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Men’s Basketball: No. 5 Ohio State seeks redemption in rematch against No. 4 Gonzaga in NCAA Tournament

Ohio State freshman forward Kaleb Wesson (34) looks to drive in the second half of the game against Penn State in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals on Mar. 2 in Madison Square Garden. Ohio State lost 68-69. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo Editor

No. 5 Ohio State has faced No. 4 Gonzaga before and it did not end well for the Buckeyes.

The Bulldogs handed first-year head coach Chris Holtmann his first loss at the helm of the Buckeyes in what is still the largest loss of the season, an 86-59 defeat.

Both teams have come a long way since then. Ohio State lost two of its next three games, but then finished the season going 19-4 in the remaining 23 games. Gonzaga, on the other hand, lost its next game against Florida, but finished the regular season with a 27-4 record and claimed both the West Coast Conference regular-season and tournament championships.

Projected Starters:

Gonzaga

G — Josh Perkins — Junior, 6-foot-3, 190 lbs., 12.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 5.3 apg

G — Silas Melson — Senior, 6-foot-4, 194 lbs., 9.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.3 apg

F — Zach Norvell — Freshman, 6-foot-5, 205 lbs., 12.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.3 apg

F — Killian Tillie — Sophomore, 6-foot-10, 210 lbs., 13.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.7 apg

C — Johnathan Williams — Senior, 6-foot-9, 228 lbs., 13.7 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.6 apg

Ohio State

G — C.J. Jackson — Junior, 6-foot-1, 175 lbs., 12.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.9 apg

G — Kam Williams — Redshirt senior, 6-foot-2, 185 lbs., 8.6 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 0.7 apg

F — Jae’Sean Tate — Senior, 6-foot-4, 230 lbs., 12.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.8 apg

F — Keita Bates-Diop — Redshirt junior, 6-foot-7, 235 lbs., 19.5 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.7 apg

C — Kaleb Wesson — Freshman, 6-foot-9, 270 lbs., 10.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.1 apg

Scouting Gonzaga

Gonzaga has everything that gives Ohio State trouble. It is a team with a significant size advantage that can score from 3 if it needs to and relies on strong post play with big, athletic guards who shoot well.

For those reasons, Ohio State was unable to even come remotely close to the Bulldogs in its early season loss. Aside from center, where freshman Kaleb Wesson has a 42-pound advantage over senior Johnathan Williams, Gonzaga is bigger at every position in the starting lineups. The physicality and size advantage is part of the reason the matchup last time was not close.

Typically this season, Ohio State has been able to outscore its opponents in the paint and win the battles on the glass. But against Gonzaga, Ohio State was outscored in the paint 36-22 and outrebounded 35-31.

This is not an uncommon trend for Gonzaga this season. The Bulldogs have the fifth-highest 2-point scoring success rate of any team in the country at 58.7 percent and hold opponents to a miniscule 43.7 percent rate, sixth-lowest in the nation. They have also dominated opponents on both sides of the court in rebounding, owning the sixth-highest rebounding margin in the country at plus-8.6.

Gonzaga is not just a big team, however. It also possesses quite a lot of speed and athleticism. Against Ohio State, it scored nine fast-break points to the Buckeyes’ zero and converted 17 points off turnovers.

This type of offense is one that could give the Buckeyes plenty of issues the second time around. Ohio State has struggled against teams with a fast-pace offense and against any team with a size advantage.

Likely no player will give Ohio State more issues again than junior guard Josh Perkins. Standing 6-foot-3, he is taller than either of the Buckeyes’ starting guards and gave the team a lot of issues in the first meeting. He dropped 20 points on the Buckeyes in the last game between the teams, making 6-of-9 3s and two free throws.

Though he is not quite of the same caliber as Penn State sophomore guard Tony Carr, who has combined to score 83 points in his team’s three wins against Ohio State, Perkins’ ability to both score from 3 (40.4 percent 3-point success rate) and inside (49.6 percent 2-point success rate) combined with his size and athleticism will provide the Buckeyes with a significant challenge.

Where’s Wesson?

For the first time this season, Wesson played fewer than 10 minutes. The freshman center logged just seven minutes in his team’s 81-73 win against South Dakota State while the team deployed a smaller lineup that leaned heavily on Wesson’s older brother, sophomore forward Andre Wesson, and a trio of guards.

Wesson made his first career start against Gonzaga and fouled out after recording 25 minutes. But in his second game against the Bulldogs, he will need to be ready to give the Buckeyes even more minutes. The drastic size disadvantage for Ohio State means the team will need its biggest player to provide production in the paint if it hopes to come away with the win.

The Bottom Line

Ohio State and Gonzaga play very similar games. Both can score from beyond the arc when they need to and both tend to dominate in the paint. But Gonzaga plays the same game significantly better than Ohio State.

This Ohio State team could be better than the one that lost 86-59 to Gonzaga on Nov. 23, but this is still one of the toughest possible second-round matchups the Buckeyes could have drawn. It would be a major surprise if the Buckeyes came away with the win.

Prediction:

Gonzaga wins 82-68

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