If you saw the headline and came here to tell me that I shouldn’t be looking past Villanova: Stop! I am an Ohio State fan and blogger, whether or not I am looking ahead to a potential Sweet Sixteen matchup against That (Basketball) Team Up North makes absolutely zero difference in the outcome of today’s game against No. 2 Villanova.
Looking ahead is inherent to the DNA of fandom. Looking ahead gets fans excited, gets us optimistic. Not only is there nothing wrong with that from a fan’s perspective, in fact, I would argue that it makes the games more enjoyable in the moment to be actively aware of what potential the future holds.
My co-managing editor Gene Ross took care of analyzing today’s NCAA Tournament opponent for the Ohio State men’s basketball team, so I am going to paraphrase college football’s favorite chant and after the Corn and Blue basketball team beat Tennessee on Saturday night, I’m simply going to say, “We Want TTUN <clap, clap, clap-clap-clap>!”
I realize that Ohio State is a five-point underdog to ‘Nova according to DraftKings Sportsbook, but after watching the Buckeyes put up one of the best defensive efforts in recent OSU memory, I am all-in on Chris Holtmann’s team’s chances to make the Sweet Sixteen and even the Elite Eight; yes, you read that right.
And while I fully admit that I am being a prisoner of the moment (that’s that whole “being excited about the future” thing that makes being a fan fun), I believe that the Buckeyes can beat Jay Wright’s Wildcats today and then knock off their rivals for the second time this season to make it to the national quarterfinals. And, with all due respect to the rest of the OSU team, this confidence is all born from a moderately athletic, tough-minded, oft-injured #GirlDad being back on the court.
Over the past decade-ish, the Buckeyes have had a serious line of important and influential “glue guys”: David Lighty, Aaron Craft, Jae’Sean Tate, Andre Wesson, and, for the last few seasons, Kyle Young. While none were ever the best player on their Scarlet and Gray teams, it cannot be overstated how important these players were (and are, in KY’s case) to the success of their respective squads.
There is no question that E.J. Liddell and Malaki Branham are OSU’s two best players this season — and will likely both be first-round NBA Draft picks in a matter of months — but Young is the heart and soul of this team and is the most important factor in winning today’s game.
Sure, if Liddell was suddenly injured, they’d likely have no shot, same with Branham, but there is just something different about this team when Young is on the floor. After Ohio State lost 67-51 to Indiana two and a half months ago in a game that Young only played 10 minutes due to a “non-COVID” illness, I wrote that this team would “only go as far as Kyle Young allows,” and that remains my belief today.
You’ve all seen it. Young brings an energy, a connectedness, and a toughness to the floor that even if he’s not stuffing the stat sheet, his influence over the game is unmistakable.
Villanova is a guard-led team — even though their bigs like Jermaine Samuels, Eric Dixon, and Brandon Slater will all contribute — so you might be asking whether or not Young’s presence is even all that important in today’s game. And the answer, my friends, is a definitive “yes.” But you already knew that. Before the Big Ten Tournament started, LGHL readers knew that Young being healthy would have a huge impact on the team’s chances for postseason success.
Like his immediate glue guy predecessor Andre Wesson, Young just finds a way to be at the center of all of the action (which might also explain why he is also always finding himself banged up). He’s in the lane grabbing crucial rebounds, he’s on the floor fighting for loose balls, he’s around the rim cleaning up other people’s misses, he’s in passing lanes causing turnovers, and — when the opportunity presents itself — he’s behind the arc hitting triples. In other words, Kyle Young is always doing #KyleYoungThings™️.
More than toughness, what I see from the entire team when Young is on the floor is a focus and attention to detail that isn’t there otherwise. The performance and production are ratcheted up a few extra notches and it elevates the potential of the team to levels that the impressive talents of Liddell and Branham could not take them on their own.
So, while if I were a betting man, I’d probably still take Villanova -5, but I’m not a betting man, I’m an Ohio State fan. Reality and reason don’t usually factor into my completely biased outlook of Buckeye sporting events; logic need not apply in situations like these.
I know that it will take a minor miracle for the Buckeyes to beat Villanova today. I know that Young only averages 8.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game. I know that in the 98 games of his Buckeye career in which Young has played 15 minutes or more, Ohio State is 66-32 (67.35%), which is only ever-so-slightly better than their overall record during his time on the team (107-55, 66.05%). I know that there is little empirical evidence to put so much stock in this team based solely on Young’s availability. But if there’s anything that we here in Buckeye Nation absolutely do know, it’s that evidence and logic are not necessary to being a fan. Go Bucks! Beat Villanova (and Michigan)! Ann Arbor is a Whore! #GirlDads rule!