Buckeyes close out season with win over Michigan
The Bucks just can't make it easy on the fans anymore, can they? For the third consecutive game, the Buckeyes were on the ropes, only to rally at the end to win it. This time it was the boys in blue that were looking to pull the upset. Michigan led by as much as eight points in the second half, and seemed to be on their way to pulling off the upset, before falling apart over the final 3:45. Ohio State finished the game on a 8-0 run to put the final score at 65-61.
Players of the game: Greg Oden and Ron Lewis each tallied 16 points over the course of the game. However, neither player really got it going at the same time. In the first half, Lewis had 12 points, and was really the reason Ohio State was in the game at halftime. Meanwhile, Oden scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half, as he clearly struggled at both ends of the ball for the first 20 minutes. His performance in the second half, though, was absolutely dominating. Despite being in foul trouble for just about the entire half (he had three fouls at the 17:01 mark), his aforementioned offensive performance and defensive dominance were the difference in the game. Perhaps the best thing that Oden displayed, though, was that he shot his free throws right-handed, and shot them well (4-5 on the day). If he can be that effective of a free throw shooter, and prove he can get to the line on a consistent basis, then all of this talk of his offensive futilities should disappear rather quickly. Also, having that right hand should help increase his overall offensive abilities (not dropping as many passes, more to his offensive repertoire than that hook shot, etc.).
Disappointing Performer: Daequan Cook went 0-5 from the field, including 0-2 from three point range. He finished the game with two points and three rebounds. This is the second game in a row that Cook has been nowhere to be found (2 pts on 1-6 shooting against Wisconsin). If Ohio State has any hopes of winning a National Championship, they are going to need much more steady production out of their 6th man. Outside of Oden, Cook is probably the most gifted player on this team, but you wouldn't know it by his stat line. His ability to spark a transition game adds a whole new facet to the Buckeye offense, which is something you don't see as much from a guy like Jamar Butler. He can score from anywhere on the court, and gives opposing defenses one more problem to worry about. If he's not productive, then who is going to take his place off the bench? Sure, Lighty may be our best defender, but his offensive presence is almost nonexistent. The importance of depth is only going to grow when the tournament rolls around and games are going to be much closer together than they have been during the season.
So, is a #1 seed a lock? Well, at this point, it would be hard to imagine Ohio State garnering anything other than a top seed, but with the current logjam at the top of the standings (OSU, Wisconsin, UCLA, UNC, Kansas, Texas A&M, and Florida all battling for 4 spots), it will most certainly come down to how Ohio State performs in the Big Ten tournament (PDF File). In my opinion, as long as Ohio State makes it to the semifinal game on Saturday, they should be perfectly fine. But, if the Buckeyes are to get upset by the winner of the Michigan/Minnesota game, and one of the teams that may currently be on the outside looking in (UNC, A&M, Florida) makes a serious run in one of their respective conference tournaments, then the Bucks may have to settle for a 2-seed for the second consecutive season.