Big Ten Tournament Preview: Ohio State

Submitted by Ace on March 14th, 2014 at 6:53 PM


WHAT Michigan (24-7, 15-3 B1G) vs. Ohio State (25-8, 10-8)
WHERE Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana
WHEN 1:40 pm Eastern, Saturday
LINE Michigan -1 (KenPom)
PBP: Jim Nantz
Analysts: Greg Anthony, Steve Kerr

Right: The Nebraska game proved stressful for Thad Matta. (via)


A spot in the Big Ten title game, obviously. Also, with Villanova losing to Seton Hall yesterday, Michigan has a chance to grab the final one-seed in the NCAA Tournament. While the Wolverines are the third two-seed (behind Kansas and Wisconsin) in the most recent Bracket Matrix update, the gap is narrowing. If Michigan advances further than Wisconsin in the conference tourney, they've got a shot, especially if Kansas goes down against Iowa State in the Big 12 semifinal (7 pm Friday night on ESPNU/WatchESPN).


Michigan played Ohio State once this season, coming away with a 70-60 win in Columbus despite digging themselves an early hole. The Wolverines won the game thanks to remarkable offensive balance; Nik Stauskas had 15 points, Derrick Walton 13, Zak Irvin 10, Caris LeVert and Glenn Robinson 9 apiece, Jon Horford 8, and Jordan Morgan 6. Oh, and this happened:

He just wins games.


Probable starters are in bold:

Pos. # Name Yr. Ht./Wt. %Min %Poss ORtg
G 4 Aaron Craft Sr. 6'2, 195 85.4 18.6 104.6
Great (and aggressive) defender, good distributor, iffy shooter
G 32 Lenzelle Smith Jr. Sr. 6'4, 210 71.4 20.0 114.2
Good shooter, not great around basket, #2 offensive option behind Ross.
F 12 Sam Thompson Jr. 6'7, 200 60.8 16.6 102.2
Remarkably athletic, great finisher at rim, mediocre shooter, blocks some shots
F 10 LaQuinton Ross Jr. 6'8, 220 71.0 27.8 108.1
Volume shooter with iffy selection, solid outside shot, decent rebounder
C 23 Amir Williams Jr. 6'11, 250 58.0 19.1 110.1
Excellent rebounder and shot-blocker, lots of putbacks, terrible hands
G 3 Shannon Scott Jr. 6'1, 185 66.3 19.0 100.0
Great (and aggressive) defender, good distributor, iffy shooter
G 33 Amadeo Della Valle So. 6'5, 190 28.6 20.5 95.2
Mostly a spot-up shooter, 32% from three, ineffective inside arc
C 55 Trey McDonald Jr. 6'8, 240 29.9 13.5 89.2
Good off. rebounder, poor def. rebounder, high FT rate, terrible FT shooter
F 2 Marc Loving Fr. 6'7, 215 27.6 23.1 99.5
Has essentially fallen out of rotation for last month, surpassed by ADV


Tim Miles could've prevented this if he knew the Golden Rule of KenPom: Never Question KenPom.

Despite tempting fate, it looked like the Huskers would cruise to a Big Ten quarterfinal victory; they led by as many as 18 points in the second half. Then came KenPom's revenge:

That's a really tough way to learn that particular lesson, though at least Nebraska is still projected to make the NCAA Tournament.

Anyway, Ohio State. Like with the Illinois preview, this is a copy-paste job with a few updates (and corrected stats) from the last preview.

Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott are very similar players; great defenders with very aggressive styles—both rank in the top 12 in steal rate—and solid distributors who struggle with their shot. Craft gets to the rim more often but doesn't finish quite as well as Scott, likely a product of having to take more contested shots late in the clock; Scott has a better mid-range jumper, while Craft is more selective—and therefore more efficient—with his three-point attempts. (Efficient here is relative: Craft makes 30% of his threes, Scott 28%.) Expect both to see plenty of time guarding Stauskas.

Sam Thompson will start over Scott in an effort to get more scoring—and size—on the floor for the Buckeyes. He's a 33.3% three-point shooter and a great finisher at the rim; too often, however, he settles for two-point jumpers that he hits at just a 24.2% clip, per hoop-math. He's not the on-ball defensive terror that Craft and Scott present and his rebounding numbers surprisingly fall just below Scott's (read: not great); however, he does provide another shot-blocking threat on the floor.

LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith Jr. are the primary scoring options, with Ross taking over 30% of the team's shots when he's on the floor, a top-100 rate nationally. Ross is a good outside shooter (37.8% 3-pt) who finishes well around the basket, though his two-point percentage (47.6%) is dragged down by a healthy number of mid-range jumpers that aren't his specialty. Ross does a good job taking care of the basketball. He also rarely looks to pass, which helps keep the turnover rate low. As he goes, the Buckeye offense tends to go.

Smith, meanwhile, distributes his shots almost equally between two-pointers (52.1%) and three-pointers (34.5%); his turnover rate is even lower than Ross's despite the fact he's more willing to give the ball up. While Smith isn't a great athlete, he rebounds pretty well for a player his size on the defensive end.

Detroit native Amir Williams mans the center position; he's by far the team's best rebounder and one of the better rim protectors in the conference. His offensive game a still a work-in-progress, though his post game has improved; he finishes well off putbacks and open dumpoffs, which represent a good chunk of his attempts, but he doesn't have great hands—he'll drop an entry pass or two. He's backed up by Trey McDonald, who's a total offensive non-factor aside from solid offensive rebounding and terrible (33.3%) free-throw shooting on a high rate of attempts. Thad Matta often eschews playing McDonald in favor of going small with Ross at the five.

Other backups who could see significant time include one-time Michigan recruit Amadeo Della Valle, a spot-up shooting specialist hitting 32.4% of his threes. After had been 0-for-8 from the field since February 15th before dropping 12 points on 3/7 shooting during the comeback against Nebraska. Freshman forward Marc Loving has almost entirely dropped out of the rotation, playing a combined 31 minutes over the team's last six games.


After losing to Michigan, Ohio State defeated Illinois on the road and Northwestern, Minnesota, and Michigan State at home while losing at Penn State and Indiana to close out the regular season. The Buckeyes eked out a 62-60 win over Purdue in the opening round of the BTT.


The Buckeyes are first in the B1G in defensive efficiency despite ranking fifth in eFG% against and eighth in DReb%. The reasons: OSU is first in forcing turnovers by a wide margin, second in 3-pt% against, second in preventing three-point attempts, and third in keeping opponents off the free-throw line. Two-point defense is the Buckeyes's glaring weakness, especially when Williams isn't on the floor.

On offense, OSU is in the middle of the B1G pack in just about every category save offensive rebounding (ninth) and FTA/FGA (third). Don't expect many turnovers, as the Buckeyes take care of the ball well and Michigan doesn't force many anyway. The disparity in FTA/FGA will be key; a big part of the regular-season win was Michigan's 22-16 edge in free throw attempts (and 18-11 advantage in makes).


Free up Stauskas. While Michigan has pretty much killed the Little Dude vs. Stauskas strategy, Ohio State boasts two of the best defensive guards in college basketball, and they'll play their usual aggressive on- and off-ball man defense regardless. The Wolverines won the first game even though Stauskas went just 1/3 inside the arc. They'll need to get him going to the basket more—or get big performances from the supporting cast again—if they want to knock off the Buckeyes again.

Take care of the ball. Ohio State's defense relies on forcing turnovers. So does their offense—if the Buckeyes are stuck in a halfcourt battle, they don't have the shooters to keep up with Michigan. This is pretty simple: take care of the rock and a win is likely.

Pack the paint. The presence of Craft (and Scott, when he's in) should allow Michigan to sag into the paint and prevent Ohio State from getting to the hoop with the ease that Illinois did this afternoon. The only truly dangerous outside shooter is Ross, and he's exactly whom Michigan should focus their extra attention upon. If Ohio State tries to keep up with Michigan's offense via outside shots from Craft, Scott, Thompson, and Smith ... well, that's going to favor the good guys.


Michigan by 1



March 14th, 2014 at 8:39 PM ^

His numbers are just under Jordan Morgan's, and still quite good (104th in OR%, 417th in DR%), and that's with Ross (17.2 DR%) and Smith (16.7) eating up way more defensive boards than any Michigan non-center. He does tend to give up offensive rebounding chances when he goes for blocks, but he's still solid on that end—much better than, say, Nnanna Egwu—and he's a legit threat on the offensive glass.


March 15th, 2014 at 7:20 AM ^

I am with you. All hands on deck to shut down Ross and make Craft and co beat us. If we can actually keep their guards in front of us instead of allowing lay up drills we win...however, interior defense has been nonexistent this year so we will see. Go Blue! Beat Ohio!


March 15th, 2014 at 12:13 AM ^

I think 3 games in 3 days really begins to wear on OSU. When your a defensive team that requires consistent effort to force turnovers, you can't afford lapses in energy. Also, they are a poor shooting team, factor in tired legs, and they become worse. 

Not being a homer, and I hate to disregard KemPom, but the metrics don't take fatigue into account. Bucks might keep it close for a half, but I like Michigan to pull away and win by double didgits in the 2nd half. 

Fatigue might not be a factor against your average offensive team, or against a less savy coach (I'm confident Beilein will push tempo similar to today's gameplan). However, against this Michigan team, poor shooting and lapses in defensive effort will get you run out of the gym. 


March 15th, 2014 at 9:54 AM ^

We do have a few things working in our favor. I just would have preferred to play Nebraska because of their lack of big stage experience (as they proved when they wilted yesterday). Hate to say it, but I think this one will come down to the wire and be uncomfortable to watch.

Monocle Smile

March 15th, 2014 at 1:55 AM ^

Hopefully Morgan doesn't get into foul trouble while OSU gets away with Hackfest XVIII on the other end.

In additiion to his bemusing numbers, Amir Williams is likely to forget what sport he's playing at some point in the game. I find him entertaining to watch.


March 15th, 2014 at 3:18 AM ^

or he is doing his best impersonation to look scarlet. Must be eatin too many buckeye balls at Christmas, if I didn't know better I would say he tipped over five minutes after that pic.. His wife should be takin his blood pressure as soon as he gets home, I know mine would. Great photo shop material though.


March 15th, 2014 at 1:09 PM ^

So very nervous. I think we'll see a fair amount of Marc Loving, as Matta looks to his bench for minutes on this third day in a row for them. 

Lenzelle Smith, who to my eye, is their best threat from three, should also be pretty well rested, as he was in foul trouble for a lot of the last game. 

The refs will be so pivotal, and I fear we will know very early on who gets the advantage. This season, in my opinion, has been the best refereed season in the Big Ten by far - teams didn't auto-win at home because the refs started calling the rules on the books and eased up on the homer calls. But the officiating has been very inconsistent in this tournament. Our game against the Illini was called close - the Neb-OSU game had a lot of anything goes. If they are allowed to maul the offensive players, advantage them.

They'll be riding high into this game, and are going to try to hit us with their first best punch - their best chance would obviously seem to be getting an early lead and riding momentum from there. A drawn out war of attrition, advantage us. 

I hope we are ready for their initial attack - I hope we have the chip on our shoulder that Nik talked about in his post-game interview.