Five Things We Learned From a Thrashing of Wisconsin
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Sunday’s regular season finale against Wisconsin could not have unfolded much better for Thad Matta and the Buckeyes.
Not only did they celebrate another Big Ten championship by cutting down the nets at Value City Arena, but they did it at the expense of Wisconsin.
“I don’t know if you could script it much better,” Matta said after Ohio State’s 93-65 win.
“I thought our defensive effort was incredible; obviously they (Wisconsin) have the ability to make you pay. It was incredible how well we shot the basketball though.”
Led by Jon Diebler, the Buckeyes were 14-of-15 behind the arc as they completely dismantled the only team on their schedule they had yet to beat this season.
We take a look at the five things we learned from Sunday’s Senior Day Send-off.
Photo by Dan Harker
1. This senior class was special. It’s crazy to think that David Lighty, Jon Diebler and Dallas Lauderdale are the first seniors to play all four years at Ohio State under Thad Matta. They aren’t his first graduating seniors, but they are the first players he recruited who have seen the process through from start to finish. They have been through some amazing ups and downs over the last four years (five in Lighty’s case), including missing the NCAA Tournament and being bounced in the first round the next year.
They’ve had to overcome the early defections of Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Deaquan Cook, Kosta Koufos, B.J. Mullens and Evan Turner, and yet this year’s team might be Matta’s best one yet. William Buford, Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft have a lot to do with that, but the real credit has to go to the three seniors. There’s a reason the Buckeyes have won 22 straight games at home and 44 of 48 overall.
Photo by Dan Harker
2. Diebler has found it at the right time. After making 15 three-pointers in the month of February, Jon Diebler has caught fire in the month of March, and there’s not a better month to be hot. The all-time three-point king in Ohio State and Big Ten history has saved his best for last. Since missing his last five threes against Indiana on February 27, Diebler has knocked down 17 of his last 20 tries from behind the arc. It’s not just the fact he’s hitting, it’s the way he’s hitting them.
Diebler has never shown the kind of confidence his has displayed over the last two games. He has a look in his eyes and when he lets the ball go. He knows it’s going down. Never was that more apparent than his final three of the first half. With a hand in his face and the clock ticking down, Diebler calmly pulled up and buried a three from 25 feet. His shots are ripping the cord and they’re barely hitting the net. It couldn’t have come together at a better time. If he can keep this through the tournament the Buckeyes are going to be borderline unbeatable.
Photo by Dan Harker
3. Sullinger has a fire that burns deep. Spend any time with Jared Sullinger and you will quickly realize how much personality he has. He is quick to smile or crack a joke and seems to be unfazed by just about anything that comes his way…anything other than losing, that is. For 24 games, Sullinger was smiles. The Buckeyes were winning and life was good. Even when Sullinger was being fouled without a call, he took it in stride. Then the Buckeyes blew a 15-point lead at Wisconsin, and according to Sullinger, a fan spit on him as he was leaving the court. That awakened a different side of Sullinger, a side that talked openly about wanting to beat the Badgers by 50 points.
“If we could, we would. Wisconsin’s a good team. That first loss I didn’t take too lightly,” Sullinger said.
“I wanted to win, and I wanted to win big.”
The thing about Sullinger is, he doesn’t take any loss lightly. Matta called him “a winner,” and that is really what he is. Whether it’s winning championships in high school, AAU or college, Sullinger has done very little losing in his basketball career. He doesn’t like the taste, and it’s that fire burning deep within in that drives him every day to be great. He is mature well beyond his 19 years of life.
4. The Schott has enormous potential. Count me among those who have been critical of the gameday environment at the Schottenstein Center. On a game-to-game basis it has to be one of the worst atmospheres in the Big Ten. That’s not a knock on the arena itself. It’s a great piece of architecture and I’m sure it is a very effective recruiting tool. Instead of playing in a glorified high school gym, players get a chance to play in an NBA-type arena. The problem is, it’s a library in there compared to places like Wisconsin, Purdue and Michigan State. When Ohio State played in West Lafayette last month, there were times I could barely hear myself think.
Sunday was the first time I felt there was hope for the Schott. With Senior Day and Wisconsin in town, the place was rocking. It was the best environment I can remember in that place, and some of the older beat writers were saying the same thing.
Moving the students behind the bench made a huge difference this year and has actually brought some character to an otherwise lifeless crowd. The fans were loud and they were creative. One fan even held up a sign that said “Hey Wisconsin, we’ll use your spit to shine our trophy.”
If they could recreate that environment every game, Ohio State would have a top-five gameday environment in the Big Ten.
OSU fans are making The Schott a formidable place.
Photo by Dan Harker
5. When Buckeyes are at their best, they could beat any team in America. One big reason the place was rocking Sunday was the fact Ohio State was rolling. With Diebler and his teammates dropping three after three, they were putting on a show for the sold-out crowd. When they play like that, they can’t be beat. It’s that simple. If they’re going to play defense like that with Sullinger taking over inside and the perimeter guys knocking down shots, it’s going to be a long day for any opponent. That’s not to say that Duke or Pitt or Texas couldn’t give them a game, but the two times they have played to their maximum potential this year, they blew out a pair of top-10 teams in Purdue and Wisconsin.
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