Archive for March, 2009

Is that all there is?

March 24, 2009

The loss to Sienna probably marked B.J. Mullens’ final game at Ohio State. The 7-footer came in heralded as the nation’s No. 1 recruit. He started two of 33 games, averaged 8.8 points and 4.7 rebounds. He was thoroughly outplayed by 6-9 Ryan Rossiter, who looks like the kid you put a Kick Me Hard sign on in the sixth grade.
Rossiter gave up three inches and 50 pounds to Mullens, but he had 16 points and 15 rebounds and was on the floor repeatedly scrapping for loose balls. Mullens acted, as he has all year, like he was allergic to hitting the floor. He loafed down court early in the game after Rossiter grabbed a defensive rebound. Rossiter scored in transition.
Here’s some advice, B.J.: Go to the NBA. Go now. Take the money and invest it wisely and help your family out of the poverty you overcame to get to Ohio State. The longer you play in college with the zero passion and effort you display, the lower your draft stock will go. Leave, before they find out the natural ability lavished upon you is locked inside a player who hasn’t yet – and maybe never will – figure out that it’s not anyone else’s responsibility to get that ability out of you.
It’s your responsibility.

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SO, IT ENDS LIKE THIS

March 24, 2009

The indelible image of Ohio State’s 74-72 double-overtime loss to Sienna in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament appeared on the television screen for just a second or two. It took no longer for that glance at OSU coach Thad Matta — kneeling on the sideline, one hand clasped to his forehead, looking down at the floor — to perfectly summarize what was happening and what would occur the rest of the game.
Matta seemed to be saying, either, “I can’t believe we’re this bad,” or, “I can’t believe we’re this stupid.” He’d have been justified making either statement.
It’s likely about the thousandth time he’s said one or both of those things this season.
He won’t be subjected to such torture again for awhile, now that a 22-11 record is n the books, topped by a loss that underscored every shortcoming of this maddeningly-inconsistent, consistently-maddening team.
Sienna, undersized and out-talented, dominated Ohio State on the boards, 53-37. At the Saints’ end of the floor, there were 51 available rebounds. Sienna claimed 23 of them, including the first five offensive rebounds of the game before OSU put as much as a hand on any of those errant shots.
The Buckeyes committed 20 turnovers against a zone press Sienna ran all season, a press OSU knew was coming and had a week to scheme against.
Ohio State owned a 41-30 lead with 14 minutes remaining and went scoreless for the next four minutes to let all but two points of that lead melt away.
So, we had a failure to rebound, a failure to handle the basketball and a failure to close out a game — problems that arose with numbing regularity – coming together in a perfect storm of ineptitude.
That resulted in defeat on a night Ohio State could have and should have comfortably had it played with any poise, passion or execution.
Evan Turner was outstanding with 25 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. His five turnovers hurt, but that’s an outgrowth of Turner being asked to do everything on a team where everyone around him is fatally one-dimensional.
Jon Diebler was awful, shooting 2-of-12, including 2-of-11 from three-point range.
Dallas Lauderdale and B.J. Mullens were uninterested, combining for 7 rebounds in 56 collective minutes.
William Buford shot 4-of-12, showing for once that he could be dreadful in both halves, not just one.
Jeremie Simmons had four turnovers in 10 minutes.
P.J. Hill had more rebounds (8) than Lauderdale and Mullens combined. As always, Hill gave great effort. But his five turnovers against pressure were critical, and his his failure to foul at the end of regulation — when he was told to do so by Matta — allowed the tying three-point shot that ultimately proved OSU’s undoing.
I am very supportive of the Ohio State head coach and his staff. I have confidence they will adjust to the changing landscape of college basketball that conspired – with injuries and the transfer of Anthony Crater to South Florida – to leave this team woefully short of depth and talent.
Going forward, Matta needs to seriously question taking a potential one-and-done player. I don’t advocate making a policy against taking such players. In fact, I believe you probably need them to win a national championship, and that’s the goal.
But taking Mullens on the heels of Kosta Koufos on the heels of Greg Oden helped get Ohio State from the national title game into this predicament.
OSU fans would have howled had Matta not recruited Mullens, opting instead for Massillon Perry’s Kenny Freese. But Freese is going to be at Xavier for three or four years, and Mullens is likely gone to the NBA after one uninspired season in Columbus.
Basketball recruiting is unforgiving. One mistake, coupled with one early NBA entry, coupled with one unexpected injury, and a program will suffer.

There’s an incorrect perception among Ohio State fans that some “basketball schools” never suffer a down cycle. They did at North Carolina, and Matt Doherty was fired as a result. They did at Duke, not making the Sweet Sixteen for two years. It happens everywhere, with the best programs having the most difficult standards on what constitutes a “down” year.
It’s much, much easier to be great in football year-to-year. In football, players are forced to stay in school for at least three years. In football, you can recruit 20-25 players a year, and if you hit on 50% of your recruits becoming good-to-great players, that’s a fantastic success ratio.
If you bat 50% on basketball recruits, you’re never going to sustain success.
So it’s completely unfair to compare Thad Matta and the Ohio State basketball program to Jim Tressel and the Ohio State football program.
But it is not unfair to expect OSU to be a challenger for the Big Ten title four out of five years, to be a Sweet Sixteen team three out of five years, or to be a Final Four challenger every three-to-five years.
I believe Ohio State has hit and will continue to hit those goals, which makes watching what we watched Friday night all the more frustrating.

The Weekend in Indy

March 16, 2009

    Ohio State’s runner-up finish in the Big Ten Tournament caught me completely off guard. I doubted whether OSU could handle Wisconsin in its opener, let alone stun top-seeded Michigan State in the semifinals. The Buckeyes didn’t just defeat MSU, they dominated the Spartans, leading by as many as 17 points in the second half before coasting to an 82-70 victory.
    That’s right, 82 points — the most by OSU since scoring 91 at Indiana on Jan. 31.
    The win over MSU marked one of the few times Evan Turner received help from both Jon Diebler and William Buford in the same game. Also, B.J. Mullens and Dallas Lauderdale contributed inside, because the guards finally decided the big men were more than decorating accessories for the painted area near the basket.
     OK, that’s the good news of the weekend. As for the bad news…
     The loss to Purdue in the championship game was a very, very winnable game. OSU had 30 minutes to put it away and did not, which proved costly when the Boilermakers finally hit some three-point shots to establish a lead Evan Turner couldn’t overcome down the stretch.
    Turner says he’s coming back next season. I hope he truly feels that way and isn’t talked out of it by his family, friends or agents. The kid could be a monster player if he takes the summer to become a better ballhandler. Right now, he’s a high-wire act as a dribbler. To his credit, though, he is uncanny creating offense for himself. Not since Jay Burson in 1988 has an Ohio State team relied so completely and exclusively on one guy.
    Ohio State didn’t win the Big Ten Tournament, but Turner unquestionably proved over the weekend that he was jobbed in the league’s MVP voting that went to Michigan State’s Kalin Lucas. Lucas plays on a much deeper team than Turner, and MSU won the title by four games, so I get why Turner didn’t win. But if you’re picking the best player in the league, only a blindly-loyal Spartan would take Lucas over Turner.
   Turner does everything for Ohio State. If he couldn’t, this team would be next-to-last in the league behind everyone but Indiana.
   The Purdue loss underscored how weak OSU is at point guard. I love P.J. Hill’s attitude and effort. He gets the most out of his God-given abilities, so I have no quarrel with P.J.
    Jeremie Simmons? Not so much.
    The label on Simmons coming out of Mott Junior College was that he was a combo guard who could really shoot the three and could create for himself and others. The lesson: Don’t believe junior college hype.
    At that level, where the games are frequently in the 80s and 90s, careless turnovers aren’t as crippling. But in the Big Ten, where most every game is a root canal in the 50s or 60s, every mistake is magnified, and Simmons makes too many for my taste.
    He made at least four ill-advised passes in the Purdue game when the target of his pass wasn’t remotely open. Why throw it? Because Simmons is so unnerved by pressure he can’t wait to get rid of the basketball. Good defensive teams smell that like a shark does blood in the water, and Purdue is a very good defensive team.
    The Boilermakers put the heat on Simmons and he couldn’t handle it. Teams in the NCAA Tournament will only intensify the pressure, which isn’t a promising scenario for OSU.
    The other thing that bothered me about loss to Purdue involves freshman center B.J. Mullens.
    Those who listen to The Big Show on 97.1 The Fan www.971thefan.com/live/content/programming/bigshow.html know I have been a big Mullens defender this season. I thought Ohio State should have run its offense through him more this season, allowing Turner, Buford and Diebler to get their offense from passes out of the low post.
    It’s obvious Mullens has monster potential, but it’s just as obvious there’s something keeping him from being the force many expected when he entered OSU the No. 1 center recruit in the country.
    From talking to ex-players who attend practice, from reading between the lines of things Matta and his players say, it’s my suspicion the one thing holding Mullens back is the guy looking back at him from the mirror every morning.
    Anyone who read the excellent story on Mullens in The Columbus Dispatch last week www.dispatch.com/live/content/sports/stories/2009/03/08/bj_mullens_3-8.ART_ART_03-08-09_C1_BDD54JP.html?sid=101 is rooting for this kid to make it big. He appears to have everything he needs for a long, successful career in the NBA, except the inner drive to achieve. Trouble is, that’s the most important part of the equation. It’s ironic that while almost nothing in life has come easily for Mullens, perhaps things in basketball have come too easily.  He’s apparently never learned how hard he must work to access the potential inside him.
    Mullens simply doesn’t display the aggression and desire on the court that he’ll need to make it at the next level, let alone this one. If LeBron James work ethic is off the charts, despite his instant success in the NBA, what does that tell you about how hard B.J. Mullens is going to have to work to make it professionally?
   I’ve heard from ex-players I trust, who have been to practice, that the reason Mullens doesn’t start ahead of Dallas Lauderdale is because Mullens does not work hard in practice. You have to admire Matta for not compromising on his insistence that a player must earn his starting spot.
    Against Purdue, it looked to me like Mullens did not want to be there. My suspicion? Shortly after Mullens first went on the floor, Matta pulled him and chewed him out for allowing Nemanja Calasan to get inside position for an easy basket.
    B.J. turned into Big Jello after that, and the Buckeyes paid the price for it.
    I know some NBA team will draft Mullens on his potential. He’ll make a nice check for the first few years. But that might be the only contract he ever gets if he doesn’t learn how hard he must work to make it in professional basketball. Again, if LeBron works hour upon extra hour to hone his game — in season and out of season — what will be required of Mullens to successfully bang with Shaq, Yao and The Big Ticket?
    I hope someone with Mullens’ best interest is in his ear about that. If they’re not, he could easily go to the league and be back here in Columbus in four or five years.
    Ask yourself, who was a better college player, B.J. Mullens or former Buckeye Ken Johnson?
    Kenny was the Big Ten’s career shot-block leader, two-time conference defensive player-of-the-year and had a better array of offensive moves than B.J. Mullens does right now.
    Kenny never made it in the NBA beyond the journeyman level.
    If B.J. aspires to more than that — and I’m sure he does — then he better have a heart to heart with that man in the mirror.