Ohio State men’s basketball team began their season on Saturday with an 89-50 victory over Morgan State. While there were many highlights in a 39 point victory, the moment generating the most buzz happened before the ball even tipped off.

While in the tunnel signing autographs, Buckeyes’ senior guard Aaron Craft was handed a rubik’s cube by a fan. A little over a minute later, the cube was solved and the fan had one very unique piece of memorabilia from the Big Ten’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year.

Craft’s rubik’s cube skills first gained notoriety back in his sophomore season. After reportedly completing one with one hand while conducting a phone interview with CBSSports, Craft put his skills on display for the cameras at The Big Ten Network.

In addition to being known for his talents on the court, Craft was named the 2012-13 Men’s Basketball Academic All-America Team Members of the Year.

Craft had 5 points, 6 assists, and 6 rebounds in the Buckeyes’ blowout win.

[Related: Uni Talk: Threads of the Scarlet and Gray]

Buckeye Basketball 12-Pack: Closing Thoughts

Thad MattaIt was an up and down season for Thad Matta’s Ohio State Buckeyes. The team ended their season last Saturday night with a 29-8 record and a loss to Wichita State in the Elite Eight 70-66 after trailing by as many as 20 points in the game. Prior to that, the Buckeyes were on a 11-game winning streak that included wins over Michigan State (twice), Wisconsin, Indiana, and lethal offenses in Iowa State and Arizona in the NCAA tournament. In many respects this team overachieved, yet their hot streak, easy tournament draw, and wide open West bracket left falling short of the Final Four a clear disappointment. Here, I’ll cover some of my lasting thoughts from another season of Buckeye basketball. [Read more...]

Power Outage Sends Bucks Home Instead Of On To Atlanta

amirblankstareEleven minutes. With 11 minutes to go in their season, the Ohio State Buckeyes woke up out of a coma and started playing. Down 20, they made a valiant comeback effort, closing it to as little as 3 points with 2:48 remaining. However, their disgraceful first half play which included 24% shooting plus a couple of missed defensive rebounds late were too much to overcome as the ninth-seeded Wichita State Shockers stunned the Bucks 70-66 to advance to the Final Four in Atlanta. The loss ends OSU’s season, and it leaves the team and its fans asking what went wrong on the Staples Center floor for a majority of the game. [Read more...]

LaQuintessential! Ross Sends Bucks To Elite 8 on Second Straight GW Shot

rossgwzonaTwo straight games. Two shot clocks turned off with a tie game and the ball in the Buckeyes’ hands. Sean Miller’s Arizona Wildcats weren’t going to give Aaron Craft another clean look at a game-winning jumpshot, and Deshaun Thomas had a defender glued on him in the corner. Without calling a timeout, Thad Matta called a Craft-LaQuinton Ross pick and roll from the sideline. When both defenders collapsed on Craft, the Buckeye point made the right read once again, kicking it to Ross, who buried a NBA-range three ball to give the Buckeyes the lead with two seconds remaining and eventually the win.

It capped off a 14-point second half for Ross, and the sophomore who got a late start  as a freshman and next to nothing in terms of playing time last year saved his team for the second straight game. The Buckeyes won 76-73, and they’re going to their second straight Elite 8 after the win in Los Angeles last night. For the second straight game, however, they faced plenty of adversity.

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Animated: Ohio State Buckeyes game winner by LaQuinton Ross

The title says it all. It was a close game. It was a poorly officiated game both ways. In the end, all that matters is that the Ohio State Buckeyes advance. And they do so in spectacular fashion once again. This time Aaron Craft dished to LaQuinton Ross who nailed a long three to secure the victory over Arizona. Elite Eight coming right up.

LaQuinton Ross Game Winner

[Related: Animated: Aaron Craft sends Ohio State to the Sweet 16]

The Diff: NCAA tournament Sweet 16 odds

Over the month of March, The Diff has been all about college basketball. First, it was the bubble odds, then an update of said bubble odds, and most recently, initial tournament odds. With the Buckeyes tipping off in the Sweet 16 tomorrow night in Los Angeles, I’m back with another round of updates today.

The Diff

On one side of the argument, it was an exciting weekend for upsets and the average college basketball fan. 15 Florida Gulf Coast shocked the world and their jump into the spotlight almost seems like it has to be a Hollywood script. The success of 9 Wichita State, 12 Oregon and 13 La Salle also has been a fun surprise for many, even if their brackets were busted. Which then brings me to the other side of the argument — the success of stat predictions. I warned last week that I’ve never been very good at brackets. And thus far, the stats have been way off. [Read more...]

Craft’s Game-Winner, Late Heroics Save Bucks From Cyclone Upset

craftgwiowastateTwo turnovers. Two missed free throws at the front end of 1-and-1s. Four missed free throws total in the second half. A layup that had too much spin on it and spun out.

These are all things that happened to Aaron Craft late in this ballgame. The Twitter crowd was out with its pitchforks and lit torches, ready to strike the Buckeyes’ junior point guard. What was a 13-point lead with six minutes remaining became a 2-point deficit with two minutes to go following a 17-2 flash twister from Iowa State. But, Craft made play after play down the stretch, and the goat horns drawn in pencil were erased by a controversial charge taken, a gritty and-one bucket inside, and the game-winner with 0.5 seconds remaining as Craft waved off Deshaun Thomas and sunk the shot himself to lead his Buckeyes to a 4th straight Sweet 16 in a 78-75 thriller in Dayton. [Read more...]

NCAA Tournament: Statement on Ohio State-Iowa State charge

The NCAA has released an official statement on the controversial charge call from the end of today’s Ohio State-Iowa State third round game in Dayton.

Here is the response from John Adams, NCAA National Coordinator of Men’s Basketball Officiating, that was sent out to the media this afternoon:

“I spoke with the official, and he determined the defender established legal guarding position outside the restricted area prior to the offensive player leaving the floor to start his shot. When asked, the official said he did not see the defender’s foot over the restricted area line. By rule, this is not a reviewable play.”

Moments after this supposed charge was taken by Aaron Craft, he nailed a three-pointer that sent the Buckeyes to the Sweet 16 in Los Angeles. Our friends at SB Nation have an excellent review as well of the detailed nuances behind this NCAA decision.

[Related: Animated: Aaron Craft sends Ohio State to the Sweet 16]

Animated: Aaron Craft sends Ohio State to the Sweet 16

It was the ultimate “No no no no no no… YES!” shot. Aaron Craft is not known to be a three point shooter. He wasn’t even going to be known as a free throw shooter much as he missed some of those down the stretch of this game. But, in this one time with this moment in front of him with a tie game, Aaron Craft stepped up, waved off his teammates and drained a three point shot with almost no time remaining.

Animated: Aaron Craft Drops It

[Related: Slammin’ Sammy: Buckeyes Crush Iona’s Will In Tourney Opener]

Slammin’ Sammy: Buckeyes Crush Iona’s Will In Tourney Opener

thompsonslamiona“I think they haven’t played against the style of play like we play. I think they play a lot of teams that like to slow it up, and they can really get into them. Because we pressure so much and we go against it every day in practice, I don’t think it’s something we’ll have a problem with.

Those were the words of Iona guard Lamont “Momo” Jones this week prior to last night’s game. The transfer from Arizona had an air of confidence about him heading into this 15-2 matchup against the Ohio State Buckeyes. There’s no doubt that two wins by 15 seeds in last year’s tournament (as well as one yesterday during this game) aided that confidence. It’s a fair argument that Ohio State has only faced a few teams that like to play an up tempo pace. However, that air of confidence was squeezed out of Jones and Iona’s third highest-scoring offense by Aaron Craft and company. Forty minutes later, Jones made just 3-of-14 shots for 9 points and the Buckeyes forced 19 turnovers, scored 29 points off those turnovers, and scored 34 points via the fastbreak as they obliterated the Gaels early in the second half and cruised to a 95-70 victory in their NCAA Tournament opener. [Read more...]

O So Beautiful: Wisconsin’s Ugly Pace, But OSU’s Big Ten Tourney Title

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It started four weeks to the day in a hostile Madison environment. The Buckeyes were absolutely smoked by 22, getting their doors blown off from the outset in a 24-6 hole and decimating their Big Ten regular season title hopes (or so we thought). Thad Matta said to his team after that game, “It was embarrassing and we’re not going to let this go. We’re going to beat this drum until you guys realize this can never happen again.” Since then, Ohio State has turned the corner. They’re one of the hottest teams in the country, and after wins against Nebraska and Michigan State, they capped off their weekend with a third win in three days, capturing Matta’s fourth Big Ten Tournament Championship and third in four years as they beat Wisconsin at their own slow-paced game with a 50-43 win.

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