Overshadowed by fellow national title contenders Kentucky and North Carolina entering the season, Ohio State quietly bided its time this November until it had an opportunity to unveil its full arsenal of weapons on the national stage.
Then with fourth-ranked Duke in town on Tuesday, the Buckeyes shot holes in the notion that they'll take a backseat to anybody in the chase for a national championship.
Ohio State's 85-63 victory was a stunningly lopsided result considering Duke was less than a week removed from defeating Tennessee, Michigan and Kansas to capture a fifth Maui Invitational championship. The Buckeyes parlayed stingy perimeter defense and patient, efficient offense into an easy win, leading by 11 less than four minutes into the game, by 19 at halftime and by as many as 24 in the second half.
Some suggested Duke's dreadful performance may have been a result of emotional and physical fatigue from playing three games in three days in Maui last week, but recent history doesn't support that conclusion. Since 2007, Maui finalists had been 8-0 with an average margin of victory of 31.6 points in their first post-tournament game on the mainland, albeit against significantly weaker competition than Ohio State.
Rather than a Maui hangover, it seemed as though the Buckeyes were simply a difficult matchup for Duke.
The Blue Devils started 7-0 this season mostly because of their three-point shooting and their ability to consistently get to the free throw line, but Ohio State's vaunted perimeter defense committed to taking that away. With Aaron Craft shadowing Seth Curry and Lenzelle Smith Jr. and William Buford also playing solid defense, Duke shot just 3 of 15 from three-point range and got just 11 combined points on 5-for-17 shooting from guards not named Austin Rivers.
The reason Rivers erupted for 22 points was he was the only Duke guard capable of getting into the lane and creating his own shot against the Buckeyes' defense. Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, Rivers is a scoring guard and not a distributor, so he was unable to create shots for others once he got there.
If Duke's offense was lackluster, it's defense was far worse.
All of the questions regarding suspect perimeter defense that Duke appeared to answer in Maui came flooding back because of how easily Ohio State sliced up the Blue Devils' trademark man-to-man. The Buckeyes shot 59 percent from the field and often scored at will because they showed patience and unselfishness in moving the ball until they found an open shot.
It would be easy to write Duke off or to label Ohio State the national title favorite based on this performance, but that's probably overreacting to one game.
The bottom line is this: The Buckeyes are good enough to win the title, but they probably won't be this good every night. And the Blue Devils can be exposed by teams with athletic defensive-minded wings, but they're also a better team than they showed in Columbus.
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