Another ACC-Big Ten Challenge is in the books, and for the fourth time in five years, Ohio State found itself victorious against its primetime opponent. The Buckeyes may have gotten off to a shaky start this season, but OSU remains undefeated, and is beginning to look like one of the top teams in the country.
"Sometimes I have deja vu of myself, because that's what I used to look like as a player." - Thad Matta on Thompson's dunks
Let's start with Thompson's alley-oops, since they stole the show -- and the SportsCenter Top 10 -- on Wednesday. We've known for quite a while that Slam I Am has ups, but never have we seen them play such a large part of a game as they did against the Terrapins. According to Matta, three of the four dunks came as a result of the flow of the game, while the fourth was off of an inbounds play that was looking for one. I know there are variations of the play, but it still baffles me that the Buckeyes have been able to get that off of the inbounds, considering they've shown a propensity to look for it every time. After the game, Thompson told me that with the way Maryland crashes the offensive boards, he thought he had an opportunity to get some fast break plays like that, but I highly doubt that even he imagined having so much success in the open court.
Also of note on Wednesday was the play of LaQuinton Ross, who scored 20 points against the Terrapins, while making his first four 3-point attempts of the game. I don't think Ohio State is out of the woods just yet with Ross -- 17 of his points came in the first half and he's only had two good games compared to five bad ones this year -- but we finally saw a flash of just how lethal the OSU offense can be when Ross is firing on all cylinders. If Ross can stay in touch with his stroke come the start of Big Ten play, the Buckeyes could be favored to win their fourth league title in five years.
Somewhat interestingly, Ross wasn't made available to the media after the game, despite being the team's leading scorer and rebounder on the night. He hasn't been made available after any of the games this season, but this was the first time that it seemed odd. Matta said he was unaware of why that was and beyond that, we didn't get much of an explanation for why Ross wasn't available for comment. Ross isn't the most polished player when it comes to dealing with the media, but he did plenty of interviews a year ago, which leads me to believe (pure speculation) that he was receiving postgame treatment for a minor injury that we're unaware of.
Matta was in clear amazement of Aaron Craft's play at the end of the first half, in which he wrestled the ball away from Terrapins guard Dez Wells, before tossing it to Thompson who finished a spinning layup as time expired. I asked Matta in particular about Thompson's part in the play -- I'd never seen him complete a spinning layup like that -- and he directed the focus to Craft, likening the play to one that Je'Kel Foster completed against Illinois in 2005. The 10th-year Ohio State head coach remembered every little detail about the play, most notably that it gave Illini guard Dee Brown his fourth foul. Matta said that Craft's was right up there with it in terms of his favorite plays ever, which is obviously lofty praise from somebody who's been coaching since the first Bush administration.
Ironically, Matta was asked moments later about having Bob Knight in attendance to call the game for ESPN, and he said that he got to talk to The General for 25 minutes, noting how amazing it is to listen to him recall minuscule details from games of his own.
I was caught off-guard a bit when the Buckeyes moved to No. 3 in the coaches poll on Monday, and chalked it up to an overreaction to the teams ahead of Ohio State losing. But the more I watch the Buckeyes play, the harder it is for me to believe that there's a team with a better defense in the nation. Couple that with the leadership of Craft -- and the offensive potential of Ross -- and Ohio State does have the makings of the one of the top teams in the country. I'd still like to see them beat another quality opponent -- Maryland would probably be the sixth or seventh best team in the Big Ten -- but the Buckeyes can only play who's put in front of them, and right now, they're 7-0.
With Michigan State losing to North Carolina on Wednesday, the Buckeyes could be on the rise again, especially as their second-ranked defense gains steam and national attention. I wouldn't be shocked in the least to Ohio State enter Big Ten play ranked as the No. 1 team in the country, with Jan. 7 in East Lansing being its first true test of the season.
Two quick negatives. Amir Williams was only credited with two field goal attempts and one rebound, which was disappointing after his impressive November. I did worry that his productive first month of the season was the result of who the Buckeyes were playing more than it was his actual improvement, and with quiet outings against the Terrapins and Marquette, there's still reason to put stock in that theory. Ultimately, however, we now know what he's at least capable of when he clicking.
Marc Loving only played nine minutes on Wednesday, which may have been a result of Ross playing as well as he was. The Buckeyes freshman did connect on a 3-point shot, but his limited minutes lead me to believe that he could be the odd man out of the rotation when Big Ten play picks up in about a month. Loving's time will come, and he's already shown signs that he can be a very productive player, but this team is at its best when Ross is playing as well as he did on Wednesday, and that could mean a delay in the Loving era in Columbus.
The Buckeyes return to action on Saturday for a 4:30 p.m. tip with Central Connecticut. It may be nice little appetizer for those trying to kill time before the Big Ten Championship Game, but I wouldn't expect many in attendance -- both from the media and in the stands -- this weekend.