As Ohio State enters a first-round NCAA Tournament contest with Siena, the Buckeyes are tasked with slowing down a Saints team that makes its living pushing the ball up the court. This season, the MAAC conference tournament champions averaged a league-high 77.7 points per game and took almost exactly one-fourth of their shots behind the three-point arc.
Siena point guard Ronald Moore runs the show with his conference-high 6.3 assists per game, but he knows what is the biggest key for the Saints being able to get out and push the ball in transition.
That key is rebounding.
"They're really not a fast-paced tempo and that's what we like to do best, so we really want to get the rebounds and push the ball up the floor," he said. "Only let them have one shot, quickly outlet the ball and let us run the floor. That's what we like to do the most. We think if we're successful with that we definitely have an advantage for winning the game."
Entering the game, the Saints average 36.0 rebounds per game while the Buckeyes sit at 30.8 – a total that ranked them eighth in the Big Ten. However, there is an inherent difference between the two conferences.
Siena's leading rebounders are Ryan Rossiter and Alex Franklin, who average 7.8 and 7.3 boards per game, respectively. Rossiter is tied with reserve Erik Harris for the tallest player on the team at 6-9, while Franklin stands 6-5.
The Buckeyes primarily counter with Dallas Lauderdale and B.J. Mullens, the latter of whom is the tallest player on either roster at 7-0 and the former of whom is listed at 28 pounds heavier than Harris.
The moral of the story is that the Buckeyes have a size advantage that, if properly used, should be able to prevent the Saints from getting the ball out in transition and pushing it up the floor.
"I think it's an advantage-disadvantage type of game, because the advantage we have is we obviously have size on them," Lauderdale said, "but then the advantage they have is they have quickness on us."
As Siena head coach Fran McCaffery put it, OSU's guards are big enough to be power forwards in the MAAC.
The problem is that neither Lauderdale nor Mullens has played consistent basketball this season. Lauderdale has showed greater ability as of late, averaging 6.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in three Big Ten tournament games. Mullens has been more productive this season and sits fourth on the team with an average of 8.8 points per game, but he too has only shown limited flashes of his ability.
In addition, the team's leading rebounder is Evan Turner, a guard/forward who averages 7.0 board per game – nearly more and Mullens (4.7) and Lauderdale (3.6) combined.
Rossiter said he has watched film on Lauderdale and Mullens and has seen that they have not been consistent. Siena's hope is that they can disrupt OSU's big guys.
"We've watched a few games where teams have turned them sideways, but they're a resilient team and they don't give up," Rossiter said. "A couple teams got them out of their comfort zone, got them running and out of sync. That's what we're going to try to do (Friday) night."
OSU junior point guard P.J. Hill said he saw Lauderdale turn the corner during the conference tournament, saying that a strong performance from the team's big guys helps inspire the guards to play better as well.
"As a big man, you've got to set the tone because us as guards only go as hard as you can," he said. "Our style of play reflects our big guys. For him to come out blocking shots and getting rebounds, yelling at guys to get in position, that helps us step our entire play up."
The question now is what type of style of play we will see when these two teams tip off. OSU head coach Thad Matta said he will know exactly three minutes into the game if the game will finish with teams scoring in the 90s or the 60s. McCaffery said that the score will likely be in the 50s or 60s based on how the Buckeyes play defense.
Either way, the key to keeping the Saints from running up and down the court is to cut them off at the source: the glass.
"It's a big deal," Siena guard Kenny Hasbrouch said of OSU's size advantage. "You can't just say, ‘We've played other schools, you get used to it.' If someone is 6-9 and you put their arm on them they might not get the rebound, but a 7-footer is towering over you so you've got to put more on him to box him out and be able to help teammates down low with him."