Ohio State

Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Matta talks with guard Craft in the second half against the Wichita State Shockers during their West Regional NCAA men's basketball game in Los Angeles

Don’t mess with Aaron Craft’s memory

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Though Aaron Craft is a nutrition major with plans to pursue a medical career once he leaves Columbus, the Ohio State senior guard should have perhaps been a math major. Today, March 14, is Pi Day, a day to celebrate William Jones (who invented the universally used ratio) and math in general, and Craft’s method of celebration is to unveil his outstanding memory and recite a snippet of Pi.

I love Craft’s cockiness as he is being filmed. You can tell Craft likely had to remember this number for some long-ago middle school test, and is so confident with his memory, saying, “That is extremely accurate. I don’t even think you have to check that.” Perhaps this attention to detail helped in Craft’s transformation as one of the nation’s best on-ball defenders, using his mnemonic skills to catalog each opponents’ offensive tendencies and how to most effectively derail their scoring.

Ohio State has multiple options as they address the loss of Deshaun Thomas

Ohio State Buckeyes' Ross watches his game-winning three-point shot along with Arizona Wildcats' Lyons in the closing seconds of their West Regional NCAA men's basketball game in Los Angeles
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With leading scorer Deshaun Thomas now playing professionally the Ohio State Buckeyes find themselves looking for a player capable of taking the reins offensively. But if anything the 2013-14 season is setting up to be one in which multiple players shoulder the load for Thad Matta’s squad.

One of those options is junior forward LaQuinton Ross, whose improved play down the stretch helped propel the Buckeyes to a Big Ten tournament title and an appearance in the Elite Eight. And by the sounds of it Ross, who was one of the nation’s best prospects coming out of high school, is quite anxious to “spread his wings” so to speak.

“I definitely think I’ve been waiting,” Ross said on Thursday during the team’s media day. “The fans have also been waiting, too, to see what I can do. They heard the buzz about me since I came out of high school. At the end of the year I gave them something to look forward to this year.”

Ross averaged 8.3 points and 2.9 rebounds per game as a sophomore but he managed to score at least 17 points in each of Ohio State’s final three NCAA tournament games. Ross tallied 17 points in wins over Iowa State and Arizona, with his three-pointer in the final seconds proving to be the difference against the Wildcats, and then scored 19 points in a loss to Wichita State.

Even with Ross being the “easy” answer to the question of who becomes Ohio State’s primary scorer, as noted above Ohio State isn’t approaching the season with this thought. And with the amount of experience on Coach Matta’s roster, it makes sense that multiple players will be expected to raise their productivity.

“Collectively, guys have got to score more,” Matta said Thursday. “The one thing you saw more last year was guys had games where they showed that they could put the ball in the basket. Sam (Thompson) at Penn State, Lenzelle’s done it, Aaron (Craft) has done it, LaQuinton’s done it, Shannon (Scott) has done it. We have to have a little bit more of a flow to our offense. It’s something that we tried to put a big premium on.”

Thomas finished the season with a possession percentage of 27.2% and a shot percentage of 32.2%, leading the Buckeyes in both categories. With him gone multiple players stand to see their opportunities increase, and that could very well benefit Ohio State in the long run.

Top 25 2014 prospect Goodluck Okonoboh commits to UNLV

Kelly Kline/Under Armour
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6-foot-9 power forward/center Goodluck Okonoboh has transformed himself into one of the nation’s premier big men over the last year, going from a player who was merely on the radar of some of the nation’s best programs to a highly sought-after front court prospect. On Thursday evening Okonoboh announced where he would be attending college next season, verbally committing to attend UNLV on national television.

Okonoboh, a Woburn, Mass. native who attends Wilbraham & Monson Academy, picked Dave Rice’s program over Indiana and Ohio State. He joins highly-regarded small forward Dwayne Morgan in UNLV’s 2014 recruiting class, and his ability as a defender is something the Runnin’ Rebels will certainly be able to use next season.

UNLV is certain to lose Carlos Lopez-Sosa from their front court at the end of the 2013-14 season since he’s a senior, with UConn transfer Roscoe Smith and Khem Birch having another year of eligibility remaining. Okonoboh would join those two, with current freshmen Jamal Aytes, Demetris Morant (redshirted last season) and Christian Wood also in the competition for minutes.

Okonoboh took his official visit to UNLV this past weekend, and he cited his relationship with coach Rice as one of the deciding factors. Here are a few highlights of Okonoboh in action.

Big name candidates for UMass Lowell head coaching job

Al Skinner
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As UMass Lowell makes the transition to Division I, they will be doing so with a new head coach. In April, former UML coach Greg Herenda accepted the head coaching job at Fairleigh Dickinson replacing Greg Vetrone.

Herenda built the River Hawks into a strong Division II program compiling a record of 95-54 in his five seasons at the helm, including four straight tournament appearances. But, Division I is a different animal. UML is set to join the America East conference and will have to wait four years to become eligible for postseason play—similar to what Bryant University went through when making the move to the Northeast Conference.

In a report from the Lowell Sun last week, there are several big name candidates that are being targeted for the job: former big-time college coaches Al Skinner and Jim O’Brien, current Williams College coach Mike Maker—who was recently a candidate for the head coaching position at American University—and former Kentucky star and Louisville assistant Walter McCarty.

It’s hard to say if one of the candidates has emerged as a favorite, but former Rhode Island and Boston College coach Al Skinner may fit the description as outlined by UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan:

“We’re looking for folks with an outstanding track record, and with Division 1 experience. We’ve heard from coaches with experience at top-notch programs, and young and hungry assistants from Division 1 programs. I have been impressed with the caliber of coaches that we’ve received interest from.”

It is commonly known that there is little love lost between Skinner and Boston College who didn’t part ways on the friendliest of terms, but it’s hard to deny Skinner’s track record. Compiling a 247-165 record at BC cannot be discounted, nor can his seven NCAA Tournament appearances in a nine year span.

What about Jim O’Brien? Also a former Boston College coach who had much success in the mid-90s, but left for Ohio State where he took the Buckeyes to the Final Four in 1999, which they later vacated due to NCAA violations committed by O’Brien. O’Brien was eventually fired by Ohio State, but has been the head coach at Emerson College since 2011.

“Other notable names rumored to be in the mix for the UML job include current Emerson College and former Boston College and Ohio State coach Jim O’Brien, Williams College coach Mike Maker, Northeastern assistant Pat Duquette, Florida Atlantic assistant Mike Jarvis II, and former NBA veteran Walter McCarty.”

Another name to keep an eye on is current Central Connecticut assistant and former Holy Cross and College of Charleston assistant Sean Ryan. In an earlier article from the Lowell Sun, Ryan is “very interested” in the job:

According to a source, Ryan is “mustering a ton of support” among fans, alumni and others invested in the UMass Lowell men’s basketball program. The source also said that Ryan views UML as a “destination job, and a great opportunity.”

Ultimately, it comes down to the direction UML wishes to head in: a proven Division 1 head coach who’s demonstrated the capability of running a successful program, or a hot up-and-coming a coach who will bring the necessary energy to transition the program up a level.

Seeing that it’s already mid-May and UML is without a coaching staff in place with practices beginning in just over four months, expect a coach to be named in the coming weeks.

You can find Kevin on twitter @KLDoyle11

Aaron Craft is the hero, LaQuinton Ross comes up big for Ohio State Sunday

LaQuinton Ross
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Aaron Craft missed a jump shot with 29 seconds remaining and the game tied at 75-75 Sunday in Dayton against Iowa State. The ball then slipped out of bounds off of the Cyclones, giving Ohio State one more shot. And all Craft needed was another chance.

As time winded down, Craft pulled up from the right wing and nailed a three-pointer with 0.5 seconds left, giving Ohio State the 78-75 win and a spot in the Sweet 16. Craft finished with 18 points, including that big shot to win it, and added six assists.

The ability to hit that shot is a full 180-degree turn from the way he had been playing down the stretch, going 2-of-5 from the line including missing the front end of two one-and-ones, and turning the ball over twice in the final 5:35 of play. Despite that, he still stepped up and hit the game-winner, however low-percentage or unlikely a shot it was.

(Click here to see video of Craft’s game-winning shot)

But for as clutch as Craft’s shot in the final seconds was or how important Deshaun Thomas’ 22 points were, don’t forget about the job sophomore LaQuinton Ross did coming off the bench Sunday.

Ross played just 35 minutes during his entire freshman season with the Buckeyes. But he played 21 Sunday and looked like the big-time weapon that the Buckeyes had recruited him to be, all coming in the season’s biggest moment so far.

Ross scored 10 points in a crucial three-minute span of the second half Sunday, finishing with 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting, including 3-of-5 from three-point range.

For Ross, this was his fifth double-digit scoring game since the conference season started, but it came in a huge spot for the Buckeyes. Coach Thad Matta was able to stretch the zone that Iowa State played for parts of the second half with Ross’ help, while still allowing for some versatility defensively. Even with Ross’ outbreak, it took some work for Ohio State to escape in the final minutes.

With 6:04 to play, the Cyclones trailed by 13 points. It took just over two minutes for that lead to be completely erased, tied at 69-69 after a Korie Lucious layup and the foul. In that stretch Craft, a 79 percent free throw shooter on the season, missed the front end of two straight one-and-ones.

But did he ever redeem himself? Of course.

Ohio State now moves on to play Arizona, a team that has breezed through its first two games in this NCAA tournament by beating Belmont and Harvard. The coaching matchup will be what likely grabs most of the headlines between Arizona’s Sean Miller and Ohio State’s Thad Matta. Miller worked on Matta’s staff when Matta was the head coach at Xavier, and Miller took over that role when Matta jumped ship for Ohio State.

Oh, and that game is for a trip to the Elite Eight.

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Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Late Night Snacks: Ohio State gets a big win, UNLV holds off Boise State

Anthony Marshall
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Game of the Day: No. 14 Ohio State 67,  No. 2 Indiana 58

Defense was the key for Ohio State Tuesday night in its big road win over Indiana. Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott combined for eight steals and ground Indiana’s offensive attack to a halt, including National Player of the Year candidate Victor Oladipo. That defensive effort turned into offense and the Buckeyes were able to get by without an efficient night from Deshaun Thomas. The victory keeps Ohio State in the running for a share of the Big Ten regular season title.

Important Outcomes

1. UNLV 68, Boise State 64

A signature road win in the tough Mountain West would have helped Boise State in its bid for the NCAA tournament, but the Broncos were unable to come up with one Tuesday. Anthony Marshall took over down the stretch and was too much for coach Leon Rice’s team, despite 22 points from Anthony Drmic.

2. Iowa 63, Illinois 55

This game did a couple of things. First, the loss hurts Illinois’ seeding in the NCAA tournament, dropping them for now from a seven or eight seed to a nine or ten seed. Secondly, it keeps the slim Iowa NCAA tournament hopes alive, which were hurt so badly by the Hawkeyes’ loss to Nebraska last month.

3. No. 25 Memphis 56, UTEP 54

Despite remaining undefeated in the C-USA, Memphis likely scared off some believers with its performance Tuesday. The Tigers had to claw back from behind and turned the ball over with three seconds to play, allowing UTEP to get off one final heave and shot at a win, though that shot fell short. Without a signature win on its resume, how confident can we be in Memphis?

Starred

1. Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott, Ohio State (23 points, 8 steals)

The combination of these two players on the perimeter completely disrupted Indiana’s offensive flow, keeping Victor Oladipo and the rest of the Hoosiers’ attack in check. Ohio State then turned that defense into offense and got a big road win in the conference.

2. Anthony Marshall, UNLV (16 points, 5-of-6 FG, 8 assists, 5 rebounds)

Marshall took the game over in the second half for UNLV in a big home victory over a tough Boise State bubble team. He scored eight points in the final 4:42 of regulation and had a key dribble-drive that opened up Katin Reinhardt for the three-pointer that sealed the game for the Rebels.

3. D.J Cooper, Ohio (First player ever to record 2,000 points, 900 assists, 600 rebounds, 300 steals in career)

What Cooper put the finishing touches on Tuesday is an accomplishment that had never before been achieved in the history of college basketball. He finished with 24 points and five assists in a three-point Ohio win.

Struggled

1. St. John’s Offense (17-of-56 FG, 40 points)

The young Red Storm were already at a disadvantage offensively without suspended leading scorer D’Angelo Harrison, but Notre Dame was successful in slowing down their transition attack and forcing them to operate in the half court. The result was 30 percent shooting and a lack of overall offensive flow. St. John’s will be without forward Sir’Dominic Pointer after his scuffle with Notre Dame’s Cameron Biedscheid at the end of the game.

2. Illinois Backcourt (11-of-39 FG)

Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson, and Tracy Abrams combined to shoot 11-of-39 from the floor for an Illinois team that is sliding back into back habits and did not shoot well from the floor in a loss to Iowa. After a bad stretch earlier in the season, the Illini seemed to have bounced back, but will have to stop this slide before it really starts.

3. Arkansas Rebounding (-23 vs. Missouri)

Missouri is a good rebounding team, that’s for certain, but the Razorbacks had little chance Tuesday with a -23 rebounding margin against the Tigers. Arkansas continues to struggle away from home.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_