Ohio State’s unbeaten season is history, but plenty of pressure remains

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Ohio State’s loss Saturday to Wisconsin raised two questions:

  1. Who will be the new No. 1 team?
  2. Is losing a game before the NCAA tournament a good thing?

We’ll learn the answer to question 1 in a few hours. Question 2, however, won’t be answered – if at all – until March.

The Buckeyes entered the game 24-0. Talk had already begun of an unbeaten season and whether a loss would “help” the Buckeyes regain their focus. Made for an interesting read by Pete Thamel of the New York Times.

“We don’t like to lose,” Ohio State freshman Jared Sullinger told Thamel. “In the long run, it helps you out. You know what it feels like to lose, and you know that you don’t want to feel that feeling again.”

Sullinger’s coach, Thad Matta, says going unbeaten wasn’t a priority, or even a goal.

“I didn’t care about being undefeated,” Matta told Thamel. “I’m more consumed with us just playing our best basketball. Doing this as long as I have, it’s such a long season. This was a heck of a game today. It is what it is. There hasn’t been anyone to do it since [Indiana] 1976.”

You’ll hear people talk Monday about how Ohio State should be relieved. Now the Buckeyes won’t be distracted or feel any additional pressure of trying to be the first team since ’76 Indiana to finish a season unbeaten. Makes the rest of the season a breeze, right?


Does this sound easy? Ohio State’s remaining Big Ten matchups include a trip to Purdue and home games vs. Michigan State, Illinois and Wisconsin. Then the Buckeyes have the Big Ten tournament, and then will try to win six straight NCAA tournament games.

No pressure there. And it’s not like only having one loss makes it any easier.

Illinois was 29-0 when Ohio State pulled off the upset in the team’s regular season finale. Illini assistant Jay Price told Thamel that the loss “took pressure off our guys, and we rolled through the Big 10 tournament.” But if the goal is to win a national title, losing one game didn’t help Illinois because it lost to UNC in the final.

In fact, since ’76 Indiana, no team has won the NCAA tournament with only one loss. Nineteen teams, the most recent of which was ’08 Memphis, have tried.  If all the pressure of an unbeaten season was gone, one of those teams would’ve won, right? Ohio State (and Kansas and SDSU) should probably hurry up and lose another game or else the pressure of being the first team since ’74 N.C. State to win it all with just one loss will build and build until it becomes unbearable.

Going unbeaten isn’t impossible. Neither is cutting down the nets with only one loss. Just because neither have happened recently doesn’t make them a thing of the past, it just makes them coincidences. If someone was good enough to go unbeaten, they would, pressure be damned. Until then, save the “good loss” arguments.

Want more? I’m also on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.

Tyler Ulis injured as No. 1 Kentucky beats South Florida

Tyler Ulis, Ky Howard
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MIAMI (AP) Jamal Murray had 21 points and No. 1 Kentucky scored the final 15 points of the first half on the way to beating South Florida 84-63 in the HoopHall Miami Invitational on Friday.

Skal Labissiere added 17 points for the Wildcats (6-0), who led by as many as 31. Charles Matthews scored 11 points and Isaiah Briscoe finished with seven assists for Kentucky, now a winner of 37 consecutive regular-season games and 39 in a row against unranked opponents.

Chris Perry scored 14 points for USF (1-5), which has lost 18 consecutive games against teams ranked in the Top 25. Jaleel Cousins added 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting, and Jahmal McMurray scored 11 points for the Bulls.

Kentucky played the second half without starting guard Tyler Ulis, who departed with a right elbow injury after getting hurt while fighting for a ball loose on the floor.

Kentucky announced after the game that the injury was a hyperextension of the elbow and that he will be day-to-day.

The Bulls were within 27-21 with 6 minutes left in the first half after McMurray banked in a 3-pointer only a few feet away from where John Calipari was standing, and the look of anguish on the Kentucky coach’s face was clear.

It didn’t last long.

The Wildcats scored on seven of their next nine possessions and the game was over by halftime, Kentucky going into the break with a 42-21 lead.

It was a reunion for plenty of people on both benches. Calipari squared off with his former assistant Orlando Antigua, now in his second year leading USF. Antigua’s staff includes another former Calipari assistant in Rod Strickland, plus former Kentucky basketball staff members Mike Malone and Dominic Lombardi.

So the staffs have plenty of familiarity. On the court, there was plenty of disparity. Kentucky finished with a commanding 23-6 edge in points off turnovers and finished with 16 assists to the Bulls’ six.