OSU Clicking At Right Time

The third-seeded Ohio State basketball team has a chance to capture its third-consecutive Big Ten Tournament title Sunday afternoon. In order to do that, the Buckeyes will have to get through Michigan State. Luckily for Ohio State, it's not the same team it was two months ago.

Jared Sullinger looks back at the month of February objectively. With a newfound confidence, as if it is a distant memory, Ohio State's sophomore big man simply shoves it off into the past by referring to it as "the bad month."

Why would February be anything else but simply an unpleasant memory? Ohio State had just won its fourth-consecutive game, this time in blowout fashion, knocking off Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament semi-finals 77-55.

Next up is Michigan State this afternoon in the championship, a game that could have a No. 1 in the NCAA Tournament at stake. If nothing else, Ohio State could regain the status as the Big Ten's best team after losing that in the recent weeks.

"It's for the Big Ten," Sullinger said. "We tied them during the regular season and now it gives us a chance to earn back the championship. This means everything to us and I think we're ready to take on that challenge."

It's a wonder Ohio State in is this position after enduring a "bad month" that, after all, wasn't long ago. The Buckeyes lost three of their eight games in February and lingering thoughts about the team's weaknesses turned into more pressing questions about vulnerability.

But Ohio State is no longer the team that went limping into East Lansing having suffered three losses in its previous five games or the one that was recently thrown out of practice by Thad Matta for a lack of focus.

And William Buford is no longer a guy who is viewed as unreliable on the biggest stages, especially after knocking down the game-winning shot against Michigan State to clinch a portion of the regular season Big Ten title.

"This team has grown as much as it seems we have in a short amount of time," Lenzelle Smith Jr. told BuckeyeSports.com. "We have gained our confidence back and we've really started to play together as a team."

If Ohio State has any lingering issues, they most certainly will follow the team into the NCAA Tournament. Tactically speaking, if the Buckeyes are prone to shooting poorly or are subject to becoming weaker when Sullinger is in foul trouble, those deficiencies will show up on tape when opposing coaches begin to formulate their game plans.

Of course, those apparent limitations can be overcome as they were against the last weekend Spartans. Ohio State has to do it again against that same Spartans team Sunday if it wasn't to become the first team in the history of the Big Ten Tournament to win it three times in a row.

"It's going to be a challenge, especially with their big men," Deshaun Thomas told BSB. "Michigan State is a heck of a team but we know what we're capable of now. We're playing with a lot of confidence and this isn't the same team that was struggling not too long ago. I think we're dangerous now."

If the team that beat the Wolverines is here to stay, the Buckeyes could achieve a run in the NCAA Tournament that didn't seem to be conceivable in "the bad month."

The Buckeyes pushed the ball quickly in transition, they found Sullinger in good position in the post, and they played swarming defense that suffocated Michigan from the beginning. When Ohio State is playing effective basketball, its weaknesses are less apparent.

When ball movement is effective, the team's resurfacing shooting issues seem to be less of a problem. When playing good defense, easy buckets in transition become more frequent.

It's those elements Matta attempted to make the foundation of this team. Those components, however, often seemed lost at times during the course of the past six weeks. Sophomore point guard Aaron Craft, however, hopes this team has found itself.

"The season is a grind," Craft told BSB. "Sometimes you lose sight of things and sometimes things don't go the way you plan them. We had some bumps in the road and we lost because of it. Right now we're playing well, we are remembering what's important and I hope that continues."

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