Buckeyes Face Similar Foe In Vols

Ohio State's players struggled to find an apt comparison for Tennessee aside from themselves. With the Buckeyes and Volunteers preparing for tip this evening, take a look at how these teams are similar and how -- or if -- Tennessee might use that to its advantage.

ST. LOUIS – When Ohio State looks across the court tonight against Tennessee, it might see more than a little bit of itself in the Volunteers.

The Buckeyes have made their living this season by using their length on the perimeter to apply defensive pressure and create transition baskets on offense. But that description also almost fits the Tennessee team OSU described leading into tonight's contest.

According to junior forward David Lighty, the Vols remind him of a supercharged version of his own squad.

"I could see them as one of the toughest teams in the tournament," he said. "They're like us. They're longer than us and they go deeper on the bench than us with players coming in the game. They like to pressure and when they're playing at their top, I think they're real good."

The Buckeyes used that length to defeat a Georgia Tech team that possessed a considerable size advantage down low. That win helped OSU reach the Sweet 16 for the first time in three years.

In looking at the Buckeyes, Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl said he likes the versatility they bring to the court.

"They don't do a lot in transition, but they score in transition with a very high rate of efficiency because (they) can all get to the basket," he said, adding that junior center Dallas Lauderdale's athleticism presents problems down low.

Statistically, the teams are similar. OSU averages 74.1 points per game, Tennessee 73.6. The Buckeyes allow 61.1 per game, and the Vols allow 64.9. The teams enter the game with similar records as well. OSU is 29-7 overall, while Tennessee is enjoying its second-best season of all time at 27-8.

Asked to compare Tennessee to another opponent he has faced this season, Lighty drew a blank.

"I don't think they remind me of anybody because nobody is as long and athletic as them," he said. "No one presses in the fullcourt and the halfcourt like they do. They're different."

That pressure could present problems for the Buckeyes. Or at least, that has been the thought all season long with a team that relies almost exclusively on its starters. Four of OSU's starters average at least 34.2 minutes per game, while no Tennessee player averages more than 27.7 minutes a contest.

However, Pearl cautioned against the thought that his team will simply rely on its longer bench to try and wear out the Buckeyes.

"That's not how we're playing," the coach said. "We're not running and pressing like we were, so fatigue won't be a factor."

Tennessee still figures to rotate as many as 10 players into the game. Junior guard Jon Diebler said that the Buckeyes differ from the average Big Ten team because they are able to push the ball up the court and play well in their halfcourt offense.

"When we get out and run, we're pretty darn good," he said. "We like to run in spots and when we get stops we like to get out and run because we feel we're very effective in the open court. That causes a lot of problems for maybe the traditional Big Ten teams who aren't used to it."

"With the talent that they've got, I think they could fit into any conference in the country," sophomore guard Cameron Tatum said. "You've got one of the top players in the country, a guy who can shoot the ball like Diebler and guys who can take you off the dribble and an athletic big man like Lauderdale. They can play with just about anybody in any conference and I think they've showed that."

The key to beating the Buckeyes, senior forward Wayne Chism said, is to stay out of foul trouble and not make careless mistakes down the stretch.

"They're very careful and very patient down the stretch," he said. "It can be a close game, but they're very patient and can get a good look. You've really got to be out there and be focused and keep your head on a swivel to see where everybody is or else you're going to make a quick mistake."

And for the Volunteers?

"We're pretty good at that," he said. "We've just got to be real focused down the stretch if it's a close game."

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