Ohio State’s Experience and Defensive Urgency Make Buckeyes a Tough NCAA Tournament OutPosted by Brendan Brody on March 16th, 2014
Ohio State is a flawed basketball team. The Buckeyes don’t have anyone that shoots over 40 percent from three. They don’t have a consistent back-to-the-basket big man. Their point guard sometimes looks like he’s throwing a shot put when he takes an outside shot. They played an adequate non-conference schedule, and then had their share of struggles within the Big Ten. And yet, they are also going to be a very dangerous team in the next couple of weeks, no matter what seed they receive. Although they ended up losing in the Big Ten semifinals to Michigan on Saturday, their performance during their three-day stay in this tournament proved as much.
The Buckeyes did not put forth a steady 40-minute performance in any of their three games this week. They had to hang on to beat first round opponent Purdue; needed to come back from an 18-point deficit against Nebraska; and started their game against Michigan down 15-2. What they did show, however, was the fortitude that a veteran team should play with. They competed with a sense of urgency in mounting comebacks that left them with a win over the Cornhuskers and a close loss to potential #1 seed Michigan. When things got bad and they got into a hole, the combination of their outstanding pressure defense coupled with an increasingly active LaQuinton Ross got them back on track.
Ross played this week with a fire and intensity that people expected from him after showing flashes of stardom in last year’s NCAA Tournament when he averaged 15.0 PPG on 44.4 percent shooting from behind the arc. He’s had a solid junior season, mixing in some outstanding offensive games with spotty defense and questionable decision-making. He was an absolute bear in Indianapolis, however, especially in getting on the glass and powering his way through contact to get fouled and finish. If he plays with that same tenacity in the next couple of weeks, he could once again see his stock soar.
The last three games also proved that you cannot ever really count Ohio State out, even if an opponent builds a huge lead because their defensive abilities allow them to close the gap on teams quickly. In the NCAA Tournament, teams aren’t used to dealing with defensive guards like Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott that average over two steals a game, and can get four or five rather easily. Wings Lenzelle Smith Jr, Sam Thompson, and Amadeo Della Valle also are weapons in the fact that they are all rangy and athletic. Ohio State’s defensive pressure helps them get out in transition, where someone like Thompson can thrive filling the lanes.
Part of the reason why this team was so highly rated in the preseason was the experience it brought back. They have five juniors and two seniors in their nine-man rotation, and these upperclassmen have never not made to the Sweet Sixteen. This bodes well for the next couple of weeks, as Matta’s team knows what it takes to win when it comes to NCAA Tourney play. Despite losing to Michigan yesterday, Ohio State can make some noise if it continues to play with the same urgency the Buckeyes showed this weekend. This wasn’t the way the season was necessarily supposed to play out for them, but they have to be taken seriously when you fill out your bracket in coming days.