Tag Archives: thad motta

Another Sad Trip To Madison

#1 Ohio State goes down to Wisconsin... again.

Don’t feel bad Thad Matta, Jim Tressel feels you right now.

After yesterday’s 71-67 defeat against Wisconsin at Kohl Center the basketball buckeyes shared a similar result with the football buckeyes, being the number one team in the land and losing it to the Badgers.

However, unlike Tressel’s troops Matta’s men were in control from the start.

The Buckeyes broke Wisconsin’s slow down tempo and buried them with a barrage of threes and inside scoring. Willie Buford found his stroke with 21 points and Jared Sullinger was his usual immoveable self

After taking a two point lead into halftime the Buckeyes exploded coming out of the tunnel by finishing off a 24-6 that continued from the first half and built up a 47-32 lead with 13 minutes to go. They seemed destined to finish off the Badgers and roll into a Tuesday matchup with Michigan State unscathed.

Then Jordan Taylor found his stroke.

Taylor led a 15-0 run by scoring eight straight points as part of a monstrous second half that saw him drop 21 of his game high 27points. After Buckeyes point guard Aaron Craft knocked down two free throws to give the OSU the lead again Taylor led another 10-0 to put the Badgers up for good.

Taylor wasn’t alone in his efforts. Freshman Josh Gasser and Sophomore Mike Bruesewitz knocked down clutch threes in crunch time and the defense finally was able to slow down the Buckeyes. In all the Badgers shot 12-24 from three and the Buckeyes inability to stop them is what did them in.

Unfortunately for the Buckeyes if you look at the stat sheet that was the only statistic that favored Wisconsin. OSU had more rebounds, assists, less turnovers and shots 55% from the field. If you tell any coach in America those stats then almost 95% of them would expect a victory. Unfortunately for OSU that wasn’t the case.

Jordan Taylor helped bury the Buckeyes.

Their main issues yesterday were lack of bench production and Craft’s overall play. For the first time in his excellent freshman year Craft looked like a freshman as his skittish play caused more problems than they fixed. If Craft is hitting a wall then that’s going to be a big problem as OSU doesn’t have another point guard that can match his production or can have the same effect on the game as he can.

With six games left including a visit to West Lafayette next Sunday, the Buckeyes have to correct their mistakes from yesterday and get back on track. Kansas or Texas will unseat them at number 1 and both teams are red hot as is Pittsburgh and Duke. The Buckeyes looked like the best team in the country 48 hours ago, now they have their backs against the wall, teams breathing down their necks and flaws to fix. This is their make or break stretch that will prove if this team is a real title contender or just another year away.

The good thing for them is that they don’t face the same fate that the football Buckeyes did. That October loss at Camp Randall effectively ended a BCS title run and relegated them to a non-factor for the rest of the year. This setback only costs these Buckeyes a game and a little bit of doubt that they can overcome on a possible title run. That’s good for them, the bad thing is when it comes to being number 1 in the country Ohio State should avoid Madison, Wisconsin at all costs. Hopefully the hockey, women’s basketball and baseball teams don’t have to make this trip anytime soon because it won’t be pretty.

 


The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year (NCAA Basketball Preview)

The Dukies look to go back-to-back for a second time.

In all of my madness and melancholy of covering football from college to the NFL I almost forgot what time of year it was… THE START OF THE COLLEGE BASKETBALL SEASON!!!

It happened last night as I was watching the Bengals season go down in flames (still can’t believe I picked them to win it all), I look over and what do I see? Number 4 ranked Pittsburgh taking on Rhode Island. Hmm, I love the excitement of the crowds, the college kids from the Oakland Zoo to the Little Apple to The Kennel all going crazy with the prospectus of their team somehow going for the glory come March.

You see college basketball trumps the NBA to me in so many ways; 1. The atmosphere, there are no places in the NBA like Cameron Indoor Stadium, Rupp Arena or Hinkle Field house. The crowds are right on top of you and the energy is surreal. Even when watching it on TV at half volume you can feel buzz, the stadium shaking, and the kids going bonkers. Maybe Madison Square Garden and maybe Arco Arena do that in the NBA and that’s it.

2. The rivalries. It doesn’t matter if it’s Kansas-K-State, Syracuse-UCONN or Duke-Maryland, every time interstate enemies or inter-conference rivals go at it its must see TV. Last year I watched Memphis play Tennessee in a down year for both programs and t didn’t matter. The game was still full of energy and passion and don’t turn your head away action that made for an awesome night especially when you’re procrastinating as to stall yourself from studying for a meaningless exam. Not that I ever did that in college.

Kansas- K-State. One of the many rivalries that make college basketball so awesome.

(speaking of which, the greatest sporting event from my college years had to be the 6 overtime marathon between the Cuse and UCONN about 20 months ago. I was struggling through that quarter of school badly, I’m talking Carolina Panthers quarterback situation badly, and I absolutely needed to focus on getting at least a 2.0 that quarter and it was finals week. So what did I do instead of study for an Italian final or write my medieval poetry final paper, I watched Jonny Flynn, A.J. Price and a cast of thousands go hard for nearly 4 hours of grueling basketball that left my roommate Ian wanting to kill me for yelling so loud at 1230am and had me up until 4am watching highlights and trying to figure out what the hell just happened. That one game is the reason you watch college basketball, because the unexpected is always bound to happen. You never know when the next ESPN Classic moment will happen. Side note: I did pass all of my finals that quarter but it wasn’t pretty. I blame the referee for blowing the Eric Devendorf call on the three that was clearly good before the buzzer and the fact that St. Patrick’s Day fell during finals week.)

3. The fact that college basketball is changing. The elite programs are still there… sort of. Last year UCLA, Arizona, UCONN and North Carolina DID NOT MAKE THE TOURNAMENT. Yeah you read that properly, four of college basketball’s best programs didn’t even sniff the tournament. There was a point in the tourney where we were looking at a final four that could’ve consisted of Northern Iowa, Butler, Xavier (hi Sean Miller) and Baylor. Yeah that’s where we are at. Granted UNC won it all in 2009 and Duke took home the crown last year, but the game itself is no longer the top heavy huge program dominated juggernaut it has been for the last 20 years.

The top 3 teams expected to make a run at the crown for this year are Duke, Michigan State and… KANSAS STATE! Yes the same Kansas State who you couldn’t name one single player from their roster for a 20 year period. The same Kansas State who wasn’t even a factor in the BIG 12 until Bob Huggins convinced a guy named Michael Beasley to come to Manhattan, Kansas three years ago and then left before Beasley arrived. The same Kansas State that was Kansas’s whipping post for every season that I’ve been alive and they are now viewed as the best team in Kansas. Time’s they are a changing.

What Frank Martin has done at K-State is amazing, he got great results from Beasley and Bill Walker and he is now able to bring in excellent recruits to Manhattan and leave the folks in Lawrence feeling a little salty. Led by Jacob Pullen and his beard and guys like Wally Judge and Curtis Kelly, the Wildcats have what it takes to overpower the Jayhawks and get to the Final 4. Yep, Kansas State, believe it.

Then of course there is last year’s darling the Butler Bulldogs who were two inches away from pulling off one of the greatest upsets sports has ever seen against Duke in the title game. The Dogs proved that they belong in the hunt for the crown for a long time to come with a run that stunned everyone in the sport that included wins over K-State, Syracuse and Michigan State. They return with no Gordon Haywood but pretty much same team from Ronald Nored and his tough defense and Matt Howard and his inside post game. They have replaced Gonzaga as the best little guy in the game and will be a tough draw in the tourney for anyone.

(With that said Gonzaga is ranked higher and with Robert Sacre at center they still aren’t a team to be messed with. Also the recruiting class they have for 2011 is stupid silly good. You think Mark Few is happy he stayed at Gonzaga instead of take the Kentucky job a few years ago? Yeah, me too.)

So what about the big dogs? Oh they’re just fine thank you. Ohio State behind one of the silliest recruiting classes including Jared Sullinger since the “Thad 5” is primed to go toe-to-toe with Sparty for the Big 10 and the national title. They have a date in November with SEC rival Florida which finally seems to have shaken the title hangover of a few years ago and are expected to rule the SEC this year behind do it all forward Chandler Parsons. They still have Kentucky hanging around in the background however. Yes they lost John Wall, Demarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe and Enes Kanter is still awaiting eligibility pending an NCAA investigation (hmmm, another investigation involving John Calipari? No way), however they get another top flight point guard for John Calipari to groom in Brandon Knight and swingman Terrance Jones from Oregon. They’re young again but if anyone knows how to get the best out of a young squad then its John Calipari.

Now I know what you’re wondering, Kevin, you haven’t even begun to wax poetic over the Mighty Big East yet. You know the conference you love so much that you’re willing to through any other program under the bus when playing them. You know the conference that you think is so much better than everyone else but last year underachieved in mostly every big out of conference matchup. Yeah yeah yeah I know. I know they struggled last year with off years by UCONN, Georgetown and Louisville and honestly past Syracuse, Villanova and Pittsburgh every team is the same. G’Town, Marquette and Seton Hall all have shots to make an impact behind guys like Austin Freeman, Jeremy Hazell and others and Steve Lavin may finally bring St. John’s back to where it belongs in the picture of college basketball. Yet I’m not sold that the conference is better than the Big 10 who have 3 teams who could make a Final 4 run including Purdue who I think is getting undervalued because of the loss of Robbie Hummel. In the Big East I think only Syracuse and maybe Pitt has a shot at the Final 4. However, even though it might be a down year for the conference the games will still be a blast to watch.

Something about the words Melo and Syracuse just sounds good together.

(Side note: I really like this Syracuse team. They are deeper than last year’s squad and they have a guy in the middle that will be a huge problem for everyone in the future, Fab Melo. Hmmm, an impact freshman in Syracuse named Melo? Smiley face.)

However with all of that said, from the little guys to the big ones, from the “Thad 5” part two to the beard, from Indianapolis to Spokane the two teams to beat come from tobacco road and (ugh) the ACC, Duke and UNC.

Duke brings back everyone from last year’s team including the soon to be player of the year Kyle Singler and they get Kyrie Irving, a lightning quick guard, and Seth Curry, yep there’s another one of them running around. Plus the Plumlee twins return to roam the middle with their size and athleticism which is going to be a problem for anyone to handle.

As for UNC you knew that last year’s flame out was only an aberration. Roy Williams returns with a team that has a year of experience under its wing, a healthy Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes one of the most talked about freshmen in the nation. Barnes as well as Reggie Bullock should help shoulder the load left by Ed Davis and the Wear twins who transferred to Stanford.

Both Duke and UNC should have little trouble running the ACC with one exception, Maryland might be back. Gary Williams has escaped the firing that seemed eminent years ago and has his best team since the Steve Blake, Juan Dixon days.  Sean Mosley and Jordan Williams provide a great in and out game and Mychal Parker and Pe’Shon Howard will provide some pop off of the bench.  If he can find the right rotation for this team then it should be happy times in Gary-land for the Terps.

With all of this said who should be playing in the Final 4 come March? How about Duke, Ohio State, K-State and Syracuse with Ohio State winning it all. No it’s not a cop out because I went to OSU it’s because OSU has the best mix of under classmen and youth of any team in the nation. David Lighty, Dallas Lauderdale and Willie Buford all return to blend with the aforementioned Sullinger, Jordan Siebert and Deshaun Thomas. I think Michigan State is a tad overrated with no Kalin Lucas and the Buckeyes should steamroll through the tough Big 10 behind their talent level and Thad Motta’s defensive scheme.

So there you go, even in the changing landscape of college basketball where the little guys are getting bigger, the top dogs still reign supreme. However, don’t be surprised if everything I said gets blown to smithereens and the landscape changes again. That’s the beauty of the college game, and I’m so happy that it’s back.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR- KYLE SINGLER

BIG EAST WINNER-SYRACUSE (SLEEPER: VILLANOVA)

ACC- DUKE (MARYLAND)

BIG 12- KANSAS STATE (TEXAS)

BIG 10- OHIO STATE (ILLINOIS)

PAC 10- WASHINGTON (ARIZONA)

SEC- FLORIDA (TENNESSEE)

THE NEXT BUTLER- San Diego STATE

ATLANTIC 10- XAVIER (mark my words; you will take the A-10 seriously again. The league is too good to be considered a mid-major)


Big Time Butler

Yep Butler's in the final 4.

Thad Motta made them competitive. Todd Lickliter made them known. Brad Stevens has done something even more amazing, he’s turned the Butler Bulldogs into a national power.

No they’re not Duke, or Kansas, or even Arizona, but you can no longer call Butler a mid-major. Shed the mid, they are just major.

After beating Kansas State 63-56, Butler will now go to a place where only George Mason of the CAA has gone, the final 4 as a mid-major conference competitor. This wasn’t an overnight thing either. It started with Thad Motta in 2000-01 leading the team to a 24 win season and a second round tourney appearance. Then Lickliter came in and in 7 seasons pulled out a pair of Sweet sixteen appearances beating national powers like Florida and Maryland in the process. The bar for Stevens was set very high to keep the momentum going after Lickliter’s departure. All he’s done is reel off two 30 win seasons and bring Butler to within two wins of a national championship, and in the process they replace Gonzaga as the best team not from a major conference in the country.

Gonzaga never could shed the mid-major tag with their ridiculous runs in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Gonzaga was the school the always got close, but never could get over the hump. Butler however has found a way to go from a dangerous mid-major program, to becoming a player in the college championship race in the 3 seasons since Brad Stevens took over. His in your face man to man defense gave fits to some of the best players in the country and limited their effectiveness on the outcome of contests this year whether you’re Jacob Pullen, Wes Johnson or Derrick Caracter.

They did it with a team that most would consider to be half as talented as Kansas State or any other major conference team. A sharp shooting Gordon Haywood, and in your face Shelvin Mack and a threat down low in Matt Howard, who in this is junior season has deferred to the former two and become a great complementary player.

They did it by blowing through the Horizon league after a shaky start to the season where Butler lost 4 games before January and almost dropping out of the top 25 in the process. Coach Stevens at one point sat his team down and showed them their runner-up trophy from the Horizon league last year, which led to an early ousting in the NCAA tourney. He used it as a motivational tool to get his team going, boy did it ever.

After an embarrassing loss to UAB, Butler hasn’t lost since. They hold the nation’s longest winning streak at 24, mostly against foes from the Horizon league. However since Thursday night against Syracuse, a team picked by many to win it all just a month ago, the dogs proved the win streak was no joke. They shut down Wesley Johnson and controlled the tempo all game long making the Orange play into their hands all night. Similarly against the Wildcats Jacob Pullen and Dennis Clemente were non-factors going a combined 11-30 with Mack and Ronald Nored in their grills all night preventing any open looks. The Bulldogs beat up two of the nation’s top ten teams all year and when it counted, kept their composure late to stave off any late comeback attempts.

Now what awaits them is an eventual home game at Lucas Oil Stadium next Saturday. The Butler campus is a paltry 6 miles away from the stadium, which means Tennessee or Michigan State can expect lots of blue and white in the stands for that game much like what North Carolina faced in the title game in Detroit last year. What everyone can also expect is every “Hoosiers” reference in the book over the next week. It doesn’t help that Butler plays in the same arena that housed the classic basketball film.

However, don’t confuse this team with Hickory high school. This is a magical run by a team not many people picked to be here, but it is also a team with enough bite to scare all opponents from the Horizon to the big East and the Big 12. These guys are small in budget and funds only, like Kanye West said, “Come on homie we major!” Butler most definitely is.