Ohio State - Syracuse Postgame Analysis

It was supposed to be a battle of youth and inexperience Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. Both Ohio State and Syracuse had a young, untested team. However, Ohio State took issue with that perception and cruised to a 14-point victory against Syracuse in the semifinals of the NIT Tip-Off. Kyle Lamb dissects the game further.

With both Ohio State and Syracuse entering Wednesday's NIT tip-off with two freshmen and two second-year players, fans of both teams were a little uncertain of what to expect amid all the inexperience.

Turns out, it was for good reason.

While the Orange (3-1) played like a team with several young players, the Buckeyes (3-0) acted the part of an experienced, veteran ballclub that was NCAA Tournament-ready or at very least, a motivated team eager to show they belong in the top 25.

Ohio State connected on 9-of-19 3-pointers, mostly in bunches, en route to a 79-65 victory against Syracuse in historic Madison Square Garden. The offensive frenzy by the Buckeyes was a stark contrast to Syracuse, who hit 5-of-25 from behind the arc and was often forcing il-advised or quick shots while playing catch-up in the second half.

It was somewhat surprising, to much of the college basketball landscape, to see a Jim Boeheim-coached team play so disorganized defensively and undisciplined offensively. In terms of sheer talent and athletic ability, the Orange arguably outmanned Ohio State.

However, the Buckeyes were led by stable senior leader Jamar Butler. Butler, a two-time All-Big Ten selection that started 39 games in last year's Final Four run, orchestrated a perfectly-executed offense along with steady freshmen Evan Turner and Jon Diebler - who were a perfect compliment to Butler.

Playing 40 minutes (technicallly, he was on the bench for literally one play), Butler scored 14 points and dished out five assists. His presence on the floor for Ohio State is vital to the Buckeyes' success this season with junior college transfer sophomore P.J. Hill struggling in the early-going of his career. The one play missed by starting point guard Butler was an in-bounds play that Syracuse drew up full-court pressure and caused a Hill turnover.

As the season wears on for Ohio State, either Hill will improve and grow more comfortable against stiffer competition, or Turner could morph into a backup point guard of sorts with more experience and comfortability in bringing the ball up the floor.

With turnovers being nearly even (16 for Syracuse and 14 for Ohio State), the margin literally came down to shooting. Although the 14-point difference can easily be described in the extra four made threes by Ohio State than Syracuse, it was the type of shots that caused the differential.

Ohio State played a controlled game in the half-court set. There was almost always several passes on each possession and most often, all five players touched the ball before a shot was attempted. The Buckeyes had tremendous spacing, used their big guys to draw away defenders from the baseline and perfected the high-low action by sneaking in a player behind the defense.

Even when shots were not there, the Buckeyes made an extra pass to find them. When they still weren't there via the pass, Ohio State did an excellent job attacking the middle of the 2-3 zone. With Syracuse extending the zone as far as the NBA 3-point line, the area high in the paint and the free throw line-extended became even more important.

On the contrary, while Ohio State employed a 3-2 zone, also extended beyond the collegiate line, Syracuse missed on several open teammates. The Orange settled for long jumpers early in the possession, and many were rushed and off-balance. The corners and the baseline are often soft spots in a 3-2 zone, but Syracuse rarely attacked.

In fact, most of Syracuse' points often came on second and third chances in the paint via poor weakside rebounding by Ohio State - some of which was attributed to the zone they were running, the rest because of poor anticipation and the tall, athletic frontcourt players of Syracuse being relentless on the boards.

Freshman forward Donta Greene was arguably the most talented player on the floor for either team. The Syracuse rookie stands 6-9 but plays like a blend of being both 6-11 and 6-5 all-in-one. His 21 points and nine boards were the biggest bright spot of the evening. However, Greene also played like a rookie, especially during crucial periods of the second half.

Though Greene may have been the most talented player on the floor, his counterpart, 7-1 freshman Kosta Koufos was far more polished. Koufos took shots only within the flow of the offense. He passed when necessary and showed a wide variety of shots including jumpers, hook shots, runners, fade-aways and any other crafty art form he could think of when the situation demanded. Koufos finished with a game-high 24 points and added nine rebounds and three blocked shots.

What Syracuse Did Well; What Ohio State Did Wrong

* I particularly liked the way Syracuse extended their zone early in the game. Before Ohio State found a rhythm, Syracuse jumped out to a 20-13 lead because of pressure defense and disrupted what Ohio State wanted to do by forcing shots beyond their comfort zone. Credit Ohio State for attacking the zone the way it's taught later in the game.

* It was a mild surprise to me that the Orange didn't continue the full-court press more often. Boeheim used it at strategic moments against Ohio State, but rarely was the pressure used anything more than creating discomfort of Ohio State's guards. With the athletics Syracuse has on its roster, I think they could have forced an up-tempo game in the second half and created more possessions to try working off the double-digit deficit. Though the lack of pressure is more of a knock on Syracuse for abandoning it, they clearly have the size and athletes to use it effectively later in the season.

* When Syracuse was attacking the back of the Ohio State zone early in the game, I felt it exposed a potential problem for the Buckeyes until the younger players continue their learning curve. Syracuse found some success with backdoor lay-ups early because of Ohio State's help defense. Several times Syracuse found the middle of the floor, and all the remaining Ohio State defenders collapsed forward, leaving space and an open offensive player. This is an issue of communication, and will be corrected by season's end.

* Syracuse fans should be calling for more of Eric Devendorf. Though the 6-4 junior got off 17 shots and scored 15 points, Devendorf was the only player Syracuse had that attempted to slice the Buckeye zone. In fact, on two occasions, Devendorf abused Ohio State with easy lay-ups that made me scratch my head as to why Syracuse wasn't doing it more often. Though Greene, Paul Harris and Jonny Flynn get much of the headlines, it's Devendorf that needs to be the glue that holds this young team together as it heads into Big East battles. Greene will be a tremendous player, but Devendorf is the guy I want the ball with in crunch time.

* As mentioned earlier, the rebounding was the one thing that consistently kept Syracuse in the game. The Orange got 19 offensive rebounds on the game compared to just nine for Ohio State. Let's assume that translated into 50 percent success of points per offensive rebound (a generic statement), that means Syracuse probably gained 10 points on Ohio State because of offensive rebounding alone. For the game, Syracuse outrebounded Ohio State 40-30. Ohio State's modified 3-2 certainly didn't help matters. However, much of Ohio State's problem was about anticipation of where the ball would go after the shot.

What Ohio State Did Well; What Syracuse Did Wrong

* The spacing and ball control of the Ohio State offense was the kind you see from teams late in the season - not the third week of November and from three freshmen and a sophomore in an 8-man rotation. That said, while there's always the worry of "peaking" early or freshmen wearing down as the season goes forward, there's an equal chance Ohio State could improve as especially Diebler and Turner continue to improve and score more often.

* Ohio State particularly benefitted from the lack of patience from Syracuse when the Orange had the ball. The early shots during possessions virtually killed any chances of Syracuse coming back from the double-digit deficit. Although Ohio State deserved their victory, a more experienced team probably wilts the lead slightly away and makes it a more interesting finish. Even Syracuse later in the year may learn how to take shots within the offense.

* The emergence of Turner and Diebler continues to be a key for Ohio State. Though the two combined on a modest 18 points and five assists on 4-of-11 shooting, they both played aggressive basketball but also controlled aggression. Both showed signs of being completely comfortable at the college level against a talented team, and both made tremendous decisions with and without the ball. Turner's progression is especially important because he could emerge as the second option to run the point for Ohio State if he passes Hill.

* For as ultra-talented as Greene may be for Syracuse, I'd like to see Syracuse utilize him a bit more down low. His size and strength makes him too physical to hover around the perimeter. However, that being said, his skills also are too good to completely ignore and bottle him up. Greene's jumper is dangerous and compliments his game perfectly, but hanging out behind the 3-point line does the Orange offense an injustice.

* As for Koufos, the 7-footer is the offensive equivalent to Ohio State's defensive answer in the frontcourt from a season ago - Greg Oden. Where as Oden was polished defensively, his offense was not necessarily as far advanced in terms of skill as other big men. However, the opposite is true for Koufos. He's extremely skilled offensively and an intimidating presence with the ball and defensively, he's still catching up to his offense but his size, strength and athleticism makes him a formidable defender. Along side Koufos, Othello Hunter makes the perfect compiment with 15 points, eight boards and a pair of blocks. Hunter and Koufos ran the high-low to near perfection and it's clear they've developed some chemistry.

Overall, it was a great showing for an unranked Ohio State team that has flown under the radar. On the flip side of the coin, don't be fooled by the poor Syracuse showing. This is a team that has been hurt by early departures over the past several years, but has never lacked talent. With some added experience and the test of tough opponents throughout the year, Syracuse has all the tools necessary to be in full stride later down the road.

For that to happen, Flynn has to emerge as a consistent presence at point guard. Additionally, Devendorf must take the team on his back. Don't count out Boeheim.

Despite all the problems from Syracuse, also don't discredit Ohio State's victory. The Buckeyes have a high basketball IQ with Butler, Lighty, Turner, Diebler, Koufos and Hunter. That core of players means that as experience builds, they won't be beaten with careless play. Instead, it will take a higher level of execution to beat Ohio State.

The talent and all the necessary ingredients are there for Ohio State to be an elite team by season's end. Though depth may still be a concern, and perimeter defense has still been spotty now and again, Ohio State doesn't appear to have any gaping holes.

We learned a lot about both teams Wednesday night. Not knowing what to expect from either, we got some answers. Now Ohio State will get a stiffer test from experienced, disciplined Texas A&M. Meanwhile, Syracuse looks to rebound against an up-and-down Washington team.

At least some of the uncertainty is gone.

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