COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 15: Jared Sullinger #0 of the Ohio State Buckeyes celebrates with fans following the game against the Florida Gators at Value City Arena on November 15, 2011 in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State defeated Florida 81-74. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
2010-11 Pomeroy: 1
The rugged beginning of IU's Big Ten schedule continues tomorrow night, when IU hosts defending Big Ten champion Ohio State. The Buckeyes, in a feat that would have been tough to imagine a decade ago, have become the Big Ten's top program. In Thad Matta's first seven seasons, OSU has won four Big Ten titles, including three outright, advanced to the 2007 NCAA title game, and has become a recruiting force. All that at a school where basketball is something of an afterthought. During the Tom Crean era, IU has defeated 6 different Big Ten programs, but Crean remains winless against four: Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Purdue. It's no coincidence that those programs have been the conference's best over the last three years. I am reasonably confident that IU will break through against one or more of those programs this season, but the sooner the better.
I have to commend Ohio State's players and coaches for not jumping off a building after they watched a .500-in-the-Big-East Connecticut team ugly out an NCAA title against 8-seed Butler. The Buckeyes looked like the best team in the country entering last year's tournament, but were tripped up by Kentucky in the Sweet 16. The Buckeyes lost several players who had played key roles in the Buckeyes' success--namely Jon Diebler, David Lighty, and Dallas Lauderdale--but they returned the most important piece, big man Jared Sullinger. OSU's only loss this season, at Pom #6 Kansas, came with Sullinger on the bench with back spasms, and even that game was more competitive than the 68-57 score would suggest.
As would be expected, Ohio State's tempo-free numbers are excellent across the board. The Buckeyes' particular points of excellence are in turnovers (#6 with a 15.5 offensive percentage; #4 with a 27.6 defensive percentage). OSU is #1 nationally in holding its opponents to an offensive rebound percentage of 22. Unlike in prior seasons, the Buckeyes are not excelling from behind the arc. With Diebler and Lighty leading the way last year, OSU was the nation's top three point shooting team (IU holds that position as of today). This year, OSU is in the middle of the pack with a 34.1 percentage from deep. OSU is, however, shooting 54 percent from inside the arc. Given the strengths of the current Buckeye team, the offense has understadably shifted to the interior.
|Lenzelle Smith Jr.||14||21.6||1.7||3.5||49.0||0.5||1.1||46.7||0.9||2.1||40.0||1.6||3.3||4.9||2.2||1.2||1.4||0.0||2.1||4.8|
Senior guard William Buford leads the way, followed by Sullinger (who also leads the Buckeyes in rebounding) and sophomore DeShaun Thomas, from Fort Wayne. There is a major drop off in scoring production after that, but point guard Aaron Craft averages 5.4 assists to 1.9 turnovers. Ohio State is not a terribly deep team. While the minutes are decently spread, with nine players averaging 10 or more minutes per game (that includes rounding up to count Sam Thompson, who is at 9.6), but the scoring is heavily concentrated in the starting lineup. If IU can get Sullinger in foul trouble (easier said than done; he has fouled out only once in his career and has reached four fouls only once this season), then that would be an important step, of course.
This game should be every bit as tough a matchup as the Kentucky game was. OSU is loaded, tall, and fairly experienced. On the other hand, IU has now been through the battles against UK (successfully) and MSU (unsuccessfully). Hopefully that will help. As I said before, an 0-2 start is far from a disaster given the quality of the schedule, but it would be nice to avoid such a start for several reasons. First, this would be another signature win for the program and would be a huge step toward an NCAA bid. Also, an 0-2 start would create quite a bit of pressure on the team against a dangerous Michigan team next week. Finally, if IU wins this game, the Hoosiers will be in an excellent position to produce an undefeated home record, something that has happened only once in the last 17 seasons. Winning all of our Big Ten home games probably would be enough for the NCAA on its own. But above all, this game is an opportunity and is, per Ken Pomeroy, the third-toughest game on the schedule. Absent injury, nothing that happens tomorrow will be a disaster. Still, consider that IU hosted OSU on New Year's Eve exactly a year ago, and none of us expected to be close. This year, everyone things we have a chance. Let's hope Cody Zeller and others learn the tough lessons from the Michigan State game and find a way.