Thinking Out Loud about Ohio State’s Win over UC, Matchup with Syracuse
By Brandon Castel
BOSTON — Ohio State came to Boston with one goal in mind: get to the Final Four.
After beating Cincinnati 81-66 on Thursday night, the Buckeyes are just one win away from accomplishing that goal and earning a trip to New Orleans next weekend.
The only thing standing in their way is Syracuse—the No. 1 seed in the East Region. All of that got me thinking out loud.
On Ohio State’s Big Win Over UC…
1. This was a big moment for this team. Don’t think for one second the fans are the only ones who questioned whether Ohio State could actually get the Sweet 16 monkey off its back this year after last year’s team came up short. The players were focused on that barrier as well, and there was some natural uncertainty in the locker room about whether this team could really put it all together at the right time.
2. It wasn’t exactly Kentucky they beat Thursday night. It was easy to see why Kentucky was a terrible matchup for Ohio State in last year’s tournament, especially if William Buford was going to miss 14 shots. Looking back now, it’s really hard to imagine Cincinnati posing the same time of obstacle for the Buckeyes.
3. The Bearcats played a lot of one-on-one offense, which is not going to work against this OSU team, especially when one of your best players is being defended by Aaron Craft. UC simply didn’t have the matchup advantages Kentucky did last year (and to be frank, they simply weren’t nearly as good).
4. Once Yancy Gates picked up his second foul in the first half, it was going to be hard for Cincinnati to win the game without dropping a bunch of tough threes. Gates was never going to be as tough of a matchup for Sullinger as a guy like Robert Sacre, simply because he doesn’t have the height advantage which seems to bother Sullinger, but the foul trouble limited him to just seven points and five rebounds in 29 minutes.
5. Deshaun Thomas was the difference in this game. He only scored six points in the second half, but Thomas did his damage in the first half when the Buckeyes really needed him. The Bearcats were determined to play a zone against Ohio State, but they could not stay in the zone for the second half because Thomas was killing them.
6. Lenzelle Smith stepped up huge. As good as Thomas was in the game, a lot of credit needs to go to Lenzelle Smith in this one. The sophomore came in with his mind right and he was just aggressive enough to give the Buckeyes the boost they needed.
7. The key with Smith is being ready to shoot without trying to take more shots than the team needs. Smith is never going to be better than a No. 3 option on this team, even on a good day, but to get 15 points and five rebounds out of him in the Sweet 16 is huge for this team moving forward.
8. It’s hard to figure out where Buford’s head is. He seems to be in good spirits despite his struggles, but that isn’t helping the Buckeyes on the court. Matta said Buford played the best defense of his career in the first half against UC, but that’s hard to quantify because he isn’t going to impact the game like Craft.
9. Buford finished with four points and he gave all four of them back with bad turnovers near midcourt that resulted in easy baskets at the other end. He was 1-8 shooting with four turnovers, and said Friday that he starts thinking about shots he has missed when things aren’t going well.
10. This team can survive bad outings from Buford as long as he stops shooting when the ball isn’t going in. As off he as he was in the game against Cincinnati, it wasn’t the kind of bone-crushing night he had against Kentucky last year in the tournament.
11. He made only one shot, but only took eight—in part because of foul trouble—but it no longer seems realistic to say this team will only go as far as Buford can take them.
On Matching Up With Syracuse…
1. Make no mistake about it, this would be a different game on Saturday night with Fab Melo in the middle of that zone defense for Syracuse.
2. The Defensive Player of the Year in the Big East is a legitimate 7-footer who changed games with his shot-blocking ability. He averaged almost three blocks per game during the regular season, and would have posed serious problems for Sullinger in the paint.
3. Despite what Jim Boeheim would like you to believe, Syracuse is not the same team with Rakeem Christmas in the middle of the zone. This is a guy who played fewer than 12 minutes per game this season and averaged less than a block a night.
4. Christmas is not Fab Melo, and the fact he faced Sullinger in AAU is not going to be much of a help in this game for the Orange freshman. Christmas is only 6-9, and while he is a lanky 6-9 with long arms, he doesn’t change the game with his size on the interior.
5. Sophomore Baye Keita has actually looked like the better player in the tournament since Melo was ruled ineligible before the start of March Madness. He is a little bit longer, a little bit more experienced and seems to have a little bit better understanding of the game than Christmas.
6. The Buckeyes still have to do a good job of getting the ball to Sullinger in the right spots. Without Melo in this game, Sullinger is so much better than the Syracuse big men, but he doesn’t have a lot of experience playing against this type of zone defense.
7. Boeheim is going to play Sullinger a little differently than he has any other big man in the tournament thus far. He has to. The Orange are going to swarm Ohio State’s star big man when he catches the ball in the teeth of that zone, which means guys like Thomas and Smith had better be ready to catch and shoot.
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