|Heady point guard Aaron Craft keeps Ohio State a step ahead of Seth Curry and Duke. (US Presswire)|
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- After the final horn had sounded and LeBron and D-Wade had long left and the winningest coach in the history of Division I men's basketball had told a group of us that his "butt is sore" from the ass-kicking he'd just taken, Ohio State's Thad Matta finally made it into the media room here at Value City Arena, plopped down and explained the gameplan his Buckeyes had just executed brilliantly.
"One of the things we wanted to do a good job of was get off to a good start," Matta said. "Obviously, we did."
This season's first game between two top-five teams was a mismatch.
It turned into a blowout fast.
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The second-ranked Buckeyes opened with an 11-0 run, led by 19 at the half, by as many as 25 in the second half and cruised to an 85-63 victory against No. 3 Duke late Tuesday in a contest that was as unpredictable as Urban Meyer's press conference Monday was ... well, predictable. We knew a week ahead of time Meyer would be OSU's next football coach. Hell, most assumed it would happen the day Jim Tressel resigned in May. That was easy to see coming. But this? Nobody saw this coming because -- as former Virginia coach Pete Gillen once famously said and Ohio State All-American Jared Sullinger more recently repeated -- Duke is Duke, and Duke doesn't get handled like this too often.
It has happened, of course.
But it's rare.
"I've had my butt kicked before, and we've kicked some butt," Duke's Mike Krzyzewski said. "Tonight my butt is sore."
(New slogan: We're OSU. We make your butt sore.)
Here's some truth: The Buckeyes have now played seven games and sent seven coaches home with sore butts. They've won five by at least 31 points, beat No. 3 Duke by 22 and No. 10 Florida by seven. In other words, nobody has accomplished more in November -- and accomplished it in a more convincing way -- than Ohio State, which will almost certainly move to No. 1 in the major polls if No. 5 North Carolina wins at top-ranked Kentucky on Saturday.
"What can I say? This basketball team is something special," said Sullinger, who finished with 21 points and eight rebounds against Duke's big-and-strong frontline that caused not a single problem for the relatively-shorter-but-much-better sophomore. "We really took them out of their sets, pressed the ball and got easy shots. We played a great game."
A great game in almost every way imaginable.
The Buckeyes shot 59.3 percent from the field, 57.1 percent from 3-point range and 70.0 percent from the free-throw line. They turned the ball over only 10 times. They let only one Blue Devil (Mason Plumlee) get more than four rebounds. Bottom line? Ohio State dominated Duke in every facet with former Buckeyes (Michael Redd, Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Evan Turner, etc.), an NBA coach (Doc Rivers) and two NBA All-Stars (LeBron James and Dwyane Wade) all sitting courtside.
And though there's something to be said for the so-called "Maui Hangover" that often strikes teams returning from the pre-Thanksgiving tournament played in Hawaii -- "They were a lot fresher than we were," Krzyzewski noted -- fatigue alone can't possibly account for what happened here.
Duke looked tired, sure.
But Duke mostly looked overwhelmed.
That doesn't mean the Blue Devils won't win if these two teams play again in the NCAA tournament, and it doesn't necessarily mean they aren't worthy of their top-five ranking. (Sometimes this stuff just happens on the road in college basketball. Don't believe me, ask North Carolina about its recent trip to Las Vegas.)
All this really means is that the Buckeyes appear to be every bit as good as most thought they would be the moment Sullinger announced he would return to school, and it confirms that in this sport, you've no ceiling with a rock-solid point guard (Aaron Craft) who understands there are two ends to the court, a pro wing (William Buford) and a dominant big (Sullinger). Fill the other parts in however you like. It doesn't matter much. Because if you've got those three things, you've got, as Sullinger put it, something special. And Ohio State is undeniably something special.
The Buckeyes won't just beat you.
They'll do more.
They'll make your butt sore.