Originally posted on Fox Sports Ohio  |  Last updated 3/10/12
Ohio State got to February, started thinking about March and suddenly went flat. The Buckeyes went the diva route, too. Jared Sullinger signed off Twitter and admitted he was worried about media criticism and officials' calls. A 39-game home win streak ended, and then Ohio State lost a second game on its home floor. It seemed like there was lid on the rim and it was clear the Buckeyes were playing burdened. All that's changed over the last few weeks. Sullinger is back to playing like one of the nation's most dominant players. That's opened things up for his teammates, too, and the shots have dropped. Deshaun Thomas is just a sophomore, but he's a grown man in the paint. Aaron Craft orchestrates things, and William Buford's late shot in East Lansing gave the Buckeyes a three-way split of the Big Ten regular-season title. The Buckeyes are back to business mode, and business is good. It's suddenly more difficult to pick out Ohio State's potentially fatal flaws and easier to see that this is a talented, athletic and battle-tested team that's going to be a tough out for anybody. At its best, Ohio State is a team that likes a little pace, can still excel in a halfcourt game and uses its defense to wear down its opponents and set up scoring opportunities. When things run through Sullinger, good things tend to happen for Ohio State's offense. Craft is one of the nation's best true point guards and doesn't mind guarding bigger players if and when his team needs him to. A year ago, the Buckeyes were the easy choice as the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. This year's team played like No. 1 in November before Sullinger got hurt, the Buckeyes kind of lost their way and some early conference opponents got hot and took advantage of the Buckeyes' shooting struggles. Matta had insisted his team was young and inconsistent, and it showed up at times. Over the last two weeks, though, the Buckeyes have been poised and resilient. They're still not deep and still can be scared into shooting too many 3-pointers, but they've done a great job of controlling the flow and shape of recent games. Sullinger commands double teams and is simply too strong for a lot of guys in the paint. Matta was still tinkering with his rotation two weeks ago. He's since just shortened it - his preferred style, anyway - and concentrated on the guys on the floor providing Sullinger the proper spacing to operate in the post. Sullinger looked like his old, aggressive self in the Big Ten Tournament, and that's bad news for future Buckeye opponents. The Buckeyes have enough scorers to survive the next two weekends. They might still be a little uncertain of where to go with the game on the line against a quality team, but they won't lose many rebounding battles and make very few unforced errors. It's a team driven by last year's tournament failure, and it's one that's peaking just as its shot at redemption begins. Why they'll get to New Orleans: Sullinger is unique. He's very talented and very unselfish. It's a young team overall but one that has big-game experience, can get stops at the most crucial times and can spread the wealth. Why they'll flame out early: They have volume shooters, but not enough reliable ones. The halfcourt defense can be suffocating but doesn't have a shotblocker at the back to protect the rim. It's easier to imagine the Buckeyes going cold from the perimeter than hitting a bunch of clutch jumpers in a close tournament game. Key to their title hopes: Buford. The lone senior shot 2-of-16 in the Kentucky loss last year. He doesn't need to be the lead dog, but he does need to stretch the defense and keep Ohio State on the attack.
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