It is difficult to think of a team that was receiving first-place votes in the preseason and drew a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament as any sort of "dark horse" title contender. But with the way they somewhat drifted off of the radar screen late in the season, Ohio State almost qualifies. On February 7, they were 21-3, 9-2 in the rugged Big Ten and almost a sure 1-seed. But they lost three of their next five, including two home games, and despite a late win at Michigan State, they headed into the postseason on a bit of a down note. They whipped Purdue and Michigan to reach the Big Ten Championship Game (they fell to Michigan State, 68-64), but as the NCAA Tournament dawned, a large number of people were ignoring them in favor of the 3-seed, a Florida State team that had just won the ACC Tournament. (I am just happy I was not alone in this foolishness).
Four wins -- whippings of Loyola (Maryland) and Cincinnati and tough-it-out wins over Gonzaga and Syracuse -- later, Thad Matta is preparing for his second Final Four.
Matta brings to New Orleans a team that is both battle tested and incredibly young. Of the Buckeyes top six players, six are sophomores, but over the course of a brutal schedule, they have played 18 games versus Ken Pomeroy's Top 30 (ten versus the Top 12), including their Final Four foes, Kansas. On December 10, Ohio State fell in Lawrence by a 78-67 margin, but they were without star Jared Sullinger, who was held out with back spasms. The Buckeyes held their own somewhat on the interior, but they just couldn't make any shots. They shot 39 percent and lost by 11, but they still trailed by just six with two minutes left. On a neutral court, with Sullinger in uniform, they will have an excellent chance of making the national finals, whether many expected them to or not.
Ohio State (31-7)
|Pace (No. of Possessions)
|Points Per Possession (PPP)
|Points Per Shot (PPS)
|True Shooting %||56.4%||50.1%|
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
|Expected Off. Rebounds/Gm||11.6||11.8|
|Exp. Rebounding Margin||+3.9|
In 2004, Matta took over what was a rather dreadful defensive team in Columbus. He almost instantly turned them into a stout defensive squad -- only once have the Buckeyes ranked outside of the Top 25 in Ken Pomeroy's defensive efficiency ratings -- but this season might be his masterpiece. Ohio State will occasionally allow you a decent shot or two, but they will grab every defensive rebound opportunity and force turnovers without fouling. You better get somebody hot because you aren't going to be able to scrap and claw for points. The Buckeyes are too sound for that.
(For what it's worth, Kansas did indeed shoot well in their first meeting: Thomas Robinson shot 7-for-9, and the Jayhawks made nine of 17 3-point attempts.)
Offensively, Ohio State is going to let Sullinger post up and let Aaron Craft distribute, and as long as the right guys are taking the shots, they are going to bomb in some 3-pointers as well. With Sullinger, they take quite a few shots near the basket, and they grab their share of boards. Things go awry, however, if they have to rely on the long ball.
Ken Pomeroy Stats
|OSU Offense vs Kansas Defense Ranks
|OSU Offense||KU Defense||Advantage|
|Turnover %||30||158||OSU big|
|Off. Reb. %||34||52||Push|
|Kansas Offense vs OSU Defense Ranks
|KU Offense||OSU Defense||Advantage|
|Off. Reb. %||75||2||OSU|
Where the Buckeyes are weakest
First, we start with the foundation itself: Ohio State ranks 304th in Bench Minutes -- five players average at least 25 minutes per game, and nobody else averages more than 11.4 -- and 287th in Experience. But aside from potentially Louisville, nobody in the Final Four is deep, so that is a bit of a wash.
As strange as it may seem at first, Ohio State is not a very good 3-point shooting team; they rank just 223rd in Off. 3PT%, primarily because the backups are terrible at it. Their primary bombers are Deshaun Thomas and William Buford, who have combined to make 35.2 percent of their eight attempts per game. Craft makes about 34 percent of his attempts, and Lenzelle Smith and Sullinger have combined to make 39 percent of their combined three attempts per game. But the overall average is dragged down horribly by freshmen. Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson have combined to make just two of their 32 3-point attempts. Take them out of the equation, and OSU ranks around 140th overall -- still not a strength, but not a weakness either.
On defense, the Buckeyes rank poorly in just one category: Def. FT%. That means that when they do foul, they are most likely sending guards, i.e. good free throw shooters, to the line. Craft averages 2.5 fouls per game -- he can get into trouble at times.
Where they are best
They are just so good near the basket. They rank 11th in Off. 2PT%, and they take more 2-pointers than almost anybody in the country. Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas have combined to make 57 percent of their 2's, and if they (or anybody else) misses a shot, they'll just grab the rebound and try again. The Buckeyes are also outstanding in the turnovers department. They rank 30th in Off. TO% and 11th in Off. Steal Rate. Craft is (sorry) crafty with the ball, and OSU simply gives its opponent few easy transition opportunities.
Meanwhile, it is difficult to isolate their biggest defensive strengths. They are just incredibly well-rounded. They rank only 64th in Def. 2PT% and 87th in Def. 3PT%, so they could be vulnerable to a hot streak from Robinson, Tyshawn Taylor, etc., but they do everything else really, really well.
OSU's Season to Date
- Wins Versus Top 100 Teams (Team Rank is from KenPom.com)
at No. 3 Michigan State, 72-70
at No. 5 Wisconsin, 58-52
vs. No. 6 Syracuse, 77-70
No. 11 Indiana, 80-63
No. 12 Florida, 81-74
No. 20 Duke, 85-63
No. 21 Purdue, 87-84
vs. No. 21 Purdue, 88-71
vs. No. 22 Gonzaga, 73-66
vs. No. 26 Cincinnati, 81-66
No. 27 Michigan, 64-49
vs. No. 27 Michigan, 77-55
at No. 35 Minnesota, 78-68
No. 68 Northwestern, 87-54
at No. 68 Northwestern, 75-73
No. 71 Illinois, 83-67
at No. 83 Iowa, 76-47
No. 3 Michigan State, 48-58
vs. No. 3 Michigan State, 64-68
at No. 4 Kansas, 67-78
No. 5 Wisconsin, 60-63
at No. 11 Indiana, 70-74
at No. 27 Michigan, 51-56
at No. 71 Illinois, 74-79
The Buckeyes are 5-5 versus the Top 12, 12-6 versus the Top 30, and 17-7 versus the Top 100.
OSU Player Stats
|Jared Sullinger (6'9, 280, So.)||18.4||0.61||30.1 MPG, 17.6 PPG (54% 2PT, 42% 3PT, 77% FT), 9.1 RPG (3.1 OFF), 1.2 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.0 BPG, 1.9 TOPG|
|Deshaun Thomas (6'7, 225, So.)||14.7||0.46||31.6 MPG, 16.1 PPG (61% 2PT, 36% 3PT, 74% FT), 5.4 RPG (2.6 OFF), 1.2 TOPG|
|Aaron Craft (6'2, 190, So.)||11.7||0.37||32.0 MPG, 8.8 PPG (57% 2PT, 34% 3PT, 71% FT), 4.7 APG, 3.3 RPG, 2.5 SPG, 2.2 TOPG|
|William Buford (6'6, 220, Sr.)||11.5||0.34||33.8 MPG, 14.4 PPG (45% 2PT, 35% 3PT, 83% FT), 4.9 RPG, 2.7 APG, 2.1 TOPG|
|Lenzelle Smith, Jr. (6'4, 205, So.)||7.7||0.30||25.2 MPG, 6.7 PPG (55% 2PT, 38% 3PT, 61% FT), 4.6 RPG (1.3 OFF), 2.0 APG, 1.2 TOPG|
|J.D. Weatherspoon (6'6, 215, So.)||3.2||0.51||6.3 MPG, 3.0 PPG, 1.1 RPG|
|Evan Ravenel (6'8, 260, Jr.)||2.9||0.28||10.1 MPG, 3.5 PPG (54% 2PT, 70% FT), 2.2 RPG|
|Amir Williams (6'11, 220, Fr.)||2.5||0.37||6.7 MPG, 1.7 PPG, 2.2 RPG|
|Sam Thompson (6'7, 190, Fr.)||2.0||0.19||10.6 MPG, 2.1 PPG (60% 2PT, 7% 3PT, 55% FT), 1.1 RPG|
|Jordan Sibert (6'4, 185, So.)||1.8||0.16||11.4 MPG, 3.0 PPG (38% 2PT, 26% 3PT, 56% FT), 1.4 RPG|
|Shannon Scott (6'1, 180, Fr.)||0.6||0.06||10.6 MPG, 1.2 PPG (36% 2PT, 6% 3PT, 22% FT), 1.7 APG, 1.1 RPG, 1.0 TOPG|
* AdjGS = a take-off of the Game Score metric (definition here) accepted by a lot of basketball stat nerds. It redistributes a team's points based not only on points scored, but also by giving credit for assists, rebounds (offensive & defensive), steals, blocks, turnovers and fouls. It is a stat intended to determine who had the biggest overall impact on the game itself, instead of just how many balls a player put through a basket.
- Highest Usage%: Sullinger (28%), Buford (24%), Thomas (23%), Weatherspoon (22%)
- Highest Floor%: Craft (46%), Thomas (45%), Sullinger (44%), Smith (42%)
- Highest %Pass: Scott (75%), Craft (72%), Smith (60%), Thompson (60%)
- Highest %Shoot: Thomas (57%), Sullinger (45%), Ravenel (39%), Buford (38%)
- Highest %Fouled: Ravenel (23%), Sullinger (21%), Thomas (12%), Smith (10%)
- Highest %T/O: Ravenel (13%), Scott (8%), Sullinger (7%), Thompson (7%0
A player's Floor Percentage is defined as "the percentage of an individual's possessions which are scoring possessions." It is a sign of an incredibly balanced offense that only two of nine players listed above are below 38 percent in this category. Even though the show runs through Sullinger (and to a lesser extent, Buford and Thomas), everybody contributes efficiently and effectively. Really, they are basically one more good 3-point shooter away from having potentially the best offense in the country. But the 3-point line has been selective kryptonite for this team, and it could be again this weekend.
The first time Ohio State played Kansas this season, they were without their star in one of the most intimidating venues in the country. They held steady and gave themselves a chance, primarily because they kept Kansas off of the offensive glass and forced 18 turnovers. With Sullinger taking over for Evan Ravenel (25 minutes, nine points, five rebounds, four turnovers, five fouls) on a neutral site, Ohio State has to like its chances. Pomeroy projects a 70-67 win for the Buckeyes, and while that would go against my original title game pick of Kentucky vs. Kansas, that sounds just about right. OSU is steady and battle-tested. Now they just have to keep playing like they have since February turned into March.