Ohio State Buckeyes
Good Wins: N-Cal, Florida State, @Purdue, Wisconsin, @Michigan State
Bad Losses: N-North Carolina
1. Evan Turner. When you have one of the top two players in college basketball, you can chalk that up as being a major strength. While Turner will never have an illusionistic nickname, he reminds me of Earvin “Magic” Johnson by the way he controls the game. He’s never in a hurry and the game seems to slow down for him where, for other players, it speeds up and gets out of control. Absorb these statistics: 19.5 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 5.8 apg, 1.8 spg, 0.9 bpg. For a 6-foot-7 point forward, averaging nearly a double-double a night is pretty impressive. Adding in nearly six helpers is a whole other story. (The one bug-a-boo in Turner’s game is his 4.0 turnovers per game. Of course, when he plays 40 minutes a night and the ball rarely leaves his hand, it’s inevitable that he’ll cough the ball up occasionally). Turner is a master of the mid-range jumper, shooting 53.8 percent from the field. His free throw percentage (73%) is also respectable.
2. Championship blood. It’s okay if you let out a collective “huh?” after reading this strength. However, this group of Buckeyes is pretty decorated. In 2007, the Buckeyes went 15-1 in the Big Ten and reached the NCAA Championship game before falling to Florida. After the 2007 NCAA runner-up season in which Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., and Daequan Cook all left for the NBA (and seniors Ron Lewis – who hit the big 3-pointer in the second round comeback vs. Xavier – and Ivan Harris graduated) the Buckeyes continued winning. Led by holdovers David Lighty, Jamar Butler and Othello Hunter, the Buckeyes grabbed another title in 2008. While Ohio State missed the NCAA Tournament in 2008 (OSU finished the regular season 19-13 and 10-8 in a down year for the Big Ten), the Buckeyes won the NIT. Last year’s squad reached the Big Ten Tournament finals as the conference’s No. 5 seed and had to face the mighty Siena Saints in the NCAA Tournament, resulting in a first-round exit. This year’s crew won a share of the Big Ten title and could even reach the No. 1 line on Selection Sunday. For Lighty, recently named to Sports Illustrated’s All-Glue Guy team, winning has come naturally. Other players also have gotten used to Ws.
1. Depth. Who am I to question the great Thad Matta, especially when his odd decision-making turned in a co-Big Ten Championship and could land a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Eventually though, a team playing just six players will suffer, right? With a six-man rotation, one that has Turner, Lighty, William Buford and Jon Diebler playing pretty much 40 minutes a night and two bigs – Dallas Lauderdale and Kyle Madsen – splitting the other 40 minutes, fatigue will inevitably appear at the worst possible time. Against a team like Missouri, Louisville or Florida that presses all game–or even simply frenetic teams like Kansas State and New Mexico–the Buckeyes could tire out, and that would be devastating down the stretch.
2. Offensive rebounding. This weakness is a stretch, but that is what happens on a team as good as Ohio State. If there is one knock with Ohio State other than depth, it is the Buckeyes don’t recover many offensive rebounds. For a team that loves the 3-point shot, getting that offensive rebound for a quick-trigger triple would be a dynamic weapon. The Buckeyes, however, don’t manifest that opportunity enough.
Scheduling: I always admire a team that plays four solid nonconference opponents with at least two of those games being on either a neutral floor or away from home. The Buckeyes hit that mark this season with four “solid” nonconference games, going 2-2 in the process. Losing to a completely different North Carolina team early in the year is understandable but coming back to beat an underrated California team was a good win. Beating Florida State, the best defensive per-possession team in the country according to Ken Pomeroy, is also a plus. The game I most admire, however, is the loss at Butler. This was Ohio State’s first game without Turner and at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse. Despite losing (the Buckeyes lost 74-66), this is the type of environment I would expect in the first few rounds of the NCAA Tournament and the Buckeyes nearly pulled off a win without the league’s MVP. All these games, plus a tough in-conference slate that featured five matchups against Wisconsin, Purdue and Michigan State will provide big dividends in late March.
Offensive Efficiency: 117.0 (12th)
Defensive Efficiency: 89.0 (22nd)
Tempo: 65.9 (236th)
Final Four. I’ll step out onto a limb here and, assuming the Buckeyes avoid the Kansas and/or Duke bracket, say Ohio State reaches the Final Four. You’ll remember that in the Big Ten Midseason report, a certain writer said the following about a then 16-6 Ohio State team: “Turner can carry this team to the Final Four without question, and come Selection Sunday, you’ll be hearing Ohio State as that monster sleeper team in every “expert’s” bracket.” At that point, Ohio State was more of a No. 5/6 seed. Now the Buckeyes will probably be on the No. 2 line making the term sleeper a little useless. However, Carmelo Anthony carried a pretty good Syracuse team to the 2003 National Championship. While ‘Melo is a better player, I think Turner is a better teammate and can make his supporting cast rise to any occasion.