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It’s no fun to pick the No. 1 seeds to reach the Final Four. And this year, everyone is selecting two No. 4 seeds – Louisville and Michigan State – to get to Dallas. Looking for a team seeded 5th or lower to make a run?
I give you Ohio State. Let me count the ways the inconsistent Buckeyes will get it together for four games to be playing the first weekend in April:
1. The numbers say if you rank high in defensive efficiency, you’re going places in the NCAA Tournament. Ohio State enters the tournament ranked 4th in the country. If they’re going to make a run, it’ll be because of defense.
2. Ohio State can’t pull away from teams because it is so feeble on offense (more on that in a second). But it plays such hellacious defense, it’ll always be in games. Off the top of my head, I can name three games in which Ohio State erased 12+ point second half deficits: at Michigan State (lost in overtime), vs Nebraska in the Big Ten tournament (won), vs. Michigan in the Big Ten tournament (lost).
3. So about that offense … ghastly. Embarrassingly bad. Michael Redd could come out of retirement, on one leg, and be the team’s best shooter. OSU is 255th in 3-point shooting; 225th in offensive rebounds. So basically, they miss a lot of shots, and don’t collect them. It gets worse – they’re 209th in free throw shooting. What an odious combination.
4. Now, the good: the bracket shapes up favorably for the Buckeyes. I actually think Dayton will be a bigger test than Syracuse. (Fear the look-ahead!) Dayton is just an average defensive team, but it does have a relatively strong offense. In those matchups, I always take the defense. The spread is low (5-5.5) and Dayton has won at Saint Lous, Mississippi, beat Gonzaga and whipped Cal on a neutral court. The last time Ohio State played a mid-major and Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery had the call …
5. The Syracuse game could be a first-to-50-wins affair, but it’s difficult to take Syracuse seriously after losing five of seven to finish the season. We’re talking about a team that – despite impressive offensive stats that were largely built during a 25-0 start – hasn’t been able to score recently against Boston College, Georgia Tech, and should have been swept by NC State. Yes, the Syracuse zone could prove nettlesome for the Buckeyes, but the potential emergence of Amedeo Della Valle if Lenzelle Smith keeps struggling – and Shannon Scott (8-for-16 from deep in his last six games) has me feeling decent about the Buckeyes shooting well enough to win.
6. Kansas, which may not even get by New Mexico, could have star center Joel Embiid back for the Sweet 16. Obviously, that would be significant. The Jayhawks gave up 92 to West Virginia without Embiid and 94 to Iowa State. More importantly, the Kansas backcourt turns the ball over at an alarming rate (ranking 233rd). OSU is No. 1 in the nation in steals percentage (6.0).
7. This would set up a regional final with mighty Florida, which steamrolled the putrid SEC. Florida’s last loss? A buzzer shot at Connecticut. There’s no point in counting the other loss at Wisconsin – the Gators didn’t have point guard Scottie Wilbekin, who ended up being the SEC Player of the Year. So one could argue Florida is a buzzer shot from being undefeated. OSU’s biggest strength here is Craft/Scott wearing down Wilbekin, and then hoping Florida’s only true weakness – free throw shooting – is a factor. And perhaps worth filing away should this matchup happen: the Gators were so much better than the rest of the SEC, that Florida only faced one team in the last three months that qualifies as a Top 30 defense: Tennessee. The Gators shreadded the Vols at home; Tennessee hung tight last month before losing by nine. For comparison’s sake, Ohio State has seen three such teams a total of six times (
none only one made the tourney – Illinois, Northwestern, Nebraska).