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February 19, 2013

Commentary: sky's not falling for the Buckeyes

Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ask any other member of the Ohio State beat, and he or she will likely agree that I'm as cynical and skeptical as they come.

As a professional journalist, I don't view Buckeye games and news through the eyes of a fan. I stopped believing in good guys and bad guys in sports a long time ago. I no longer predict romantic, sentimental endings, but rather realistic ones that I can backup with evidence of trends and statistics regardless of who they favor.

It's for that reason that some of my less-than-positive tweets are met with multiple people deciding to un-follow me, and me nervously staring at my phone waiting to be reprimanded by my boss (that's never happened, for the record). It's also the reason that I enjoyed the past three Ohio State basketball seasons: because I knew this one wouldn't be like them.

In 2010, 2011, and 2012, the Buckeyes won three Big Ten championships, earned two 2-seeds and one 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament, appeared in three Sweet 16s, and made one run to the Final Four. That type of success is simply unsustainable in today's day and age of college basketball.

In the past 40 years, only two programs have won four-consecutive Big Ten regular season championships: Indiana (1973-1976) and Michigan State (1998-2001). Both the Hoosiers and Spartans accomplished this feat before the NBA's "one-and-done" rule went into effect in 2006 and the gap between and after their quartets of titles is telling of just how hard it is to sit atop the league standings for more than three seasons.

Ohio State's success in the past three seasons was spearheaded by All-Americans and NBA first round picks Evan Turner (2010) and Jared Sullinger (2011, 2012). Unless Deshaun Thomas makes a late push in the remainder of the 2012-13 season, this year's Buckeyes' squad will be without a player of such caliber for the first time since 2009.

So where's this season's All-American and first round pick, you ask? The fact is that finding one is easier said than done.

In the 10 seasons that preceeded Thad Matta's arrival in Columbus, Ohio State put a total of five players in the NBA, none of which were selected in the first round of the draft. Since then, Matta has put eight players in the NBA, including seven players who were selected in the draft's first round. While some of the Buckeyes' success has stemmed from the "one-and-done" rule preventing blue chip prospects like Greg Oden and Daequan Cook from entering the NBA straight out of high school, Matta deserves credit for making Ohio State an attractive destination for the country's top talent.

Of course recruiting the nation's best players also means missing on some of the nation's best players. It's no secret that Buckeyes have taken unsuccessful runs at the likes Tony Parker and Amile Jefferson in the past years, and in turn, this has led to some fans asking why Ohio State doesn't use Wisconsin's approach of recruiting safer players who stay for four (or five years) and developing them into consistent contributors. After all, the Badgers have finished in the top half of the Big Ten in each of Bo Ryan's first 11 seasons in Madison.

But is that really what you want? A program with a safer net but a lower ceiling. Wisconsin may find more consistent success on a year-to-year basis, but the Buckeyes are finding greater success, as seen evident by the fact that the Badgers have just once made it past the Sweet 16 under Ryan, and have yet to appear in a Final Four.

The fact of the matter is that the Buckeyes are playing big boy college basketball, and that means that a down year or two could follow a string of success. Look at Kentucky and North Carolina this season- perennial powerhouses who might be on the outside looking in come Selection Sunday this season.

Ohio State won't have to worry about that, and given that an NCAA Tournament selection is all but guaranteed in a season that many fans are referring to as a "low point" in the Matta Era, that may be more telling than anything when evaluating the current state of the Buckeyes' program.



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