In its first game of the NCAA Tournament Ohio State matched up well with VCU. The Rams lacked a post presence and the Buckeyes had the ball handlers necessary to dissect VCU’s trapping pressure. Ohio State won’t be so lucky in game two.
The Buckeyes (24-10) prize for beating the Rams is a contest with second-seeded Arizona (32-3), a team with size and athleticism at every position in a lineup littered with future pros.
“You got to be very, very intelligent in terms of what our game plan is and what we have to do to execute,” Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said. “I think offensively, you know, they do such a good job of challenging shots. They only block like four shots a game on average, but they're there with their length on every shot. We're going to have to make some. We can't go through a spell like we did yesterday where we missed 10 straight shots. We're going to need to be a little bit more consistent in putting the ball in the bucket, knowing it's going to be very difficult.”
The Wildcats are fresh off a 93-72 demolition of No. 15 Texas Southern, scoring more points than any other team on day one of the NCAA Tournament.
Arizona saw all five of their starters reach double digits in that win, its 12th straight victory. It wasn’t an atypical performance for the Pacific 12 regular-season and tournament champions as six different Wildcats average nine or more points per game.
The Wildcats are led by freshman Stanley Johnson as the 6-7 wing averages 14.1 points per game. The Buckeyes counter with their own star freshman as Dangelo Russell joined Johnson on the U.S. Basketball Writers Association Freshman All-American Team.
“He scores in bunches,” Arizona senior point guard T.J. McConnell said of Russell. “You let him get hot, I don't think there's a very good chance that you can beat Ohio State. He makes their team go. We're going to have to do a good job on him tomorrow for us to have a chance to win.”
While stopping Russell seems to be the recipe for stopping Ohio State, the balance that the Wildcats have makes it difficult to say the same about Johnson and Arizona.
Johnson is complemented by juniors Brandon Ashley (12.3 points per game) and Kaleb Tarczewski (9.1), sophomore Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (10.9) and McConnell (9.8) in the starting lineup while junior Gabe York averages 9.1 points per game off the bench. Not only can all of those players score, most of them present matchup problems with their size. Tarczewski is 7-0 and the Wildcats have the luxury of bringing a second 7-footer off the bench in Dusan Ristic. Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson each stand 6-7 while Ashley is 6-9.
Amir Williams guarded Tarczewksi some when the two teams met in the NCAA Tournament two years ago, and the Buckeyes senior said that his Wildcats counterpart has improved as a player. Williams, though, relishes games against players who can match his size.
“I think he’s come a long way, pretty good player, very athletic player,” Williams said. “Just from what I’ve seen he looks a bit more athletic, a bit more comfortable making moves in the post and I just have to do my best job of containing him.
“It’s always good to play against someone your size. I just like playing against my size. It’s harder playing against somebody smaller, obviously. I don’t know why that situation is, but I just like playing someone my height.”
As effective as the Wildcats have been in their balanced scoring attack -- Arizona is the ninth-best team in the country in tempo-adjusted offense according to Ken Pomeroy -- they have been even better on the other end. Arizona boasts the third-best adjusted defense in the country, allowing their opposition to score over 70 points just four times this season.
“Defense is something you can control better than offense,” Miller said. “I thought for our team being totally committed to being a great defensive team will take us the furthest we could go.”
The Wildcats are certainly an imposing force for the Buckeyes to deal with, but they are not unbeatable. Arizona has dropped three games this season, losses to UNLV, Oregon State and Arizona State. None of those teams qualified for the NCAA Tournament.
In a 75-72 overtime win over VCU Matta elected to use a small lineup at times in the second half, something he said was out of necessity, and went to a zone defense that he has used sparingly over the past two months after using it exclusively early in the season. Both of those options are on the table against the Wildcats, Matta said.
It appears that Ohio State enters their second game of the NCAA Tournament at a matchup disadvantage, no surprise given the tenth-seeded Buckeyes will be taking on the West’s second-seeded team at 5:15 p.m. at the Moda Center in Portland, Ore. But as Matta has said consistently throughout his career, anything can happen in March.
- The two teams last met two years ago in the NCAA Tournament when a LaQuinton Ross three in the final seconds gave Ohio State a 73-70 win to advance to the Elite Eight.
- Arizona head coach Sean Miller was an assistant on Matta’s staff at Xavier from 2001-2004.
- Matta is 2-0 against Miller. His Buckeyes topped the Wildcats in the tournament two years ago and Matta topped Miller’s Xavier team in the 2007 NCAA Tournament.
- Ohio State senior Sam Thompson is 17 points from becoming the 52nd 1,000-point scorer in Ohio State history.
- Thanks to his 28 points against VCU, Russell moved into first-place all-time on the Ohio State freshman scoring list, passing Michael Redd. Russell has scored 666 points this season.