The No. 4 seeded Kentucky Wildcats (27-8) have traveled to Newark, NJ to take on the overall No. 1 seeded Ohio State Buckeyes (34-2) in a classic Sweet 16 showdown. The winner advances to the Elite Eight to take on the winner of the North Carolina vs. Marquette contest.
For those not in the know, UK is 0-5 versus Ohio State in the NCAA Tournament … it is now time to reverse that trend. A formidable challenge for the ‘Cats? Yes, but this UK team has shown tremendous growth and maturity over the last month of the season and are playing their best basketball when it matters most. So come along with me as we check out the Buckeyes and what they bring to the Sweet 16 table.
Although Buckeye freshman forward Jared Sullinger gets the bulk of the ink, Ohio State’s primary offensive weapon is their incredible three-point shooting — As a team, OSU leads the nation in three-point accuracy at 42.4%. Like Kentucky, the Buckeyes have several players adept at taking and making the long-range bomb, and it begins with shooting-guard, 6’6″ senior Jon Diebler, who makes an outrageous 50% of his shots from beyond the arc (110-220). Diebler, who averages 12.6 points per game, is obviously not a lonely long-range threat. He has company in the form of 6’5″ junior swing William Buford, who is making the trifecta 44.4% of the time (60-135). Buford is also a player capable of putting the ball on the floor and getting into the lane, and is the team’s second leading scorer behind Sullinger at 14.5 points per game.
Six-five senior David Lighty is another accurate Buckeye three-point shooter, making 43.5% of his trey tries, while averaging 12.1 points per contest (Lighty made 7-7 threes in the Buckeyes romp over George Mason). Running the OSU offense is super freshman, 6’2″ Aaron Craft, who joins in the trey shooting fun by making 38.8% of his shots from behind the line (26-67). Craft, also a great defender (1.9 steals per game), averages 4.9 assists, and 7.1 points per game. But it’s his steady ball-handling and unflappable nature which allows him to so effectively run the OSU offensive sets.
UK’s response to the Buckeyes’ ability to make the “great equalizer” (aka the three-pointer) with such aplomb will probably be to pressure and ball deny the perimeter players. None of the OSU guards or swings can be “helped off of” because leaving a Buckeye shooter alone most often results in an inside/out pass, and an open three attempt, and for a team making over 42%, that would be a dangerous gamble for the ‘Cats.
Finally, we come to the player most likely to be named national Freshman of the Year, 6’9″ Jared Sullinger. Big, at 280 lbs, Sullinger is making 54.3% of his overall field goal attempts and averaging 17.1 points per game, because he is able to get to the rim and finish with authority. Coach Thad Matta will also run the pick-and-roll with Sully, oftentimes creating a mismatch for opponents. Sullinger, though, isn’t the only Buckeye big man talented enough to create problems for the ‘Cats — 6’6″ freshman DeShaun Thomas averages 7.7 points per game, while playing only 14.3 minutes per contest. Although not as accurate as his Buckeye teammates at making the three (32.8%), he’s a dangerous, athletically gifted swing capable of getting into the lane, and he has a nice mid-range jumper that’s difficult to stop. Six-eight shot blocker Dallas Lauderdale, who averages only 16.4 minutes per contest although he starts, gives the Buckeyes a true shot-blocking threat by averaging 1.5 blocks per contest; he also chips in 4.3 points and 3.3 rebounds per game.
Ohio State isn’t the No. 1 rated team in the country, as well as the NCAA Tournament’s overall No. 1 seed, by accident. Like all good teams, they do several things well, beginning with — Their overall field goal shooting, which stands at an excellent 49.9% (2nd in the nation), that, coupled with their long-range accuracy (42.4%), allows the Buckeyes to have an outstanding efield goal% of 56.8 (effective field goal percentage is a marriage of two-and-three-point accuracy, with weight given to the three-pointers because each made shot is worth more) … OSU averages a nation’s best 1.2 points per possession … Led by their freshman point guard Craft, the Buckeyes sport the nation’s third best assist/turnover ratio at 1.58 … They also are tops in the country at NOT committing fouls, averaging only 14 per game.
The ‘Cats in the NCAA Tournament
Brandon Knight: The UK point guard has scored 32-points (10-28 fgs, 3-9 threes), grabbed five-rebounds, dished out nine-assists and committed five-turnovers. Knight has been clutch at the line, making 9-10 free throws in the two games.
Josh Harrellson: The big fella has really come through for the ‘Cats this tourney season, scoring 30-points (14-18 fgs), and corralling 18-rebounds (eight offensive), to go along with five-steals and two-blocks.
Terrence Jones: The freshman power forward has scored 22-points (7-15 fgs, 1-2 threes), snagged 12-rebounds, and handed out three-assists (all versus West Virginia).
Darius Miller: Miller has dropped in 20-points (7-18 fgs, 3-10 threes), grabbed six-rebounds, dished out four dimes, and blocked two shots.
Doron Lamb: The UK two-guard has contributed 13-points (5-12 fgs, 1-3 threes), four-rebounds, and one-assist to the Kentucky cause.
DeAndre Liggins: Besides playing great, mother-in-law defense (which is contagious to his teammates), Ligs has scored 11-points (4-7 fgs, 3-5 threes), recorded 11-rebounds, six-assists, and three-blocks.
As a team: The ‘Cats are shooting 49.5% from the field so far in the Big Dance (48-97), making 37.9% of their three-point attempts (11-29). UK has snagged 15 offensive rebounds in the two games, handed out 24 assists and committed 19 turnovers, but have only six steals. Continuing their mostly solid post defense, UK has blocked 13 shots.
Tip-off is schedule for 9:45 ET on CBS with Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg and Tracy Wolfson as the sideline reporter.