Ohio State goes on winning streak while Deshaun Thomas slumps?

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There haven’t been many teams in the country that are quite are difficult to get a grasp on as No. 14 Ohio State.

Early on, it seemed pretty simple, frankly.

With Aaron Craft being forced into being the second-option for Thad Matta’s club on the offensive end of the floor, Ohio State looked like they were a team that was, more-or-less, a one-man show. On the nights that Deshaun Thomas was hot, Ohio State probably had enough firepower to compete with anyone in the country and beat their fair share of good teams. On the nights he was off, OSU fans had to hope and pray that someone — anyone — else stumbled their way into a rhythm, be it Lenzelle Smith, LaQuinton Ross or Craft himself.

As the Big Ten season progressed, that theory appeared to be confirmed. The Buckeyes beat a couple good teams at home, had some ugly performances on the road, and looked every bit the part of a team destined to be a five or a six-seed come Selection Sunday. A 22 point loss to Wisconsin on February 17th, which was Ohio State’s third loss in four games, appeared to be the clincher.

But Thad Matta has turned this team around.

It started with a dominating, 26 point win home over Minnesota. It continued with an impressive home victory against then-No. 4 Michigan State. And after an ugly road performance at Northwestern, it was capped last night, as the Buckeyes went into Assembly Hall and dominated No. 2 Indiana on the defensive end, filling the biggest hole on their NCAA tournament profile in the most impressive fashion possible.

All it took was two weeks, and the Buckeyes look like a team that might be able to string together four wins in the NCAA tournament.

The biggest reason?

Deshaun Thomas, but not the way that you might think.

The Buckeyes are currently on a four-game winning streak and playing their best basketball of the season, yet they are doing it while Thomas has run into a bit of a slump on the offensive end of the floor. Over those four games, Thomas is shooting 35.4% from the floor and 21.7% from three while watching his scoring dip to 17.5 points in that stretch, down from 20.1 points in the first 25 games.

It’s not like Thomas is being used any less. He averages 16 FG’s on the season, and took exactly that number in three of the four games. He took 17 shots on Tuesday night. His usage rate has actually gone up, from 27.2% on the season to around 29% in those four games.

Deshaun Thomas has still been Deshaun Thomas, he’s just been bad Deshaun Thomas.

And Ohio State is still winning.

Why?

Well, it’s in large part due to their vaunted defense, which is playing as well as it has all season long. They’ve stymied three of the Big Ten’s four best offenses — and three of the nation’s top 25 offenses, according to Kenpom.com — during that stretch. They’ve also been getting some terrific play out of Aaron Craft, who looked every bit an all-american against the Spartans and the Hoosiers.

Thomas is too talented to be in a slump forever. Craft is too much of a [insert typical cliche used for media darlings here] not to show up in March. And Ohio State’s defense, which ranks 12th nationally, is always going to be tough to score on.

Maybe we need to start paying some more attention to the Buckeyes.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

No. 7 South Carolina upends No. 3 Baylor to advance to the Elite 8

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NEW YORK — It was with a whipping and a whimper that Baylor’s season can to an end on Friday night.

The final two minutes of the game wasn’t actually a game. No. 7 seed South Carolina dished out a 70-50 beatdown that wasn’t in doubt after the Gamecocks used an 18-0 run at the end of the first half to turn a rock fight into statement, and for the final two minutes of the game, the Gamecocks and, eventually, Baylor dribbled out the remaining seconds before joining arms at center court for a postgame prater.

It’s the third straight year that Baylor has been bounced from the NCAA tournament by a team seeded lower than them. In 2015, it was R.J. Hunter’s heroics that knocked his dad off of a stool and sent No. 14 seed Georgia State into the second round of the tournament. In 2016, the Bears fell in the first round to No. 12 seed Yale, prompting one of the most memorable press conference moments in NCAA tournament history.

And on Friday night, it was South Carolina that sent the Bears into offseason hibernation.

It was a disheartening end to a season, a loss that will surely provide fodder for the people that traffic in ‘Scott Drew can’t coach’ jokes, the irony being that the 2016-17 season was definitive proof that Scott Drew is almost certainly better at his job than you are at yours.

“When you coach for a while and you make Elite Eights and Sweet 16, you kind of start taking it for granted that you will always be successful in March,” Drew said. “But it’s a good reminder to be here and know how hard it is.”

No. 1 North Carolina handles No. 4 Butler en route to Elite Eight

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North Carolina, the top seed in the South Region, led by as many as 20 en route to a 92-80 win over No. 4 Butler in the Sweet 16 matchup on Friday night at the FedEx Forum in Memphis.

The Tar Heels were led by 26 points, off 8-of-13 shooting, from junior point guard Joel Berry II. The 6-foot floor general had been hampered by an ankle injury through the first weekend. While he still seemed to favor that same ankle at times, his play was a big improvement on his 3-of-21 shooting through the NCAA Tournament’s first two rounds. Justin Jackson nearly matched Berry’s game-high with 24 points.

Andrew Chrabascz, in the final game of his four-year career at Butler, finished with 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

North Carolina, the last of the ACC’s nine tournament bids, advances to the Elite Eight to face the winner of No. 3 UCLA and No. 2 Kentucky. The Wildcats own a win over North Carolina, defeating the Tar Heels, 103-100, on Dec. 17 behind 47 points from Malik Monk.

Missouri lands No. 1 player in Class of 2017 as Michael Porter Jr. commits

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Missouri and new head coach Cuonzo Martin have landed the No. 1 player in the Class of 2017 a week after he took the job as forward Michael Porter Jr. committed to the Tigers on Friday.

Formerly a Washington commit under now-fired head coach Lorenzo Romar, the 6-foot-9 Porter was released from his Letter of Intent this week and many believed he’d end up back at Missouri.

The Porter family lived in Columbia for many years as two of Michael’s older sisters play for the Missouri women’s team while Michael Porter Sr. was an assistant coach for the women’s team.

When Porter Sr. was hired to Missouri to be an assistant coach on Martin’s staff this week — after losing his assistant coaching job at Washington when Romar was fired — it all but sealed the deal that the Porters would return to Missouri and Michael Jr. would play for the Tigers.

Missouri might not be an NCAA Tournament team next season after struggling to an 8-24 finish and 2-16 record in the SEC. But Porter might be the most productive freshman entering college basketball next season as he has a chance to be dominant in the SEC.

Oklahoma State promotes assistant coach Mike Boynton to head coach

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Oklahoma State has decided to promote assistant coach Mike Boynton to head coach, the school announced on Friday.

Boynton was an assistant with the Cowboys under former head coach Brad Underwood, who left Oklahoma State to take the Illinois job last weekend. Also an assistant coach at Stephen F. Austin, South Carolina, Wofford and Coastal Carolina, Boynton is a native of New York City who played his college ball for the Gamecocks.

The hire of Boynton is surprising since he doesn’t have any head-coaching experience as it follows in the footsteps of Cal promoting assistant coach Wyking Jones earlier in the day. Boynton also notably won the job over broadcaster and former Oklahoma State guard Doug Gottlieb as Gottlieb interviewed for the job but wasn’t selected.

 

Rhode Island junior E.C. Matthews will return to school

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Rhode Island junior guard E.C. Matthews will return to school for his redshirt senior season, the school announced on Friday.

The 6-foot-5 Matthews led the Rams in scoring at 14.9 points per game this past season as he returned from a torn ACL and helped Rhode Island reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999.

Besides for being a talented scorer, Matthews is a good overall playmaker for the Rams as he also put up 4.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game.

With Matthews returning, it gives head coach Dan Hurley a huge weapon for next season as Rhode Island returns everyone besides the senior front court of Hassan Martin and Kuran Iverson.