Ohio State didn’t win the Big Ten Tournament, but the Buckeyes hope to make a run at an NCAA title. Here’s my closer look at how Ohio State sets up for their Thursday’s first-round game against Loyola (Md.). Who is Loyola (Md.)? Our Brent Yarina answers that question while I give you my Buckeyes preview further down in this post.
No. 2 OHIO STATE’S RECORD VS. NCAA FIELD: 10-6
Thad Matta’s NCAA record: 10-5 at Ohio State; 16-9 overall at Ohio State, Xavier and Butler with a Final Four appearance in 2007 at Ohio State.
Ohio State’s NCAA tourney appearances: 24
How far can it go? I know the Buckeyes’ seed says they are a No. 2, but this team has Final Four potential with players like Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas, Aaron Craft and William Buford—among others. Honestly, is there a more talented team in the Big Ten? And it’s a motivated Ohio State squad that still is smarting from a Sweet 16 exit from last year’s tourney after many felt it was bound for a national championship run as the No. 1 overall seed of the tourney. The East Region doesn’t look overly daunting, with Syracuse being the No. 1 seed. Florida State is the No. 3 seed, while Wisconsin is the No. 4. It’s time to deliver, Brutus.
Best second-round matchup: Hurdle No. 1 is Loyola (Md) and its star Erik Etherly. That’s a “jockstrap game” where you just throw it on the court and watch a win appear. But after that, things get more interesting. A tilt with No. 7 Gonzaga or No. 10 West Virginia would be next. While the Zags are seeded higher, I think they would be an easier matchup for Ohio State. Gonzaga is more of a finesse team that is offensive-oriented. I think it would wilt under the athletic ability and defensive pressure applied by the Buckeyes. Conversely, Bob Huggins-coached West Virginia is a physical bunch that could trade punches with Ohio State and wouldn’t be intimidated. No doubt, the Buckeyes would be on upset alert if they had to deal with the Mountaineers in Pittsburgh, which could be packed with WVU fans who have just a short drive up I-79 to get to the Steel City. Of course, a lot of Ohio State fans figure to be there, too.
Chance to advance to Sweet 16: Very good. Again, Loyola (Md.) shouldn’t pose much of an obstacle. But a second-round clash with West Virginia and Kevin Jones—a living and breathing double-double man–may be problematic. How will Ohio State react if it gets punched in the nose? Fascinating.
Who needs to shine: Jared Sullinger. The guy showed how dominant he can be in the Big Ten tourney, scoring 30 vs. Purdue; 24 vs. Michigan; 18 vs. Michigan State. And he brings a 17.6-point and 9.3-rebound average into the Big Dance. The key: Avoid foul trouble. If Sullinger and his wide load remain on the court—and foes don’t double-team the sophomore sensation—the big fella will dominant and Ohio State figures to roll.
X-factor: William Buford. Let’s call him “mercurial.” Ya, that sounds about right. His senior season hasn’t gone as scripted, as his shooting percentages are down across the board. Some think it’s a function of trying to do too much as the team’s lone senior, trying to fill a massive leadership void created when David Lighty and Jon Diebler departed. Ohio State needs the Buford who scored 25 points—and hit the game-winning shot with a second left in the game–in that win at Michigan State to earn the Buckeyes a share of the Big Ten crown. Not the one who scored a combined 32 points in three games in the Big Ten tourney.
Tom Dienhart is a senior writer for BTN.com Find Dienhart’s work at www.btn.com/tomdienhart, follow him on Twitter at @BTNTomDienhart, send a question to his weekly mailbag here, and click here to subscribe to his overall RSS feed.