That was not the Ohio State team I watched all season. The Ohio State team that I saw win the Big Ten regular season title would not shoot 32% from the field and struggle to beat a significantly inferior Northwestern team 67-61 in overtime in the conference tournament. The Ohio State team I saw set an NCAA record for three point shooting in a game would never follow that up by going 3-15 from behind the arc, missing a number of wide open looks in the process. And the Ohio State team that I saw pass the ball with such precision all season would never play an entire 45 minutes of basketball, score 67 points and only collect three assists total as a team in the process. That would not be the Ohio State team I saw play all season long.
But all that and more happened on Friday, as the Buckeyes proved that in the right setting, they can be just as vulnerable as all the other NCAA tournament contenders. Going into the Northwestern game, the common perception was that while all the other potential No. 1 and 2 seeds had major issues that could be exploited, Ohio State was the most complete team in America, with no real obvious weakness. But the group that took the court on Friday dispelled any such thought. Thad Matta's team played with uncharacteristic selfishness, refusing to share the ball and devolving into a one-on-one attacking offense late, that neither played to the Buckeyes strength or was effective at creating late points.
Ohio State only scored 10 points in the last 9:30 of the regulation, a stretch that saw the Buckeyes run some of their worst offensive sets of the year. William Buford's two field goals during that stretch were the only points scored away from the foul line by Ohio State and absent an exceptional free throw performance by Jared Sullinger (16-18), Northwestern would have been able to pull off the stunner. The Wildcats showcased that the way to defeat Ohio State is to change the style of play to such a degree that the Buckeyes become frustrated. Northwestern threw a number of defensive looks, slowed the ball down on offense and dared the Buckeyes to beat them with outside jumpers. All confused Thad Matta's group and made the best team in America look decidedly ordinary.
In the end, Ohio State ability to control the glass (they outrebounded Northwestern 41-24) and use its exceptional height and athleticism to overcome its poor play, allowed the Buckeyes to escape with a victory. But the game does raise some worries for those positioning the Buckeyes as the favorite when the brackets are announced on Sunday. For the first time in a number of weeks, the Buckeyes looked disjointed and were taken out of their game, something that hadn't happened even in their road defeats. A great passing team was reduced to selfish play and little offense was generated outside of drawing contact and getting to the free throw line. It even took a questionable call in the game's final minutes (the strange technical on Northwestern center Luka Mirkovic for throwing his mouthpiece down in frustration in overtime) in order for the Buckeyes to seal the victory.
None of those traits are consistent with the Ohio State I watched all season and was certain could cut down the nets in Houston this April. Ohio State is still the best overall team in America, but Friday's win showed that the Buckeyes are vulnerable, just like everyone else.
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