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March 28, 2010 - Al Stephenson
I have been reading comments online about Ohio State's loss to Tennessee on Friday. As usual those that have their say think they know what the problem was. That is the way it works in the world of sports. Everyone has their own ideas as to why a particular team lost a game, and this game was no exception.
Coach Thad Matta was taking a lot of heat in the posts. The referees were not particularly criticized and Tennessee was not given all that much credit. The bigggest surprise to me was the sharp criticism of Matta as Buckeye fans vented their frustration at not reaching the Final Four.
Many people felt that Matta should have been playing his bench more all year long. Several suggested that he should have stayed away from the 1-3-1 trap defense that did lead to a few uncontested Tennessee layups. Others wanted to see Jon Diebler go to the bench as he struggled with his shot and be replaced by Jeremie Simmons. Still others referred to Matta as the worst coach in college basketball. That, I believe, is a little harsh.
Simmons got some unexpected playing time in the first half when David Lighty got in foul trouble. He was very good, hitting three 3-pointers. Should he have been given a chance in the second half - replacing Diebler? Perhaps. It is hard for a coach however, to not dance with the one that got you there. Has a player missed several shots in a row only to get on a roll? Of course. This did not happen to Diebler so the criticism reigned down.
I understand a person's desire to place blame, but sometimes it is not warranted. At the risk of sounding more intelligent than I am, here's my thoughts on the game.
First and foremost, Tennessee is as good as the Buckeyes, seeds be danged. They beat Kentucky and Kansas during the season and their roster is loaded with great athletes. This was not an upset. Tennessee deserved to win and so did the Bucks. Two good teams and one has to lose.
The officiating was shaky for me. I didn't like how close they called the game particularly early. A lot of jicky-jack calls. When Diebler stripped the ball and was heading for a layup that might have changed the outcome of the game, he was called for a reach that would not be called 95% of the time. I could live with that, but how many whistles blew from that point until the finish? If you said one (Turner's intentional foul with just a few seconds left) give yourself a cigar. I felt that there were a few calls that could have been made that might have benefitted OSU from there to the finish. Then again I am a little biased, because I was rooting for my home state team.
That being said, the officials did not cost OSU the game. They lost because they didn't score enough points. Tennessee did and deserved the victory.
Perhaps our problem is the fact that our expectations are too high. OSU will not get to the final four every year. People in Kansas and Kentucky are probably a little disappointed right now too. It was a good year for the Buckeyes and we should enjoy that, not look for scapegoats.
The view from my seat suggests that it will be fun watching the finals. One can root for West Virginia (first appearance since 1959) or Butler (first EVER appearance). Maybe you will be rooting for one of the teams that win today as the final four bracket is completed.
Whether you root for a team or just watch - enjoy the games everybody.
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