With the Cincinnati-Ohio State sweet 16 showdown lingering later on today, I thought it would be a good idea to talk to someone very familiar with the Buckeyes. What a novel idea. I know. I’m a leader of blogs for a reason. Original ideas no one else ever thought of. Anyway, that brings us to the great Ohio State blog Eleven Warriors. I did a Q&A over there that will be up sometime. They retweeted my daily #BeatOSU tweet and got me hate tweets from Buckeye fans. As they say in the business, it’s on now.
Chris and I talk predictions, Deshaun Thomas, Jared Sullinger, if Sullinger is hurt, the Buck defense, if the game means that much to OSU fans and more. Be sure to follow them on twitter, @elevenwarriors for the OSU reaction tonight. I’ve spelled eleven so much it doesn’t look like it’s actually a word.
Ohio State had a little funk in February until the the end of the regular season. They seem to be a different team after the comeback at Michigan St. Do you think the team is playing it’s best ball?
At the very least, this team is playing its best ball since early November when they beat Florida by seven at home before demolishing Duke 85-63 two weeks later. The most positive elements of the current streak are Deshaun Thomas getting hot and Aaron Craft consistently looking to score in addition to his usual lockdown defense. Craft’s emergence has given the Buckeyes more offensive punch and opened things up a bit more for Jared Sullinger, Thomas and to a lesser extent, William Buford.
The Buckeyes defense is one of the best in the country. What do they do that elevates them from the rest of the NCAA?
It all starts with Craft. He’s probably the best on ball defender in the country and if he’s dominating the opposing PG, it can be difficult for the opponent to get the offense initiated. He often pushes the PG so far outside that entry passes to the post or even simple passes to start a set play become adventurous. With his ball pressure and the length of Lenzelle Smith and Buford on the wings, it’s tough to find passing lanes that lead directly to buckets. Inside, Sully is an underrated defensive player for a guy with no vertical jump and though he’s typically been a defensive liability, Thomas has stepped up his D, no doubt for the watchful eyes of NBA scouts.
They really don’t do anything schematically special, they just follow Craft’s lead and play a dogged defense for the length of the shot clock.
Cincinnati thrives on getting easy baskets on steals and turnovers. Ohio State was in the middle of the Big 10 in turnovers. Do you think it’s going to be an issue for the Bucks?
It certainly could be an issue as Cincy does a nice job of applying pressure on the wings but as long as Craft is the chief ball handler, Ohio State should be okay. One way to exploit the Buckeyes with turnovers is to hound Buford with ball pressure because he has some loose handles out top and can be had when trying to dribble drive past pressure defense. Another way to generate turnovers is to double Sullinger inside and be willing to give up a few fouls in an attempt to get him frustrated. When that works, he will turn it over attempting crazy shots in hopes of getting a foul call or he’ll lower the ball to his waist where guards can swipe it. How well he handles the physicality and officiating will go a long way in determining a winner Thursday night.
The sexy matchup everyone is focused on is Sullinger vs Gates. You asked for my take, I’m asking for yours. How do you think the battle will go?
I think Sullinger might look to duplicate some of his success against Gonzaga by facing up and forcing Gates to guard him on the perimeter, at least in the early going. Conversely, I think Gates sticks with his typical offensive gameplan. In the end, I can see these two virtually cancelling each other out forcing other guys to be the true difference makers.
There has been some talk among college basketball pundits that Jared Sullinger either looks hurt or is playing hurt. Do you think there is truth to this?
I don’t think he’s hurt. I have no inside intel on that but considering he wears his emotions on his sleeve and generally calls it like he sees it in media sessions, I think he’s just as healthy as most post players after 36 games. It’s been a tougher year than he expected partly because he was hurt for a portion of the year, the team lacks outside punch meaning opponents can more easily gang up on him and he lost weight negating some of his inside scoring ability.
Deshaun Thomas has had a huge tournament so far. What are the different ways Thad Matta and company get him looks?
The thing about Thomas is that you don’t have to run plays for him in order for him to get shots off. Trust me on that. Dude has a hair trigger and always thinks he’s open. That said, Matta will definitely have him flashing in the high post and along the baseline. A key to Thomas’ game is that he can catch and shoot so he doesn’t need much of a window unlike some guys who have to put the ball on the floor before hoisting a shot. Thomas is also a dynamic offensive rebounder and by dynamic, I mean that he probably scores off 85% of his offensive boards and many of those seem to result in three point plays.
Outside of the Michigan St win, William Buford has struggled from the field the past month. What do you think the problem has been for him?
If I knew the answer to that, I’d be on Matta’s staff. It seems to be a combo of things. First of all, he struggles with finding his niche in a particular game. Sometimes he takes to many shots and others he’ll disappear for long stretches as if he doesn’t know his true role on the team. I also think he’s a little thin-skinned and the fact some fans have turned on him probably eats at him more than he lets on. Bottom line, when his shot selection is decent, he’s a much better player but too many times he tries to get it going leading to forced perimeter shots that aren’t in his sweet spots. He can very dangerous on midrange pull up jumpers and from the wings in transition but too often he’s launching fade-aways, runners and contested deep jumpers that aren’t high percentage looks.
It seems to me that this game means a lot for Cincinnati fans and not a lot more than a regular Sweet 16 game for Ohio State fans. Am I completely off base here?
I have to say I think that’s way off base. Informed Ohio State fans know UC kept OSU from winning the title in both ’61 and ’62 and that the Bearcats played a huge role in the Damon Flint related sanctions and that Mick Cronin, Flint’s HS coach, was miraculously hired by Huggins after Flint changed his commitment. They also certainly read Cronin’s comments about OSU dodging UC all those years before the blowout in Indianapolis in 2006 and they should also remember Deonta Vaughn blaming the rims in Conseco Fieldhouse and the actual basketballs for the loss instead of giving Oden or Ohio State any credit whatsoever.If they remember any of that, this is more than just a Sweet 16 game.
Finally, how do you think the game will play out?
I think it’s going to be an absolute war. I love how aggressively UC plays and I think that’s the kind of style that has sometimes frustrated Sullinger and often reduced Buford to a non-factor meaning those two will have to step up and Thomas and Craft must be ready to pick up their slack as needed. In the end, I do like Ohio State but just by a nose, mostly because I’m counting on Craft to continue his offensive emergence and on Sullinger to get it done in the final minutes.
Thanks a lot to Chris. Great stuff. Be sure to check out their site.