We’ve been hearing it all year, but it had been getting louder recently. The talk about Jared Sullinger not being as dominant as last season, the talk about William Buford’s inconsistency, the talk about the lack of 3-point shooters, the talk about a lack of toughness and chemistry.
Well, despite the supposed flaws and weaknesses, one thing is clear: Ohio State is still a Final Four-caliber team.
The Buckeyes demonstrated that potential during their 15-point comeback and late victory at Michigan State on Sunday afternoon. Sullinger struggled, but still managed to get 14 points and 10 rebounds. Buford made big shot after big shot down the stretch, including the game-winner with 1.0 seconds left. Aaron Craft had seven rebounds, six assists and four steals.
This team has the pieces. Sullinger is still a hoss on the low block, capable of carrying Ohio State on the offensive end and getting opposing big men in foul trouble. He hasn’t been as effective as he was last season, but he’s still one of the nation’s best big men.
When Buford is hitting shots, he’s nearly impossible to guard. He steps up at clutch times, and is not afraid to take the big shot. Buford has deep range on his shot and can create his own look and get separation for pull-up jumpers.
Craft might not be a shot-maker, but he’s still one of the toughest point guards in the country. He’s a pest defensively, and completely takes opponents out of their preferred offensive sets. Aside from a few transition layups, Keith Appling really struggled as a result of Craft’s defensive intensity.
The X-factor going forward could be Deshaun Thomas. He can knock down 3-pointers, and has really picked up his play of late. Prior to the Michigan State contest, he was averaging 21.5 points in his last four games. Thomas is difficult to guard because of the multiple ways in which he can get off shots.
Of course, there is also that Ohio State defense. The Buckeyes are extremely efficient at that end of the floor, dominating the defensive glass and forcing turnovers at a high rate. They also limit fouls, which is why Thad Matta isn’t forced to go to his bench very often. Ohio State didn’t allow Draymond Green to control the game, which helped slow down Michigan State’s offense in the second half. Moreover, the Buckeyes made a concerted effort to get back on defense after the Spartans beat them down the floor for easy transition baskets early on.
When a team has studs at the point guard position, on the wing and inside, they are a team no one wants to face come March. That’s exactly what Ohio State has – and then some.
There are certainly some flaws, but the Buckeyes proved on Sunday that they are still a major threat to reach New Orleans.