John Clay: Buckeyes can't keep this up, can they?

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMarch 21, 2011 

SPORTS GEORGEMASON-OHIOST 1 OH

Freshman forward Jared Sullinger dunked for two of his 18 points in top-seeded Ohio State's 98-66 thrashing of eighth-seeded George Mason in the East Regional on Sunday. Ohio State plays Kentucky next.

NEAL C. LAURON — MCT

The good news is no way the Buckeyes can play that well again.

Can they?

Come on, if Ohio State performs the way it did in flat-out bashing poor George Mason 98-66 in Cleveland on Sunday in the third round of the NCAA Tournament, then Kentucky has no chance come Friday night in Newark.

Seemed like Thad Matta's men hit every shot, grabbed every rebound, snatched every loose ball. The Buckeyes set a school tournament record by making 16 three-pointers. They shot 61 percent for the game. First half, they doubled the poor Patriots 52-26.

Good thing UK Coach John Calipari doesn't like to show his team a lot of film of the upcoming opponent. In this case, Calipari might want to burn the tape.

But here's the thing about the NCAA Tournament, the law of averages always seems to take over. A wondrous performance one game doesn't guarantee a dominant one the next.

For example, last year, No. 1 seed Syracuse drubbed No. 8 seed Gonzaga 87-65 in the round of 32. The Orange then proceeded to lose next time out to Butler. In 2009, Louisville slaughtered Arizona 103-64 in the Sweet 16. Two days later, the Cards scored all of 49 points against Michigan State and lost by three.

The Buckeyes were certainly stunning Sunday night, but even the No. 1 overall seed can't be that good. Can they?

The Bucks boast a rare and enviable mix of talent and maturity. They are 34-2. Jared Sullinger, the 6-foot-9 freshman, is a bull inside. Freshman guard Aaron Craft had seven assists in the first half of the Mason mauling. Deshaun Thomas, another freshman and former Mr. Indiana basketball, contributes off the bench.

Now add three grizzled seniors in David Lighty, Jon Diebler and Dallas Lauderdale. Playing in his hometown of Cleveland, Lighty shot a ridiculous 7-for-7 from three-point range on the way to 25 points Sunday. Diebler made 50 percent of his threes for the season. The 255-pound Lauderdale helps patrol the paint.

That lineup is part of what makes the Friday matchup in the swamps of Jersey so intriguing.

Not only does Ohio State have three freshmen in prominent roles, so does UK in Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb.

Not only do the Buckeyes have three key upperclassmen, so do the Cats in Josh Harrellson, DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller.

Oops, turns out Ohio State actually has four vaunted vets. William Buford is a junior, but he's a starter and budding star. Buford quietly scored 18 on the Patriots, four above his average. And Draft Express ranks the 6-5 swingman as the 43rd best prospect for this summer's taking.

Kentucky isn't deep. Neither is Ohio State. UK's Jones is considered a possible lottery pick. Sullinger is held in even higher regard. Kentucky went undefeated at home in conference play. So did Ohio State. Kentucky has won its last eight games. Ohio State has won its last nine.

Ah, but maybe the Cats have one edge at least. After all, Calipari is a master motivator, and no doubt the Kentucky coach will spend a good deal of the week talking about how the Buckeyes are the prohibitive favorites.

He'll say his young Cats will be lucky to stay in the game. He'll say there's a reason why the selection committee picked the Big Ten champions as the top overall seed.

Speaking of which, wasn't Ohio State Athletics Director Gene Smith the same man whose tournament selection committee assigned Kentucky a No. 4 seed?

To be sure, Sunday night in the Mistake by the Lake, Smith and Company looked like they sure got the No. 1 overall seed right.

But surely the Buckeyes can't play that well again on Friday night.

Can they?

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com. Follow him on Twitter at @johnclayiv.

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