It’s been a tough run if you’re an Ohio State basketball fan. The declining results, the embarrassing Big Ten Tournament loss to Rutgers, the failure to even make the NIT last season, and most recently, losing their best recruit, who was not shy about telling folks exactly what he thought about the state of Ohio State hoops.
There’s no sugarcoating it. That’s all pretty bad news. But there may be a reason to cheer coming soon.
Earlier this week, it was announced that multiple former Buckeyes, like Aaron Craft and Evan Ravenel, will be forming a team to compete in The Basketball Tournament. Other legends, like Greg Oden and Deshaun Thomas, are expected to join as well.
According to the Tournament press release, the Buckeye squad will feature Aaron Craft, Evan Ravenel, Dallas Lauderdale, Deshaun Thomas, Lenzelle Smith, Greg Oden, David Lighty, Jon Diebler, William Buford, Nate Miller and Leon Rodgers. Buckeye legend point guard Scoonie Penn will serve as the GM.
Handicapping the actual tournament feels like a foolhardy endeavor at this point, since we have no idea what other teams will be participating, or who is coming with them. But there’s reason to think this could be a strong squad. Thomas, after all, averaged over 14 points a game last season in the Euroleague. Aaron Craft, who has already demonstrated he can defend excellently at a non-NBA professional level, is adding 10 points and 2 steals a game in Italy. Jon Diebler is hitting over 50% from three. The list goes on.
Even if every player doesn’t pan out, given that the level of competition here is D-League/EuroLeague, there’s no reason to think this squad can’t at least be competitive.
But whether Ohio State wins the whole dang tournament, or just a few games, isn’t really the point, although that would be nice.
This group, from Thomas to Diebler to Craft and more, are the last holdovers from the recent Ohio State teams that weren’t just successful on the court, but fun. They won games, they had specific roles carves out, and they captured fan attention and affection, something that can taken for granted at a school where football is by far the most important sport, and football recruiting is probably second.
It won’t be hard to watch The Tournament. The early games are going to be on WatchESPN, and later ones will be on ESPN and ESPN2. They’re being played during a time on the calendar when nothing else is really going on. At a time when fan confidence in the program is as low as it’s been in a decade, fans will have the chance to fire up their computer, turn on their TV, and see players they liked remind them why they enjoyed Ohio State basketball to begin with.
The players understand that. Cleveland.com quoted Aaron Craft as saying:
"I think it can shed some positive light on the program..I know all of us on this team still have confidence in Coach Matta and what they're doing. I know we still trust and believe in that. If this can help them, that's fantastic. Whether with the fan base, or helping recruits see and remember that Coach Matta is a great coach and one of the best guys in the country."
Ohio State winning this tournament isn’t going to turn around Buckeye basketball. It almost certainly isn’t going to win them recruits. But even a modestly successful run can help give the program a little momentum on social media, in the press, and most importantly, in the hearts of fans. Craft hustling for a steal, or Oden demolishing somebody in the paint, or Diebler bombing away from Westerville can help erase some of the bad taste of the last few years, if only a little bit.
At this point, any positive momentum is good news for Ohio State basketball. Hopefully, this group of alums can provide some during The Tournament.