Big Ten Geeks: Danger zone
Thursday was a mixed bag for the Big Ten, with just one team advancing to the Elite Eight in unconvincing fashion. Before Friday’s action tips off, let’s have a look at last night’s results.
Ohio State put on a repeat performance of the Iowa State win, pairing an excellent offensive attack with a strangely permissive defense. The result against Arizona was much the same as it had been a round earlier, with the Buckeyes stumbling late and giving up a late lead, only to hit a shot in the waning moments to win it. The only difference was that this time Aaron Craft found LaQuinton Ross for the game winning three instead of taking it himself.
Through three tournament games, Ohio State is scoring a robust 1.18 points per trip, and that total is only slightly inflated by the opening blowout of Iona. In conference play, the Buckeyes only scored at that level twice (against Northwestern and Nebraska), so it’s safe to say that Ohio State is playing its best offensive basketball of the season. The emergence of Ross and the resurgence of Craft have driven the improvement while Deshaun Thomas has remained his usual 20 points-per-game self.
Strangely, the big question mark is now the Buckeyes’ defense. Sure, Iowa State and Arizona have very good offenses, but the totals surrendered by Ohio State have been high even with that consideration. Iowa State’s output could be explained away fairly easily–the Cyclones were a good shooting team that had an even better night from three than usual (12 for 25, 48 percent). The Arizona result, however, is a bit more troubling. In my preview of this game, I speculated that Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott would be able to slow down the engines of Arizona’s offense, guards Mark Lyons and Nick Johnson. While Johnson was held in check, Lyons went off for 23 points on 12 shots, and it was Lyons that led the charge when the Wildcats stormed back from a six point deficit over the game’s final 90 seconds.
Again, Lyons is a great scorer and Arizona is a good offensive team, but it was supposed to be Ohio State’s defense that would carry them deep in March. Survive and advance is the name of the game, but needing consecutive game-winning shots against a 10-seed and a 6-seed doesn’t inspire confidence. Fortunately, the Buckeyes need only defeat a 9-seed on Saturday to reach the Final Four, but the competition should stiffen greatly from there. Ohio State needs to get back on track defensively if it has national title hopes.
In the nightcap, Indiana had a nightmare game against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone and was never truly competitive in an 11-point loss. For all its offensive virtues, Indiana is really not a great passing team, so the attempts to beat the zone with the pass were rarely fruitful. This was a scenario that screamed for drive-and-kick, but the Hoosiers’ guards were not up to the task. Yogi Ferrell looked completely lost in committing four turnovers, and Jordan Hulls went 0-for-5 from three. The amazing thing is that Ferrell and Hulls were possibly worse on the defensive end, where the Orange’s big guards took advantage over and over. Michael Carter-Williams, usually a good distributor and an iffy scorer, went for a career-high 24 points.
This was an absolutely putrid performance that Indiana fans will be lamenting for years to come. Let’s put this in perspective–Syracuse, while clearly a good defensive team, finished fifth in the Big East in defensive efficiency. Louisville spanked the Orange to the tune of 1.20 points per trip in the Big East championship. Sure, facing a long and athletic zone like that for the first time can be difficult, but the complete meltdown displayed by the Hoosiers was inexplicable. Less than 0.80 points per possession? Really?
Perhaps pouring more salt on the wound is the fact that Indiana’s defense was plenty good to defeat Syracuse–the Orange scored only 0.94 points per trip. The Hoosiers had only been held under a point per trip five times all season–clearly the Sweet 16 is a less-than-ideal time to have your worst game.
With a once-promising season now over, the attention for Indiana fans now shifts to the NBA decisions of Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo. Zeller’s draft stock certainly wasn’t helped by this performance–he shot 3-for-11 and was blocked five times–but one game won’t drastically alter scouts’ opinions. We already know that Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford won’t be back–will Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey be the only members of the top six to return? The Hoosiers do have a very good freshman class set to join this fall, so it’s not like there won’t be talent in Bloomington, but you wonder if a window was slammed shut last night in our nation’s capital.
Tonight, Michigan and Michigan State look to join Ohio State in the Elite Eight, and you can read our previews of those games here. Sadly, the potential for an all-B1G Final Four has been dashed, but, as Meatloaf could have alternatively said, three out of four ain’t bad.