Four Thoughts On Ohio State vs. Syracuse

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 26th, 2012

About a year ago, Jared Sullinger shocked the press room by announcing that the would be back for another season despite being projected as a top 10 choice in the NBA Draft. Coming off a brutal loss to Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen, he seemed very confident about his reasons to return to Columbus, one of them being unfinished business because he wanted to lead Ohio State back to the Final Four. Several comparisons have been made between the recruiting class with Greg Oden to the one with Jared Sullinger. Both classes were highly touted and Oden along with Mike Conley led the Buckeyes to the National Championship game where they lost to Florida. Last year’s recruiting class — Sullinger, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas — has lived up to the hype as they led Ohio State back to the Final Four Saturday by beating Syracuse 77-70. Let’s examine four key factors that led to the victory over the weekend.

Aaron Craft and The Buckeyes executed an excellent game plan to beat 'Cuse. (

  1. The Buckeyes did not settle for three-point shots. Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone forces the opposing teams to settle for long-range shots during the game. Syracuse frustrates opponents to an extent where they believe that the only way to break it is to chuck up 25-footers. Three-point shooting is one key to break the zone but only with quality looks and when the looks are not there, teams need to attack the paint to force the zone to fall apart. On Thursday night, Wisconsin shot 14-27 against ‘Cuse but they forgot about other ways to score, one of them being to attack the basket. Ohio State’s wings did an excellent job of cutting their way into the paint against the Orange, resulting in 42 free throw attempts. William Buford and Deshaun Thomas could have settled for flat-footed threes but rather they stayed active and remained close to the hoop with their shot selection. Both of them combined for 1-7 from the long-range but 8-10 from the charity line. Overall, the Buckeyes shot only 4-13 (30.8%) from deep but their limited three-point attempts allowed them to exploit the zone via the post, not from 25 feet away from the hoop.
  2. Don’t forget about Lenzelle Smith, Jr. Smith might be the least important starter, statistically, because he only averages 6.1 points per game, but the Buckeye faithful know of his offensive outbursts and talent. Some of his offensive breakout games include 28 points against Indiana, 17 against Michigan and 15 against Cincinnati during the Sweet Sixteen. Smith picked an excellent night to increase the pace in the second half as he found his shot by scoring 18 points. He shot 50% from long range but also consistently got around the zone, forcing the Syracuse defense to fall apart during certain possessions. There are no specific plays drawn up for him because he isn’t involved in the offense consistently, but his offensive talent can surprise teams during big games and ‘Cuse did not have an answer for his versatile moves on Saturday.
  3. Jared Sullinger displays his leadership skills. Sullinger picked up two fouls in the first half and wasn’t on the court very long, resulting in just four points. A year ago, he would have been frustrated with the officiating, but as a sophomore, he proved that he can adjust his game accordingly. There was no specific way to include him in the offense due to the complexities of the 2-3 zone but he willed his way to the free throw line during the second half. NBA scouts have to be impressed with his moves in the low post around the baseline against the ‘Cuse big guys, Baye Keita and Rakeem Christmas. During the final minutes, he was able to use his Tim Duncan-esque bank shot to score a couple key buckets in the clutch. The shots were even more impressive because he got them Keita who was able to hold his ground, rather than being pushed all the way underneath the hoop because of Sullinger’s weight. Sullinger repeatedly showed different moves in the paint – a turnaround shot off the glass, a shot off the glass by facing the hoop, and his traditional layup after a post move. By demanding the ball during every possession, he was also able to get to the free throw line and as a result shot 9-12 for the game.
  4. Buckeyes hit the boards, hard. Syracuse’s 2-3 zone can leave offensive boards up for grabs but not every team takes advantage of that loophole within the defensive system. For instance, Wisconsin and Syracuse grabbed 23 rebounds each during the Sweet Sixteen. Ohio State, on the other hand, out-rebounded ‘Cuse by 15 (37-22) with 13 of those total boards coming on the offensive end. Buford and Thomas in particular were all over the glass, grabbing 18 out of the total 37 boards. They were active on the offensive glass because they did not just hang around the perimeter waiting for three-point shots to open up. Opponents can quickly fall in love with the long ball and a specific spot on the floor against the zone but the Buckeyes showed tremendous discipline by sticking to the game plan throughtout their offensive sets. Freshman center Amir Williams stepped in for Jared Sullinger during the first half and took down four rebounds in just nine minutes of action. Overall, Thad Matta’s game plan was executed perfectly by Ohio State’s wings – Buford, Thomas and Smith Jr. – they did not settle for long-range shots, were active on the offensive glass, and drove to the hoop consistently.
Deepak Jayanti (270 Posts)

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