Celebrating in the hallways of the Breslin Center after a 72-70 win over Michigan State on March 4, the Buckeyes did something that seemed all but lost a week ago when capturing at least a piece of its third consecutive Big Ten crown.
Now it is on to the postseason – where memories of the conference championship quickly fade in favor of dreams of competing for the ultimate goal. Before we take a look forward to what is ahead for the No. 10 Buckeyes, we take a final look back at their last regular season game of this season with a few quick thoughts:
• Slow starts have to go – Ohio State shot 25 percent from the floor in the first half and just about everyone was missing good looks. Competing against a team like Michigan State, it is pretty remarkable that the Buckeyes were able to fend of a blowout once the deficit reached 15. However, fighting from behind is pretty exhausting and getting out to a good offensive groove is what this team needs to do - not shoot out of team-wide funks. It has been a season-long question when it comes to how this team can shoot the ball consistently, and though those weaknesses ultimately didn't cost Ohio State the game, the reminder that it is still an issue was there.
• Great moment for William Buford, BUT – Time will only tell if the shot that propelled Ohio State to the Big Ten title will turn into consistency for Ohio State's only senior. Though Buford has such a nice game when it is clicking, it is pretty unbelievable how much of a liability it must be for Matta to have to wonder which Buford is going to show up, especially in the team's biggest moments.
You have to hand it to Buford for always wanting the big shot – even with the reputation that he can't handle the pressure – and coming up big with the conference crown on the line on the road against a team like Michigan State cannot be understated. This team, however, craves consistency out of him. If you're Matta, you'd have to think he'd rather get 15 a game from Buford consistently instead of 26 one game and four in the next. This is an unbelievable boost for the senior – but will it turn into consistency at the most crucial time of the season?
• Evan Ravenel's performance was the best of his OSU career – He played only eight minutes of the game, but you could argue the junior is every bit as responsible for this win as Buford was. In his brief time on the floor – which came at a crucial time with Jared Sullinger on the bench with four fouls – Ravenel played like a man inspired. He was so good, many questioned whether it would be the right move to bring Sullinger back onto the floor. Ravenel, who accounted for seven points and an assist in his quick time, played solid defense and didn't hesitate to find his own shot. He even knocked down 4-of-4 free throw attempts – all of which were swishes – despite not being a reliable free throw shooter. Perhaps he made the case for more playing time, even when Sullinger isn't in foul trouble.
• Aaron Craft's shot was clutch, too – There's been a lot of talk about Craft's need to become more aggressive when looking for his own shot, and that's seems to be something that's been on his mind recently. Though Craft only took five shot attempts against Michigan State, don't forget about the sophomore's clutch bucket from the baseline to tie the game at 70 with 52 seconds remaining. Craft had only made one other shot the entire game and he was able to knock it down when it mattered the most. As you know, being a clutch player isn't something you can teach.
• Giving up? Not really – When Ohio State was down 24-9 midway through the first half, many asserted this team had given up. Perhaps it was an easy thing to say given the way things have gone over the course of the past month. However, with the way things turned out, it's hard to ever question the spirit of this team as it heads into the most crucial part of the season. Overcoming such a terrible start to beat a team like Michigan State on the road is quite the accomplishment – one a team that is mentally weak would have never been able to accomplish.
• Dancing with confidence – So much is made about trending upward in college basketball as the calendar shifts to march. When it comes to this year's team, trending upward was certainly not what was happening. Well, until this week. Looking at the way the Buckeyes capped off their regular season – winning a title that was seemingly out of reach a week ago – while beating Michigan State on the road, its hard to image this team could be experiencing an emotional high this good had it won the conference outright. Sometimes going through battles and suffering through defeat builds character in a team and seeing the Buckeyes fight through that to accomplish this again has to be a good sign. Perhaps this is what sets up deep NCAA Tournament runs?