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.

Louisville backcourt struggles in first scrimmage

Quentin Snider, Jerian Grant
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While a few teams did manage to hold special events for the official start of practice this weekend, most simply went about their business with drills and conditioning. One team that was the exception to all of this was Louisville, which held the first of its two intersquad scrimmages on Saturday. The Cardinals had a head start of sorts on the season, as they played six exhibition games in Puerto Rico this summer.

One hope heading into Saturday’s scrimmage was that guards Trey Lewis and Quentin Snider would have better chemistry than they did in Puerto Rico. But according to Jeff Greer of the Louisville Courier-Journal, that remains a work in progress for the Cleveland State transfer (Lewis) and rising sophomore (Snider).

They struggled in Puerto Rico, and they struggled again in Saturday’s Red-White scrimmage, the first public intrasquad practice since August. They played one half of the game together, paired with the presumed starting lineup with Mangok Mathiang out with an eye injury, a group that also included Damion Lee, Jaylen Johnson and Chinanu Onuaku.

That team lost the first half by 13 points to a younger group of Louisville players, and Lewis and Snider combined for eight points on 3-of-12 shooting, five turnovers, five steals, four assists and three rebounds.

“I thought (Snider) and (Lewis) did not play well together,” U of L coach Rick Pitino said. “They’ve got to get used to that. Neither guy made other guys better. That’s what they need to learn to do.”

As Greer also noted in his story the Cardinals have in recent years employed backcourt tandems in which both guards are capable of making plays for themselves and others. On the 2013 national champion team Peyton Siva and Russ Smith led the way, with Smith being joined by Terry Rozier or Chris Jones the following season and Rozier/Jones being the grouping last season before the latter was dismissed from the team.

Once Jones was dismissed Snider saw more time on the court, and his development was one of the keys for a Louisville team that fell one win short of the Final Four. Louisville needs him to take another step forward heading into the 2015-16 season, because even with Lewis’ experience at the Division I level Snider has more experience playing in Pitino’s system.

But while Saturday’s scrimmage didn’t go as well as anyone involved hoped, there’s still plenty of time for Louisville to work out the kinks before they open the season November 13 against Samford.

Knee injury sidelines Memphis assistant

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With practices beginning this weekend, not only are players looking to avoid the injury bug but their coaches are as well. And in the case of Memphis, the Tigers won’t have one of their assistants on the court for a little while due to a knee injury.

Assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, who returned to Josh Pastner’s staff this summer after a two-year stint at Arizona, suffered the injury during a recent workout according to L. Jason Smith of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. And Stoudamire will require surgery, which will put him on the shelf for a little bit.

“He was working out himself and I think he thought he was in his rookie year,” Pastner said. “We think he’s got a torn meniscus, which will require surgery and put him out for a couple of days.”

Stoudamire isn’t the only assistant coach working through pain either. Syracuse’s Mike Hopkins, who is also Jim Boeheim’s heir apparent as head coach, suffered a neck injury body surfing during a family vacation last month. Hopkins spent some time in a neck brace while putting players through workouts as a result of the injury.

As for the Tigers, they’ll have a mixture of experience on the perimeter and youth in the front court as they look to get back to the NCAA tournament after missing out last season. Among the newcomers are talented forwards Dedric and K.J. Lawson, with experienced guards such as Kedren Johnson, Trahson Burrell and Ricky Tarrant (grad transfer from Alabama) expected to be key contributors on the perimeter.