staff, March 15, 2014

Less than 24 hours after making a big comeback to send Nebraska packing, Ohio State nearly did the same to Michigan in Saturday's first semifinal.

The Buckeyes fell behind early, largely due to some unreal shooting by the Wolverines. Michigan made 8-of-13 threes in the first half, which surprisingly produced only a four-point lead. You see, while the Wolverines were deadly accurate from outside, Ohio State also forced a bunch of turnovers, and the Buckeyes had some hot shooting of their own.

Early in the second half, Ohio State went through a familiar drought, during which it was painfully obvious that LaQuinton Ross is the only Buckeye that can create a shot, and only for himself. Michigan's lead swelled to double digits, and, like on Friday, it appeared that Ohio State would go down without a fight.

Of course, the Buckeyes' defense kicked in, and the Wolverines went through a drought of their own. Ohio State scraped back into it and even had a small edge heading into crunchtime.

The end of this game was a fine example of how silly it is to say any particular player is "just a winner" or can will his team to victory. Everybody's favorite winner, Aaron Craft, had a nightmarish close to this game: two missed free throws, a missed open three, a swipe at a contained Stauskas that opened the path for a reverse layup, ball watching on a critical defensive rebound opportunity that was instead grabbed by Caris LeVert, then, finally, a fumble on the way up for a three-point attempt that could have tied the game.

We don't point this out to pick on Craft; rather, we are picking on the narrative that has so often been applied to him and to players like him.  Nobody is "just a winner" in the sense that their desire or effort will trump their innate basketball abilities. Sure, hard work and perseverance can shape just how good a player becomes, but those things are not equivalent to magical winning beans when the game is actually happening. The finish to this one was a harsh reminder of that fact.

So, yet again, Michigan pulls out a close game, and the Wolverines will play for the title – and a possible one seed – in tomorrow's championship game.