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2006-2007 Ohio State Buckeyes

by Chris Mackinder | March 11th, 2007

Team personality: Just win, baby!
Whenever you watch Ohio State, is there ever any doubt that the Buckeyes will somehow win the game? They always play loose on the floor and the energy of coach Thad Matta never ceases to electrify his players. While screaming a play at his team recently, Matta’s green-colored gum flew out of his mouth and landed on the gym floor. Without a second thought, Matta – still yelling – picked up the gum and put it back in his mouth. Who wouldn’t want to play – and win – for a coach like that?The Buckeyes have arguably the most lethal inside-outside combination in the country. With Greg Oden in the post, Ohio State has all the big men it needs in Oden’s 6-foot-10 body. And, he’s still only about 75%! Couple that with four lethal 3-point shooters (Ron Lewis, Daequan Cook, Jamar Butler and Ivan Harris) and Ohio State has everything.

Biggest Games: The Buckeyes, thanks to a stellar Big Ten regular season that produced a Big Ten Championship in both the regular season and Conference Tournament, Ohio State locked up a #1 seed.

In the Big Ten, Ohio State won nearly all of its big games. The only loss came at Wisconsin. However, two of the Buckeyes’ biggest games out of conference – at Florida and at North Carolina – were both losses (Ohio State did beat Tennessee). No one questions whether Ohio State is a top 5 team. What people question is if they are talented enough to compete with teams 1-4? Beating Wisconsin (on a neutral floor) for a second time Sunday might provide some answers.

Has to be on the floor: Interestingly enough, Ohio State has two answers to this question, depending if the Buckeyes are on offense or defense. Oden is a monster in the paint on defense. When he’s not scoring, which he does pretty well on the offensive end, he’s wrecking havoc on opposing big men. In the Big Ten Tournament semifinals against Purdue, Oden grabbed 19 rebounds and blocked four shots. The blocked shots number is pretty common. The rebound number is slightly higher than Oden grabs on a typical night, but expecting anything less than 10 rebounds is foolish.

Offensively, freshman point guard Mike Conley is the key to the engine. Conley scores 10.2 points per game but his 6.4 assists per game prove his worth. When Conley gets other teammates involved with his ability to drive and kick, Ohio State is lethal.

Last shot: The bigger question is who doesn’t Ohio State want to take the last shot? The Buckeyes have so many talented weapons that an offensive play could be drawn for as many as six players. Oden is the obvious option if the ball is fed into the post. If the Buckeyes are looking for a jump shot, Lewis Conley, Butler and Harris are all great options. Cook’s 3-point shooting percentage ( 44.1) makes him the choice if a triple is needed.

What possibly makes Ohio State so dangerous is, in the closing seconds, no one – except the Buckeyes – will know who is taking the last shot.

Impact newcomer: He doesn’t get much publicity, but Othello Hunter is going to be a great big man. Hunter is a JuCo transfer that has given Ohio State the second of two twin towers. He doesn’t score much ( 6.6 points per game) or grab many rebounds (4.8 rebounds per game) but he only plays 18 minutes.

When the Buckeyes lock down on defense, Matta inevitably will pair Hunter with Oden in the post. It is nearly impossible for any opponent to get in the lane. If they do, fans in the front rows should watch out for a ball flying their way because a shot block is coming. And, for a big man, Hunter’s 40 percent 3-point shooting is also a big weapon. He’s a little-known secret weapon that opposing teams will learn to hate in the NCAA Tournament.

Potential pitfall: We all remember the Fab Five. Well, the Ohio State class of Oden, Conley, Cook, David Lighty and Hunter is known as the Thad Five. The common thread between the two teams is inexperience. While it has been proven that senior-laden teams aren’t necessarily guarantees to reach the Final Four, a team full of freshman isn’t exactly the recipe either.

Couple the inexperience with foul trouble to the team’s star – Oden – and the Buckeyes could be in trouble. If Oden is in foul trouble, the Buckeyes become a typical jump-shooting team. And, we all know how jump-shooting teams can sputter in the Big Dance.

Ohio State has a handful of players that can create their own shots. It would, however, be to Ohio State’s best interests to push the ball in the paint as much as possible and avoid being doomed by a cold shooting night.

How to reach the Final Four: Ohio State hasn’t won 30 games this year by accident. The Buckeyes, regardless of their inexperience, know how to win. Ohio State can play fast (see a 98-89 loss to North Carolina), slow (see the 66-64 win against Michigan State) or at a speed so slow we’ll call it elderly (see a 49-48 win against Wisconsin).

The Buckeyes need to do what they have done all year: Get Oden the ball in the post early and work the inside-outside game as much as possible. They also need to make the 3-pointers that open up because teams collapse in the post.

If there is any team in the country that resembles the 2006 Florida Gators – that is, outside of the 2007 Florida Gators – it is the 2007 Buckeyes. They have all the tools, an experienced coach and Tournament experience. The biggest obstacle for Ohio State will be getting to the Final Four. Once the Buckeyes get there, don’t be surprised if they’re the favorites. All of Columbus just has to hope the ending doesn’t resemble what happened on the football field.

–Chris Mackinder

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