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Let's finally say it: Ohio State is a great team


CLEVELAND -- John Diebler caught the pass from Aaron Craft, pulled up and did exactly what all 20,164 people here at Quicken Loans Arena expected him to do the moment he caught that pass at the end of the first half, which is swish a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Next came a chest bump from Jared Sullinger.

Next up is Kentucky.

"Just so many weapons on our team," OSU senior David Lighty said after the Buckeyes dismantled George Mason and cruised to a 98-66 victory Sunday that doubled as the most impressive performance anybody has delivered in this NCAA tournament. "Everyone was clicking on high cylinders, and when that's happening, it's pretty hard to beat us."

Try impossible.

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Diebler's 3-pointer at the close of the opening half was Ohio State's ninth on 12 attempts. That means the Buckeyes shot 75 percent from beyond the arc in the opening 20 minutes, and if college basketball had a mercy rule, it would've been implemented the moment CBS went to commercial.

Remember how interesting that No. 1 seed vs. No. 8 seed game between Pittsburgh and Butler was Saturday night? This was the opposite. George Mason took an 11-2 lead early, then took an absolute beating. The Patriots went from up nine to down 26 in a span of roughly 16 minutes. The 52-26 halftime score was more like something the nation is used to seeing in a Round of 64 game featuring a No. 1 seed than a Round of 32 game featuring a No. 1 seed, and it was so crazy that the Buckeyes could've gone scoreless in the second half and still managed overtime provided George Mason did nothing other than double its 26 points from the first half.

Needless to say, the Buckeyes did not go scoreless in the second half.

They just kept hitting 3-pointers -- one after another.

They finished 16 for 25 from beyond the arc.

Lighty took seven and made seven.

Aaron Craft had 15 assists.

All of which made it kinda sad when the George Mason band played Don't Stop Believing with 12:20 remaining and Ohio State up 67-42. Truth is, it was long past time for the Patriots to stop believing; most of the nation had stopped paying attention. What we had was a good time to knock out some Sunday yard work before the later games for those lucky enough to be at home on a pleasant March afternoon.

"They shot the ball extremely well from 3-point range, and they have outstanding skilled players who really know how to distribute the ball and share the ball," said George Mason coach Jim Larranaga, whose odds of an upset diminished the moment Luke Hancock, a double-digit scorer, became too ill to play. "With Sullinger inside and that many weapons outside, it seemed like everything we tried to do defensively, they had an answer for."

So the Buckeyes advanced to their third Sweet 16 in five years, and it's officially time to stop pretending this sport doesn't have a great team. Duke with Kyrie Irving might be one by the time the Final Four rolls around, and Ohio State is one now by any reasonable measuring stick. The Buckeyes are 33-2. Their only losses came on the road to a team that won a game in this NCAA tournament (Purdue) and another that has already won two (Wisconsin). They have a point guard (Craft) who just dished 15 assists against a George Mason team that won 27 games, three different shooters (Diebler, Lighty and William Buford) who make at least 40 percent of their 3-point attempts, the nation's best post player (Sullinger) and a sixth man (Deshaun Thomas) who can score in bunches.

If they're off, you have a chance.

If not, you don't.

There's now a sample size of 35 games that suggests Ohio State is as good or better than any team still playing, and solid enough to compete with any of college basketball's recent national champions.

I don't understand a world where that's not considered great.

But the good news is that the Ohio State players aren't nearly as bothered by the slight as those of us defending their body of work. They seem willing to wait till every game has been played to decide what label fits.

"We're just trying to go out and win basketball games," Buford said. "If people don't think we're great, that's an opinion. That's not a fact.

But do you think you're great?

"Great? No," Buford answered. "But we're pretty good, though."

Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.

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