"Times like those call for celebration and I just felt the need to show my celebration by screaming at the camera...I just let out a weird noise."
-Amir Williams, via BuckeyeXtra's Bob Hunter
Since Amir Williams' Ohio State career began, he's been Buckeye Twitter's favorite target for cheap shots, complaints, and memes. It hasn't been wholly undeserved -- Williams has certainly failed to live up to the lofty expectations many had for him coming into college -- but at times, he's capable of putting things together in a way that makes all of that disappear for a moment. Last night saw one of those moments break loose.
Williams didn't pull down his first rebound until there was 3:15 left in regulation against VCU (see paragraph above if that stat surprises you), but his second one, which came 30 seconds later, was the one that really counted. The big man yanked down a Shannon Scott miss, drawing a foul on the Rams' Mo Alie-Cox, who fouled out. Williams erupted like few at Ohio State have ever seen him do.
"At that moment I was totally into the game and I was locked in and focused, and I decided to celebrate for a quick second," Williams said of his outburst.
Is it possible that the moment that prompted Williams' primal scream also awakened something within him, something that could let us see more than a flash of the talent that we've always hoped he had? We'll find out tomorrow when the Buckeyes take on Arizona, in what would be Williams' last game in the scarlet and gray if Ohio State falls. Here's hoping that "locked in and focused" Amir is the Amir we get from here on out.
"There were like three different games being played out there today. There was the big lineup for both teams, the small lineup for both teams, the zone lineup."
-Thad Matta, via Cleveland.com's Ari Wasserman
If Ohio State had lost to VCU on Thursday, there could have been any number of things to point to as to how it happened. The Buckeyes (stop me if you've heard this one before) started slowly, were terrible at the free throw line, and didn't threaten their opponent in the post in the first half. So how did Thad Matta's squad overcome those deficiencies to upset a talented VCU team? According to Wasserman, it all came down to matchups.
The first of these keyed on Ohio State's guards against VCU's famed "Havoc" defense, one which is designed to create turnovers on the opponent's side of the court with a stifling press. But the combination of veteran guard Shannon Scott, a talented ball-handler despite having an inconsistent jumper, and freshman phenom D'Angelo Russell proved too much for the Rams to handle at times. Scott turned the ball over just three times despite facing 45 straight minutes of VCU's press.
The other key contest came down to size. Ohio State has struggled mightily with bigger teams this season -- Purdue's 7-footers, anyone? -- but against a VCU team lacking a dominant big man, the Buckeyes were able to play the kind of small-ball they favor and generate offensive mismatches. Jae'Sean Tate, Ohio State's other do-it-all freshman, lined up at the five late in the game despite standing just 6'4. He finished with 12 points.
"How the Buckeyes handle the size difference early in the game could be a telling sign for what type of afternoon fans of both teams are in for."
-Bryan Dougherty, AZ Desert Swarm
Speaking of big men and post play, SB Nation's Arizona blog, AZ Desert Swarm, profiled what might be the most difficult element of the game for the Buckeyes on Saturday: the size advantage held by the Wildcats. There's been little to write home about for Buckeye big men this year, and if Ohio State is sent packing on Saturday, there's a good chance that this size mismatch is a reason why.
Ohio State is obviously a better team than the Texas Southern squad that Arizona beat up in the post on Thursday, but the same disparity in size is there for the Buckeyes. They certainly won't be able to run sets with Jae'Sean Tate at the five against a lineup that boasts a pair of 6'7 wings, a 6'9 power forward in Brandon Ashley and a 7'0 center, Caleb Tarczewski. If AJ Hammons' performances against the Buckeyes this season are any indicator, Ohio State could struggle mightily to contain Ashley and Tarczewski and control the glass.
So how can the Buckeyes make the upset happen? It really comes down to D'Angelo Russell. When the future lottery pick is on, he's on, and no size mismatches on the other end are going to stop him from getting buckets. Russell ran several devastating pick-and-roll plays against VCU last night, and if there's a way to leverage their quickness against Arizona's size, that's the place to do it.
"We have different sets, but really we want our kids to play fast out of them. Our goal is to try to find the breaking point of the defense."
-Ohio State men's lacrosse coach Nick Myers
The basketball team isn't the only Ohio State squad getting hot at the right time. The men's lacrosse team has overcome a disappointing start to emerge as one of the hottest teams in the country. Despite dropping their opener against Detroit, the Buckeyes have strung together a solid year, currently undefeated at home and sitting at 7-2 overall. They've clawed their way up to No. 17 in the national rankings.
Still, things don't get easier once you've made it into the rankings. The Buckeyes are in the thick of a three-game stretch against ranked opponents, facing off against No. 3 Notre Dame tomorrow in South Bend. They'll be weary, coming off of back-to-back wins against then-No. 3 Denver and No. 16 Towson, but if there's one thing Myers isn't worried about, it's the conditioning of his star players, particularly senior Jesse King.
"Jesse is in the best shape of his life," Myers said. "He's fresher in the fourth quarter, and we've won our last two games in the fourth quarter." The Buckeyes will need another big game from King, the team's leading scorer, if they want to do the unthinkable and knock off three ranked teams in the span of a single week.