The Lantern sports editors share their insight on what fans should know about Thursday’s matchup against Dayton in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
1. Does Thad Matta extend his streak of Sweet Sixteens to five?
Even with the departure of players like Evan Turner, Jon Diebler, William Buford, Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas, coach Thad Matta has helped the Buckeyes sustain a consistent level of success in the NCAA Tournament. In each of the last four years, Matta has led OSU to at least the Sweet Sixteen — twice advancing even deeper into the Big Dance — the only coach in the country to do so. But this season might prove one of the tougher challenges for Matta. With Dayton in the second round providing a stiff challenge with talented 3-point shooters, OSU will likely have to fight to win their first game. But it is in the next round that looms perhaps the bigger challenge. No. 3-seed Syracuse, who started the season 25-0 before losing five of its final seven games, is heavily favored to advance past No. 14-seed Western Michigan in the second round, and sports a zone defense that is likely to be difficult for OSU to handle. The Buckeyes have struggled at times this season against a zone, and perhaps no one runs the zone better than Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. Not the easiest road for a team that is 208th in the country in points per game.
2. Do the Buckeyes have a second scorer? Do they even need one?
Since Thomas left for the NBA Draft at the end of last season, OSU has been looking to fill the hole he left behind. Junior forward LaQuinton Ross is the predominant scorer for the team, leading the Buckeyes with 15.4 points per game. But Matta’s squad has seen numerous players step up — only to falter — as the second guy. Everyone — from senior guards Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. to junior forward Sam Thompson and junior guard Shannon Scott — have at times looked like the player OSU can look to for points. Scott most recently put up 18 points in a loss against Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, but perhaps the Buckeyes don’t need someone to step up on a consistent basis. Were it not for a missed 3-pointer by Craft, OSU would have had an opportunity to advance to the Big Ten title game against Michigan State, a team it beat a week earlier. If OSU has won 25 games this season with a rotation of players scoring behind Ross, what is to say they need a second strong shooter now? If OSU does make a deep run in the Big Dance, do not be shocked to see different names at the top of the scoring sheet following each game.
3. Defense wins championships
All the talk of OSU’s below-average offense this season leads to one thing seeming to get ignored: the Buckeyes still have a phenomenal defense. On the season, OSU is 12th in the country in average points allowed per game with just 59.8, and is led by two players who were named to the Big Ten all-defensive team. Craft in particular — who was named Big Ten defensive player of the year for the second time in three years and is the conference’s all-time leader in steals — will be the rock for a defense that will hope to cover the holes created by offensive issues. It is often said that offense sells tickets and defense wins championships. If that is the case, OSU must like its chances to make a run. Although, if the Buckeyes allow more than 70 points to their opponent — second-round matchup Dayton is averaging 73.4 this year — Matta’s squad might be in danger. This season, OSU has only allowed 70 or more points six times, going 0-6 in those games. The Buckeyes are good on defense, but it might not be enough this year.
4. A proper senior sendoff
All season long, players like Thompson and Scott have had nothing but good things to say about the two Buckeye seniors in Craft and Smith Jr. Both were the fastest players in program history to 100 wins, doing so Nov. 29 with a 99-64 win against North Florida in their 119th game for the Scarlet and Gray. After falling to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament, Craft and Smith Jr. — along with the rest of the roster — watched Selection Sunday in Columbus for the first time in their careers. The team is a No. 6 seed in the Big Dance, the first time its been lower than a No. 2 in the guards’ careers. But sending the two seniors off properly is sure to be on the rest of the team’s mind heading into the second round game against Dayton. An early exit surely will put a dent on their illustrious careers.
5. Buckeye post play
It’s no secret that OSU hasn’t looked for much from its postgame all season. Junior centers Amir Williams and Trey McDonald combine to average just 10.1 points per game, a far cry from what Sullinger used to do two years ago. But Williams, the starter, found himself on the bench during the important moments of the loss to the Wolverines Saturday in favor of McDonald. Matta is known for sticking with a hot lineup when his team needs a boost, so it will be interesting to see which player comes to play in the tournament. Winning in the postseason is very difficult without a solid low post game, so for OSU to have a chance, one of (or both) players will need to step up.