In a preliminary hoops showdown to the BCS National Championship game in just over two weeks between the same two schools, it was No. 4 and defending National Champion Florida that won the first of two epic showdowns between the two programs.
Even the most optimistic of observers would be unable to find few, if any bright spots for Ohio State Saturday. Even moral victories were practically non-existent for the Buckeyes in Gainesville.
Despite the embarrassing stumble against Florida, Ohio State will be heard from plenty more before the season is finished. That said, after a promising showing in Chapel Hill against North Carolina nearly four weeks prior in a loss, the Buckeyes regressed against Florida.
Little went right for Ohio State. As if a sign of things to come, 7-1 center Greg Oden picked up the first of four fouls within seconds of missing the first shot attempt of the game on Ohio State's first possession.
Although Ohio State led Florida 20-18 nearly 12 minutes into the first half, the Gators finished the half on a 20-9 run, giving them a 38-29 halftime advantage.
To the Buckeyes' credit, Ohio State started out the second half with an 11-2 run, tying the game at 40 apiece. Despite the promising start in the second 20 minutes, it was all Florida from that point on.
Florida finished the game outscoring Ohio State 46-20 as the Buckeyes found Oden in foul trouble, they were mentally and emotionally exhausted and Florida was scoring at-will on the offensive end.
For as quickly as everyone, myself included, were ready to dub Ohio State National Championship contenders, Saturday's drubbing by Florida conjured up a big old, "not so fast my friend."
The good news is that the NCAA Tournament and Final Four will not be played in Gainesville, Fla. or Chapel Hill, N.C. The bad news is despite the influential homecourt advantages by Florida and North Carolina, Ohio State will not beat any elite teams with or without Oden playing like they did Saturday.
Over the past three games, it appeared Ohio State's offense had taken two steps backward since inserting Oden into the lineup. Saturday did nothing to prove they have learned to play with his presence inside as Ohio State played sloppy, took some poor shots and missed a ton of open looks.
That's just the tip of the iceberg.
* Advantage Billy Donovan. Actually, it was more like 40-love, Billy Donovan over Matta. Everything Ohio State did, Florida had an answer for. Everything Florida did, Ohio State didn't. Credit Donovan for several key moves Saturday. No. 1 he employed a surprising 2-3 zone against Ohio State that allowed a fierce double-team with Chris Richard, Al Horford and/or Joakim Noah against Oden inside. This limited Oden's touches a ton. Secondly, the zone, in theory, prohibted Ohio State from penetrating, although a soft spot on the backside of the zone allowed Ohio State some easy weakside lay-ups in the first half because of the double-down on Oden, but Ohio State never consistently cashed in on the vulnerability. Thirdly, Florida did a terrific job of making Ohio State beat them with the jump-shot. They had Ohio State scouted perfectly, allowing Ivan Harris to shoot challenged shots in the corner, allowing Mike Conley open looks on the ball reversals and forcing Othello Hunter beyond his comfort zone. Last but not least, the Gators continually touched on a major weak spot of Ohio State - drawing Oden out defensively and running a pick-and-roll with Horford (or Richard) to find easy looks from the free-throw line extended.
* Fatigue and inexperience were both staring down the Buckeyes square in the face. The Buckeyes were running on fumes the last 10 minutes of the game and Oden was gassed. The defense, which was porous to begin wtih in the first half, allowing far too many open three-pointers, was as soft as charmin allowing Florida to get to the rim anytime they wanted in the second half. As far as inexperience, for the first time almost all season, Ohio State consistently made "freshmen mistakes." This especially was true with some lazy passes by Conley and Daequan Cook as well as several mental errors by Hunter - who appeared to be bothered by the speed of the game and the talent of the opponent.
* Along the lines of defense, the transition defense was about as bad as it's been all season. With only a couple of exceptions, Ohio State failed to locate players on the wing and too often they simply didn't get back at all to stop the ball.
* No one expected Ohio State to win the rebounding battle against the tall, athletic Florida frontline, but it simply wasn't a contest. Being forced to play small with Matt Terwilliger remaining on the bench all game and Hunter being sidelined for his mistake-prone performance, Horford, Noah and Brewer grabbed most, if not all loose balls. Horford, playing after being doubtful all week with a high ankle sprain, had 11 rebounds and was too tough and physical for the Buckeyes.
* For the first time in his young career, Oden was tested with not just one, but multiple tough, physical and athletic players inside. Florida did a fantastic job fronting him as well as holding position inside. Only twice (once off a rebound and the other off a pivot move splitting two defenders) did Oden get to face up and put the ball down. In almost every other case, he was falling away from the basket when trying a flip-shot or hook-shot.
* Much like last season's second-round NCAA exit to Georgetown, Ohio State did not properly account for the length and shot-blocking of their opponent. The Hoyas blocked and altered several shots last season because Ohio State was attempting jumpers with a hand in their face. Too often Saturday Ohio State settled for jumpers or pull-ups when Conley, Cook, Lewis or Butler had a match-up advantage on the dribble where they could have likely gotten to the rim or found an open teammate off the drive.
* When Ohio State found some success penetrating and getting the ball to the opposite wing, they did not stick to it often enough.
* If there's any glimmer of hope for the OSU basketball team from Saturday's beating, it was that Jamar Butler played aggressively and with poise. Unfortunately for Ohio State, it was not nearly enough. He still missed his fair share of jump-shots, but Butler made some key plays and drained some key shots that kept Ohio State alive at various portions of the game before it ultimately got out of hand.
* Cook had a very good game for Ohio State despite some freshman mistakes. Fatigue, foul trouble and a lack of rhythm from the Buckeye offense in the second half made him more of a non-factor but it was Cook that lifted the Buckeyes early on.
* Before Hunter's turnovers and mistakes found him a spot on the bench, his playing alongside Oden in the middle made life rough on Florida early in the game. His shot-blocking presence altered a handful of shots and he did a nice job getting in rebounding position but he was unable to finish some open looks and his multiple travels fueled a key Florida 13-0 run in the first half.
* After settling down in the first 10 minutes, Conley played a terrific basketball game. In a hostile environment where inexperience had cost the Buckeyes in several tough stretches, Conley's basketball IQ kicked in making several plays to spark Ohio State when it needed it the most. The value of a great point guard shows a little more when the chips are down.
Now begins the re-growth process for Ohio State. Soon, they enter into a tough Big Ten stretch where they face Illinois and Wisconsin on the road as well as a much-improved Tennessee team at home.
Ohio State will not need to retool, obviously, as the ingredients are there for a strong postseason. That said, it's clear the offense needs to find an identity and the defense will need to start from square one after the sinking in the swamp.
Give Florida credit - the defending National Champions showed exactly why they were able to get hot and win it all in March last season. But the fact they were 5-6 in an 11-game stretch right before the SEC Tournament last season is just more reason for Ohio State to hope for a rematch this next March.
The Gators took the homecourt advantage and played on their emotion. They took some talented frontcourt players and shut down Oden inside. They took some chances defensively and forced Ohio State to do something it had not done recently - make shots. Florida simply executed and Ohio State did not.
That's why they're the reigning champs. Ohio State could learn a thing or two from Saturday.