Having just enjoyed a 73-66 win over seventh-seeded Gonzaga, Ohio State now will partake in its third Sweet 16 in as many years. It is this portion of the season fans have long feared the Buckeyes wouldn't make it past.
But if Ohio State's latest victory was any indication of what this team is capable of, maybe a season that seemed doomed no longer than a month ago could turn out to be one of the most memorable in the program's history.
The Buckeyes are Bean Town bound and will play the winner of the Florida State-Cincinnati matchup on Thursday. Before we take a look ahead, here is some analysis from the Buckeyes' impressive win over the Bulldogs.
Jared Sullinger's matchup with Robert Sacre was overblown – Nothing against the Bulldogs' 7-footer, but Sullinger didn't play the best basketball of his career and he still finished with 18 points in 26 minutes. Though Sacre is long and athletic – something Sullinger has had trouble with – I think people often forget how much of an asset Sullinger really is. Sure, his 6-9 size could be a liability, but at the end of the day it doesn't look like there's a team that has a big man that will totally get the best of him.
Matta has said it numerous times about Sullinger – he's a winner. At the end of the game he scored seven points when his team needed them the most. More importantly, he responded from a ferocious Sacre swat and went right back at him on the following play and scored. Sullinger wants to win more than anybody that's been in this program for a long time and that desire is tangible. Maybe he's injured and maybe he thinks about the refs too much, but he is most certainly an asset good enough to lead this team to the Final Four.
Aaron Craft looking for his shot is dangerous – We've come to know Craft as a staunch defender and really good facilitator. When he is a headhunting offensive weapon, he can keep Ohio State in games with Sullinger on the bench. It took a long time this season to get this guy looking for his own shot, but now that he is doing it he has sported some really good moves to the basket and has the ability to finish at the rim. He scored 10 points in a first half where it looked like Gonzaga was ready to take a big advantage and he came up with big defensive stops while doing it.
Perhaps Deshaun Thomas looks like the MVP of the first half because he scored 10-straight points for the Buckeyes in the final minutes, but Craft kept Ohio State in the game throughout the contest. Craft isn't an NBA prospect or a flashy player, but he is developing as the heart and soul of this year's team.
Lay off William Buford – He had a really bad start to the game, but lets remember that he was able to bounce back from that shaky start and knock down some big time buckets in the first half. If you're trying to draw comparisons to last year's Buford, he would have continued to miss and not add anything else. Buford, who finished with 13 points, also had five rebounds – including a crucial one late in the game when Ohio State was clinging to a three-point lead. You don't even want to see those 4-for-13 shooting performances, but I think he's a different player than the one that participated in the loss to Kentucky in last year's Sweet 16.
Thomas playing the best basketball of his career – Perhaps Buford is viewed as the second scoring option on this team, but Thomas is really emerging as that guy. Not only does that take pressure off Buford – which I think is most ideal for the senior – but it makes opposing coaches scratch their heads when preparing for the Buckeyes. Thomas has been about as consistent as you could expect at this point, and that's the most important thing with him. Ohio State is starting to know what they can get out of him every night and once those big scoring performances are no longer flash in the pans like they were last year, the Buckeyes become very hard to beat.
Collective win tonight – When Sullinger went into foul trouble that wasn't a good sign for the Buckeyes. Gonzaga was playing good basketball and put the pressure on an Ohio State team without its best player. But I have to say this team responded even better than I thought they could and the distribution on the scoring we saw this evening makes me think OSU is capable of a deep tournament run. This team is clicking on all cylinders right now – and the timing couldn't be any more perfect.