- By Marcus Hartman
Yesterday we said Ohio State and Wright State faced interesting challenges.
Today we say both passed with flying colors.
The Buckeyes blasted Maryland 91-69 to remain in a first-place tie in the Big Ten standings with Purdue.
The Buckeyes shot the ball well, which is always nice, but perhaps more importantly they held a good Maryland offense below 40-percent shooting.
And that good shooting by Ohio State? Probably aided by 25 assists.
Those three things all represent a major step forward from last year, when it’s fair to wonder what any of Thad Matta’s assistants were doing to earn their paycheck.
As for this season, Keita Bates-Diop has been exceptional, and his emergence has let everyone else settle into roles, something that wasn’t true last year.
Jae’Sean Tate’s fun to watch because of the way he plays, but he shouldn’t be the number one option. He’s a perfect complementary player, especially when you get solid point guard play and more than nothing from the post to go with one dominant all-around player.
It’s been said but is worth repeating: Two guys not available last year — Diop and Kaleb Wesson — have been factors, but the Buckeyes haven’t moved the ball this well or played together on defense like this for a while.
It all looks better when you’re making shots, but making shots is easier when you’re open and playing with confidence.
READ MORE at Marcus Hartman’s Cus Words Blog
So now that the season matters, I have looked closely at the schedule for the first time. That revealed a very forgiving slate that does not have a trip to East Lansing and includes only one game against Purdue (Feb. 7 in West Lafayette).
Michigan is the only other good team in the Big Ten, and Ohio State already beat the Wolverines once.
At 14-4, Ohio State is already just three wins shy of its total from last season, and an NCAA tournament bid is now to be expected rather than hoped for.
The trip to Ann Arbor on Feb. 18 might be for third place…
Then what can you saw about Wright State?
The Raiders have been surging, but beating the defending Horizon League champions on their home floor was a tall task — and Scott Nagy’s team pulled it off.
There’s a long way to go, but Wright State is alone in first place now thanks to an 84-81 win at Northern Kentucky.
Grant Benzinger poured in 31 points while Loudon Love posted another double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds).
The Raiders shot over 50 percent from the floor and 3-point range while overcoming 17 turnovers.
Wright State is still 153 in KenPom’s ratings, but the Raiders have the No. 40 defense in the country and an offense that has perked up since adding a true point guard in late December.
Where will this ride end?
It’s still going to take a conference tournament title to make the NCAA tournament, but those conference championship banners are hard to get. The Nutter Center could also use more decorations…
Meanwhile, Dayton’s season continues tonight at home against VCU.
This matchup won’t have the juice of of the Rams’ last visit to UD Arena — when the Flyers clinched the Atlantic 10 championship — but it’s got plenty of subplots.
Coach Anthony Grant will lead his alma mater against his former team for the first time in a game both teams really need as they chase conference leader Rhode Island.
Both teams have undergone a lot of changes since last season.
VCU has a new coach, too, in Mike Rhoades, and Justin Tillman is the only returning Ram who started the last matchup against the Flyers…
In other news, Grant officially has another scholarship for next season if he wants to use it as the College of Charleston announced it has received a transfer from Sam Miller.
That’s not too surprising following Miller’s embarrassing episode in Greene County last summer. Not a great way to endear yourself to a new coach…
The rebuilding of the Cincinnati Bengals coaching staff continued Thursday with the hiring of Frank Pollack as offensive line coach.
He most recently held the same job for the Dallas Cowboys, where the group was regarded as the best in the league last season but slipped a bit when injuries and attrition caught up with it this year.
(Among the reported candidates was Jeff Davidson, a former Ohio State offensive lineman.)
Pollack reportedly came up as a zone-blocking aficionado but was known to do a little bit of everything in Dallas, where Ezekiel Elliott frequently found success zipping through holes in outside zone.
New defensive coordinator Teryl Austin met the local media for the first time, and it was pretty boring.
According to Sports Illustrated, Austin favors playing two high safeties, which could be good for the Bengals since their current starters are solid but not game-changers.
That also puts a premium on getting pressure on the quarterback with the front four, which is good when you have Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap…
Lastly, we had more drama in area high school basketball Thursday night.
This time it was courtesy Hunter Stidham, who hit a half-court shot at the buzzer to send the Valley View girls to a 51-50 win over SWBL rival Bellbrook.
RELATED: Thursday night prep sports roundup
Also of note from last night: Aubrey Stupp had a school-record 43 points for Tri-County North in a 65-43 win over Miami Valley, Mikala Morris tallied 38 points as Kenton Ridge blew out Bellefontaine 66-36 and Hayley Suchland scored 34 points for Northeastern as the Jets beat Southeastern 58-39.
This all came two nights after at least four boys basketball games were decided at or close to the buzzer, including a big showdown between unbeaten Fort Loramie and Versailles.