OSU sophomore forward Keita Bates-Diop (33) during a game against Rutgers on Jan. 13 at the Schottenstein Center. Credit: Samantha Hollingshead | Photo EditorSitting at the podium in the bowels of the Schottenstein Center addressing the media Wednesday afternoon, Thad Matta pretended to flip a coin. The Ohio State men’s basketball coach looked upward, watching the imaginary disk rotate, before acting as if he caught it in the palm of his right hand.Completing the action, Matta slapped his right hand onto the backside of his left one, as he then showed the media what the result of the phantom flip was. He grinned. “That’s what it is sometimes,” he said. What spurred Matta to put on the routine was a question about the toughness of his youthful Buckeyes. His response showed just how hit-or-miss his team’s performances have been this season. The effort is there one night then gone the next, with seemingly no rhyme or reason, as if it’s up to chance — like flipping a coin.“That’s got to be where we get that constant,” Matta said of his team’s toughness. “I think we’re making strides in that regard. What I’m trying to avoid the best I can is any setbacks. That’s something that continues to be preached.” Likely prompted by a shift in the starting lineup, the Buckeyes’ toughness was visible Monday night in their 66-46 victory over Penn State. Freshmen A.J. Harris and Daniel Giddens cracked the starting lineup and helped provide OSU (13-8, 5-3) with the edge in the 20-point win. The question now, like it has been all season long, is which team will show up in the next game, which is scheduled to be Thursday night on the road against Illinois (10-10, 2-5). Will the starting five once again contain Harris and Giddens, meaning freshman guard JaQuan Lyle and redshirt sophomore center Trevor Thompson will come off the bench for the second consecutive night? “It could,” Matta said. “I just want to see guys fight.” That fight he is looking for in his players comes not only during live action but in practice, too. Matta said Harris and Giddens looked “noticeably different” leading up to the Penn State game, which explains the variation in the starting lineup. At the time of Matta speaking to the media, practice had yet to take place for the day, but the coach said he thinks Harris and Giddens understand how important it is for “what they do.” Giddens, who missed practice Tuesday because of illness, insisted that he doesn’t know what the starting lineup will look like against the Fighting Illini. “He just wants five guys to be prepared to go on the floor,” Giddens said. “Consistency has been an issue.” Although still searching for it on a more regular basis, sophomore forward Keita Bates-Diop, who had a team-high 22 points against the Nittany Lions, said he felt that the team displayed a performance consistent both offensively and defensively on Monday. Matta agreed, saying that what transpired on the floor was just what he hoped for when he made the move to change the lineups. “That’s what I’m after,” he said. “Give me the constant, in terms of the effort, the toughness we need, both physically and mentally.” As for the result of the pretend coin flip, was it heads or tails? Will the toughness Matta has been searching for — and maybe found with the lineup switch — be there once the ball goes up? “I’ll tell you tomorrow at 9 p.m.,” he said, laughing. “Or 9:02 p.m.” A glimpse at Illinois The Fighting Illini have dropped five of their last seven games, but they head into Thursday’s matchup with a five-point win over Minnesota fresh in their minds. In that game on Saturday in Minneapolis, Illinois got a 28-point performance from junior guard Malcolm Hill to help carry his team to the victory. It was the 10th time this season that Hill led his team in scoring. Overall, he averages a team-leading 18.3 points per contest. The 6-foot-6 guard has good size for a backcourt player, and the Buckeyes know that he can fill it up despite holding him to 4-of-13 shooting and 14 points when the two teams met on Jan. 3. Along with Hill, fellow junior guard Kendrick Nunn has been excelling since returning from an early-season injury to provide coach John Groce with a formidable backcourt duo. The Chicago native averages just over 17 points a game on 45 percent shooting, while also scooping up 5.4 rebounds per contest. Matta acknowledged the recent play of the duo, describing its performance as “high-level.” Building off the strength of these two guards, the Fighting Illini have a tendency to play small, sometimes using four backcourt players at the same time. Typically, this could be a wrinkle in the gameplan for a team that has effective post players, like OSU, but Giddens said he sees “no problems” for the Buckeyes. “As long as we come in focused and ready to go, we’ll be fine,” he said. Up next After Thursday’s game, OSU will return to Columbus to prepare for its shot to avenge a 35-point loss to Maryland earlier in the month. The Buckeyes and the eighth-ranked Terrapins are scheduled to hit the hardwood Sunday. Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.
OSU coach Urban Meyer looks on after facing Michigan State on Nov. 21, 2015. OSU lost, 17-14. Credit: Lantern file photoSince the end of last season, OSU coach Urban Meyer has been waiting for his team to step up and replace those who departed for the NFL. While some Buckeyes have fulfilled that request and claimed spots on the depth chart, Meyer is still searching for improvement on all nine units ahead of the first game on Sept. 3.“We’re not there yet,” Meyer said.Ohio State is a little more than two weeks into practice and has fewer than two weeks until its first game against one of Meyer’s former teams, the Bowling Green Falcons. Fall camp has officially ended, and Meyer has begun to narrow down his personnel.On Monday, he named redshirt sophomore defensive end Sam Hubbard as a starter and said that if junior weak-side linebacker Dante Booker and redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber each have another week showing progress, both will get the call as starters.But Meyer made it clear that some guys need to elevate their own performances, specifically mentioning the offensive line. He said that the two-deep on the unit would not be prepared to enter a game situation.“It’s all about getting game-ready and that’s what this week is all about,” Meyer said. “Because next week you’re installing gameplans.”At practice, each coach has his own chart of players with criteria to determine if each one is game ready. The chart documents the amount of reps each player takes and the number of practices in which the player has been involved.Before each practice, Meyer sits down with his coaches to go over the players at the top and near the top of the depth chart. When a player is deemed game ready, that player receives a green check next to his name. Meyer said that none of his guys will see playing time until the player receives that distinction.Wide receivers coach Zach Smith said that the skills necessary to be game ready are different for every member of the team. Smith wants to have six receivers available at all times, so the pressure is on his crew to be game ready.“I can’t stamp everybody as game-ready but there are a couple guys that are really close,” Smith said. “They’re really responding to coaching and playing at a high level right now.”Meyer said that he has had situations with past teams in which players were just not good enough to play at the season’s beginning. For the 2016 Buckeyes, Meyer said that’s not the case. He’s confident in the talent his team possesses. It just comes down to reps, scheme and other factors.“(Being game-ready) is going to be so critical this year — more than ever with a young team,” Meyer said. “It’s got to be clear to them what you got to do to get ready.”
Sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott (15) breaks away on an 81-yard touchdown run during the Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin on Dec. 6 in Indianapolis. OSU won, 59-0.Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editorThe Ohio State football team found out it was playoff-bound when the final College Football Playoff rankings were announced Sunday afternoon, but the Buckeyes wouldn’t have earned that spot without their drubbing of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game a day earlier.OSU (12-1, 8-0) topped the Badgers, 59-0, locking up its 35th Big Ten title. With a new quarterback in the lineup and having recently learned of the death of walk-on defensive lineman Kosta Karageorge, the Buckeyes’ dominating performance came as a surprise to many.But surprise or not, The Lantern sports editors picked five key takeaways from the win that booked OSU’s ticket to the playoffs. 1. Redshirt-sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones didn’t miss a stepJones — starting in place of injured redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett — completed an eight-yard pass to redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Michael Thomas on the first play of the game. Then five plays later, he heaved the ball downfield and found the hands of senior wide receiver Devin Smith for a 39-yard touchdown.Less than two minutes is all it took for Jones to show everyone at Lucas Oil Stadium — and anyone watching on TV — that he did, in fact, go to Indianapolis to play football.Throughout the game, the Glenville High School product showed off his world-class arm strength and surprisingly reliable accuracy and decision-making skills on his way to MVP honors.Jones totaled 257 yards and three touchdowns as he completed 12 of 17 pass attempts in the game without turning the ball over. Anyone who predicted those numbers likely also predicated on OSU win, but with almost nothing to go off of, not many could have expected Jones to have the success he did.It was a near flawless performance, and had he struggled, a win alone might not have been enough to get the Buckeyes to the playoffs.2. Senior defensive lineman Michael Bennett might be the Buckeyes’ most important playerBefore Saturday, the argument could have been made that Barrett had been the main key to OSU’s success. But with the way Jones performed, a quick look to the defensive line shows who the Buckeyes’ true leader from a physical and emotional standpoint is.Bennett donned No. 53 in honor of Karageorge, and played with a chip on his shoulder from start to finish. He tallied a career-high four tackles for loss to go along with two sacks, and forced a fumble that was recovered and returned for a touchdown by sophomore defensive lineman Joey Bosa.Bennett had made mid-game speeches to spark the Buckeyes more than once this season, but it was clear that his play on the field — and leadership on the sidelines — helped key OSU to arguably its most important win since the 2002 National Championship Game.3. Sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott simply outplayed Wisconsin’s Heisman candidateWisconsin redshirt-junior running back Melvin Gordon is likely going to be a Heisman Trophy finalist as the nation’s top rusher, but on Saturday he wasn’t even the best player at his position on the field.OSU’s Elliott broke Gordon’s own Big Ten title game record with 220 rushing yards, and he did it on just 20 carries. Gordon managed just 76 yards on his 26 attempts and couldn’t help the Badgers put points on the board, while Elliott scored 12 points on his own.Through 13 games, Elliott has tallied 1,402 rushing yards on 217 carries with 12 touchdowns while adding 26 receptions for another 208 yards through the air.Elliott’s play of late has drawn comparisons to former Buckeye Carlos Hyde, and if he keeps improving, he could easily end up having an even better collegiate career.4. The Buckeye defense answered the Bell and then someSophomore safety Vonn Bell, along with the rest of the Buckeye defense, lived up to their “Silver Bullet” mantra Saturday night. Bell, who tied for the team lead in tackles against Wisconsin with seven, recorded his fifth interception for the season late in the first quarter to set the tone for the Buckeye defense. The Buckeyes not only held Wisconsin redshirt-junior quarterback Joel Stave to 187 yards passing on 17 of 43 through the air, but they also shut down potential Heisman finalist Gordon all night long. For an OSU defense to perform like they did on the biggest stage in the Big Ten conference showed that the Buckeyes are…5. Deserving of the No. 4 seed in the College Football PlayoffThe Buckeyes leapfrogged Texas Christian to get into the inaugural College Football Playoff and they deserve it. OSU put up a 59 spot on the second-best defense in the country and held the nation’s leading rusher to a 2.9 yards per carry average. The Horned Frogs did indeed dominate the Iowa State Cyclones, but it doesn’t help that the Cyclones entered that game 2-9 on the season. It also hurt the Big 12 in that they no longer have a conference championship game. Do not be surprised if the Big 12 isn’t actively looking for two new members before the start of next season.The Buckeyes put on a clinic in the conference title game and will now get a shot at the No. 1 team in the country in Alabama. Nick Saban versus Urban Meyer is must-see TV and you can bet all eyes will be on the Superdome on Jan. 1 for the Sugar Bowl. Kickoff in New Orleans is set for 8:30 p.m.
To fill a shortage in its elite Marine Raider units, the Marine Corps wants to adjust its fiscal 2019 budget proposal so it can add 400 personnel next year. It originally requested growing by only 100 Marines — and by 1,100 service members since FY 2017 — to reach an active-duty end strength of 186,100 by Oct. 1, 2019. Documents released in February along with its budget request showed the Corps reaching an end strength of 186,400 by FY 2023.To hit its end strength goal, Marine Special Operations Command wants to add combat and combat service support personnel, rather than special operators, reported Marine Corps Times. The command’s shortage stems from the constraints imposed by the statutory budget caps and are not a result of recruitment problems or attrition rates.Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ryan Conroy Dan Cohen AUTHOR