In preparation for Michigan's College Gameday-featured extravaganza against Ohio State on Saturday, I asked Sarah Hardy of Eleven Warriors a handful of questions about the Buckeye hoops squad. For a Buckeye, she provided some very insightful answers, which you can find below. I did a similar Q&A over at 11W; you can check that out here. Thank you to Sarah—who you can follow on Twitter @sarbucks—for taking the time to provide the OSU perspective on the game.
Other than free throw percentage (9th in the Big Ten), the Buckeyes don't appear to have a weakness. OSU's record supports this. Am I missing something?
Jon Diebler. Or, I should say, Ohio State is missing Jon Diebler. With him, this team could easily be undefeated. Instead, there’s no reliable outside shooter, and without that threat, it allows the defense to focus most of their efforts on Sullinger and, to a lesser extent, Buford. By forcing the opponent to account for him at all times, Diebler’s mere presence opened up the floor for his teammates.
Now, Ohio State’s most accurate three-point “specialists” are Sullinger (11/23) and Lenzelle Smith Jr. (19/47), neither of whom attempts enough treys to make a significant impact. That really levels the playing field against a team with less talent but one that can score from behind the arc with regularity.
I'd ask about the Michigan State loss, but the Spartans are about as different a team as possible from the Wolverines. Illinois and Indiana did manage to beat Ohio State. What did they do to make that happen?
The Illinois game was one of those situations that OSU falls victim to at least once a season: an opposing player (Brandon Paul in this case) turns into an evil sorcerer for the night, and no matter how closely he is guarded, his black magic will not allow him to miss.
Still, it was a close match throughout and it ultimately came down to Ohio State’s Achilles’ Heel: three-pointers. They hit just 5/15 from downtown while the Illini were 11/18 (the Dark Lord alone was 8/10). At the end of the game, Paul came through with key shots and no one for the Buckeyes stepped up to do the same.
Against Indiana, they again couldn’t close it out, but the circumstances leading up to those final minutes were different than in the loss to Illinois. Visiting Assembly Hall, where refs must have PTSD from the days of Bobby Knight, Ohio State was getting called for ticky tack fouls that ended up dictating the game. Sullinger and Craft were both in foul trouble early, and in the second half, everyone was too scared to play defense, so they gave up an unusual amount of easy baskets.
Also, the Bucks were uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball, especially Craft with a career-high six turnovers.
In the first matchup, Michigan effectively limited Jared Sullinger by playing a lot of zone, which is unusual for the Wolverines. Have other teams deployed this strategy with any effectiveness, or do you see that as a one-time occurrence? Do you think Sullinger bounces back in this game?
Against Minnesota on Tuesday night, Tubby Smith switched to the zone after the Buckeyes went on an early 20-0 run. After that, Ohio State finished the first half with 8 points on 2/10 shooting. I checked with one of our lead basketball writers at 11W, Chris Lauderback, and we agreed that the main reason they struggle against the zone is because they start jacking up 3s, often unsuccessfully.
In January when these teams met, the zone helped limit Sullinger to 13 points and 5 rebounds. He was also in foul trouble early, so I have to believe Beilein will employ it again. It’s Michigan’s best bet to counter against someone who presents the kind of matchup problems that Sully does.
However, if the Minnesota game was any indication, he will play better this time around against the Wolverines. On Tuesday, he notched 23 points and 8 rebounds and even when Andre Hollins tossed an inbounds pass off his crotch, he wasn’t as visibly frustrated as he was versus the likes of Michigan and Michigan State.
I think most Wolverine fans are aware of Sullinger, Aaron Craft, and William Buford as being the main stars for OSU. Who else should Michigan watch out for on Saturday?
Lenzelle Smith Jr. came up huge the first time these two teams met (17 points, 12 rebounds). He has that jack-of-all-trades quality that made David Lighty such an invaluable member of the Buckeyes for all his 20 seasons. Like everyone except Sullinger and Craft, Smith is not always consistent, but he will the ability to emerge when his teams needs him.
While Deshaun Thomas is still a gunner, his shot selection is better this season than last, when his sometimes poor decision-making cost him playing time. His defense leaves a lot to be desired, and he’s erratic from behind the arc, but he’s proficient around the basket, grabbing boards and putting back missed shots.
Although Matta has gone with a deeper rotation than in years past, there’s usually not a lot of production from the bench unless the game is a blowout. Lately, freshman Sam Thompson has been the first one off the bench. Similar to almost every other player on the roster, he needs to work on his jump shot, but he’s extremely athletic and can block shots, hit the glass, and throw down glorious dunks. Even other teams’ fans seem to enjoy his gravity-defying moments.
How do you expect the Buckeyes will try to neutralize Michigan's offense, which is mostly predicated on getting to the hoop with screen-and-rolls and creating open three-pointers?
Last week, Mark Titus wrote a Grantland article that discussed how Ohio State’s defensive weakness is defending ball screens. Depending on the opponent, Matta uses a variety of strategies, which sometimes leads to information overload. Then, the defenders become out of sync with one another. In that case, they’re most susceptible to allowing open 3s or easy layups.
Still, Ken Pomeroy ranks them #1 in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. Matta will probably stick with the same strategy he used the first time against UM, when they only put up 49 points. He’s a simple Midwestern man, so for him, if It ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
I'll ask the same potentially-blasphemous question you asked me: If you could add one Wolverine to the Buckeye roster, who would it be?
I want to say Trey Burke, just so Michigan wouldn’t have him on the roster for another three years, but I don’t know where he’d play. While Aaron Craft does not have the same offensive production as Burke, I wouldn’t trade him for any other PG in the country. His inimitable defense means that Matta trusts him more than anyone else, so he doesn’t come off the floor much.
Really, what Ohio State needs is someone who is experienced and can make shots from long range. As difficult as this is to admit, and I may be ostracized from the OSU community for doing so, I guess I’d have to go with Zack Novak. He’s a senior utility man connecting on 43.3% of his three-pointers, and he’s stout on the defensive end, too.
Piggybacking off that last answer, do you think Thad Matta made a huge error by not recruiting Trey Burke? Note: Michigan fans will believe this regardless of your answer.
Again, I’d love it if Burke were wearing Scarlet and Gray, if only to keep him away from the Wolverines, but I don’t think Matta had much of a choice in the matter. There are only so many spots on the roster, and Craft, just a sophomore, is a four-year player. Shannon Scott pledged to become a Buckeye early on, and it wasn’t until after when Burke really started making a name for himself.
At this point, it’s hard to compare Scott and Burke because Michigan has asked the latter to do much more, and to his credit, he’s responded. In the offseason, Scott needs to work on his offensive game, and then maybe we’ll see him on the court with Craft more next year.
Even though he decided to play for The Team Up North, an epithet I guess we have readopted, I harbor no ill will toward Burke. He’s a hometown kid who probably would have played for Ohio State in a heartbeat. There was just no room for him.
Is there really any way you see Ohio State losing this game? What's your prediction, and how do you expect the game to play out?
Especially on the road, Ohio State is hardly infallible. Michigan absolutely has a chance of winning, particularly if they’re hitting their 3s because most likely, Ohio State won’t be able to counter from distance.
At Minnesota, Buford and Sullinger each came up huge, and while I’m not predicting 20+ points from them, I think both will score more than they did last time against the Wolverines. As for UM, I imagine they’ll also be more effective on the offensive side. Someone, probably Hardaway or Novak, will decide to shoot lights out.
Given that Michigan has a perfect home record this season and has played Ohio State tough in recent years in Ann Arbor, I’ll call a close game. A loss is certainly possible, but I already said something complimentary about Novak and I’d have to turn in my Buckeye card if I picked the Wolverines, too: Ohio State 66, Michigan 62