Sunday, March 20, 2011

Unusual March in College Hoops: Untouchable Buckeyes Can't Be Reckoned With


It was a pedigree of arguably the deepest team in the tourney that doomed presumably the cutest story in March - another incredible joyride for a school with a reputation for scaring a top-seed team. This time, however, Ohio State isn't an understatement and George Mason isn't a touching tale to delightfully stun the world, and instead the Buckeyes are a legitimate powerhouse in an unusual March.

So the Buckeyes channel their dominance, maniacally sending a clear statement in the NCAA tournament, reaching a climax and advancing to the Sweet 16 with enough force to rescue parts of obliterated brackets because of what has transpired with all the craziness over a dramatic, mesmerizing weekend for college hoops.

The Buckeyes, the top seed in the East Region, are obviously invincible from the grand scheme of things, and poses a threat for any opponent in Ohio State's path. Now this is a program much too dignified and too dangerous to be reckoned with.

For all of the disregards the Buckeyes have taken, being in a conference worthy of its own television network but no respect with the Big East owning much regards in the domain of college hoops, it was common to ignore Ohio State every season.

You never know about March Madness, especially when upsets annihilate brackets, creating endless chatter near the water cooler at workplaces, and alarming the masses to shun away from a routine task as employees tune in from their computers at work.

Because of Ohio State's craftiness late Sunday afternoon, from the successive jump shots to the fearless drives that bullied George Mason inside to the streaky three pointers that basically slaughtered the Patriots in a 98-66 rout, the Buckeyes advanced to the regional semifinals and were scarier than ever.

The game never came close to a classical ending, but an ugly blowout, and George Mason was no match for Ohio State. The scoreboard read demoralizing results, and as much as the Patriots believed in themselves, not intimidated by the promise and balance the Buckeyes exposed, the No. 1 team overall ended George Mason's aspiration. The delirious crowd screamed and went berserk every time Jon Diebler, Ohio State's career leader in threes, heaved a three-pointer in what became a momentum booster for the Buckeyes.

He looks like an unstoppable robot, built to drill three-point shots -- or a godlike sharpshooter who just can't miss, blessed with luck whenever he shoots. He was wide open from the perimeter for much of the day that would signify his style of play if not his poise and emotion to lead the Buckeyes, along with a five-year senior guard, David Lighty, a floor general who'd recklessly drive into traffic and finish on a dramatic layup.

Because he plays the role of an aggressor, he settled for 25 points and nailed all seven of his 3 pointers from long range, contributing to a well-balanced program molded by the brilliant head coach Thad Matta. In the end, they jubilated, smiled and exchanged bear-hugs, satisfied with probably the most superb and noticeable performance all season, coming when the Buckeyes had a dominant contest before thousands of its fans.

There's no doubt, with glaring evidence, that the Buckeyes are favored to win it all having very little flaws, that they secured ultimately a spotless reputation as the scariest and matchless program in the tourney, reducing the thoughts of vulnerability in a mystic, unpredictable event.

It was made known that Ohio State expunged any possibilities of an upset and inched closer towards its first national title since 1960, ready to encounter an intense bout with Kentucky in the regional semifinals Friday in Newark, N.J. The scene inside Ohio State's locker room was joy, a contiguous feeling that spread throughout the room, as Lighty reflected back on the wonderful memories he had when he was a freshman on the Buckeyes national runner-up team in 2007.

The game wasn't stunning, but it could have been, had George Mason pulled off the George Mason, flashing back to 2006 when the school stunned the basketball world and went to the Final Four as a Cinderella, wearing the shiny glass slipper for one shining moment in school history. But this is not the case, not in the year when the Buckeyes are creative and fundamentally sound enough to shellshock any opponent, not in the year when they are surrounded with depth and experience.

It was evident, then and there, that no team in the tournament can defeat the prodigal or marveled attack by the Buckeyes. There was a point in the game, such as in the early moments, when Ohio State trailed and witnessed a potential scare, playing with the lack of emotion and energy.


At first, from what it seemed, the Buckeyes looked as if they were in a state of confusion, unsure of how to handle the impressive start of the underdogs. It was Saturday night that Cleveland native Lighty treated all of his teammates to his family's church, and nicely pampered them with soul food. By Sunday morning, center Jared Sullinger was singing Miley Cyrus in morning shootarounds, hyped for the sweetest opportunity. And while preparing for the biggest game, no matter if George Mason was unmatched from the opening tip, four Ohio State players were presented their diplomas this morning, on the day they topped it with a refreshing win in Quicken Loans Arena, a neutral site that felt like a homecoming party when primal shouts echoed inside the venue.

In a tournament of bizarre scenes and crazy turn-of-events after the lone No. 1 seed Pittsburgh took an abnormal pitfall in an unusual finish against Butler, after Duke barely survived Michigan and after Louisville faltered to drop in a disappointing fashion against Morehead State, the Buckeyes vindicated that they were worthy of a top overall seed.


And it was certainly a statement made in two games, won by a total of 62 points and amazingly shot 58.6 percent from the field. Fifty-six percent of those shots were three-pointers, even if Ohio State is fortunate to have Sullinger, one of the tallest big men physical and efficient in the middle. More importantly, though, his presence creates open looks for Diebler and Lighty, two skilled shooters who were left uncontested and took advantage of George Mason's laziness to defend the perimeter.

What it was, of course, was Patriots' coaches plans to adjust to Sullinger, trying to slow down the big man, but instead his strategy was inadequate and allowed Diebler and Lighty too much space to work from the arch. The Buckeyes never derailed and had finally found their groove, once Sullinger attacked the rim, once Lighty shot lights out in his hometown, once Diebler drained jump shot after jump shot, as it rained threes in the forecast in Cleveland to outscore George Mason 50-15 over the final 16 minutes of the first half with an action-packed shooting clinic, offensive weapons that showed firepower.

The man off the bench, freshman guard Aaron Craft, controlled the tempo with 15 assists, which allowed the Buckeyes to finish 16 of 26 from three-point land. On the way to halftime, the Buckeyes relied on a 10-0 run to overcome deficiencies early and then a 16-0 spurt, drilling five three-pointers over the final five minutes and took a demoralizing 52-26 halftime lead.

All of this heightens the Buckeyes' confidence in an attempt to reach the Final Four, and pretty soon, Ohio State will travel to Houston if they continue to awe everyone and beat everybody. It would be awful for Ohio State to let a great accomplishment go to waste. For the most part, it's a horrendous feeling to even imagine the Buckeyes losing, when they had such a joyous year. It's only rational to believe that the Ohio State can win it all, right??

At least, that's the way it feels.