Well, today kind of sucks. We hoped that we could keep talking about the Big Ten Tournament today, but alas, the Big Ten Tournament is over for the Buckeyes. Since Ohio State bowed out after their first game, we will simply act as if the entire tournament does not exist and move on to focusing on the NCAA Tournament. Because we certainly are not hitting the panic button or in denial about how bad things are right now! Certainly not that.
Last week, we chose our favorite Ohio State NCAA Tournament runs that we could remember. Neither of us are 30-years-old yet, so please hold the 1960 National Championship takes; our parents weren’t even born yet when that happened, so it was kind of off the table. Justin chose the 2007 national runner-up season and Connor chose the Final Four run in 2012. With 63% of the vote, Justin took home last week’s W.
After 42 weeks:
(There have been two ties)
Now that the Big Ten Tournament is in the rearview mirror, we’re looking at the Big Dance. The Buckeyes are safely in the field despite losing four of their last five games and were projected by every major website to secure somewhere between a six seed and an eight seed prior to Thursday’s loss to Penn State. That means that they’ll likely be favored in their opening game, but not by much. And with their recent struggles, the betting line can be taken with a grain of salt.
This week’s question: Which team would be the worst first-round NCAA Tournament matchup for Ohio State?
Porter Moser is gone, the author of Loyola-Chicago’s last two Cinderalla runs in the NCAA Tournament. But Drew Valentine — the older brother of former MSU star Denzel Valentine — is in charge now, and his team has a faint resemblance to those Rambler teams.
Loyola’s whole gameplan starts and ends with defense. They are the No. 22 defensive team in the nation according to KenPom, and held all three of their opponents under 60 points during the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. One of those games came against Northern Iowa — the regular-season champion — and they were held to 43 points on an absurdly low 23% shooting.
The Ramblers’ two leading scorers are both guards who can shoot it, slash to the basket, or create for others. Lucas Williamson is a senior, a Chicago native, and is the face of this program. He leads the team in scoring at 14 points per game, while also averaging 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and shooting 39.6% from three-point range.
Braden Norris — a Hilliard, Ohio native — averages 10.3 points and 3.9 assists per game while knocking down threes at a 43.5% clip. He played a key role in Loyola’s Elite Eight run last season, averaging 13.8 points per game during the NCAA Tournament and knocking down 15 of his 32 three-pointers (46.8%).
Loyola really digs in on defense, especially on opposing guards. Ohio State’s primary ballhandlers have been Jamari Wheeler and E.J. Liddell, with Malaki Branham, Meechie Johnson Jr., and others occasionally running point. The Buckeyes have not gotten good production from their ballhandlers, and too often the offense becomes “Get the ball to Malaki or E.J. and let them cook.”
Loyola will take advantage of that, and press even stronger to force guys like Wheeler or Johnson to make plays themselves rather than deferring. The Ramblers get right up in your business and try to knock you off-balance, put you in uncomfortable positions, and force turnovers that will in turn lead to transition offense for them at the other end.
On the flip side, Ohio State’s on-ball defense has been downright hideous down the stretch. Time after time, guards are blowing past Wheeler, Branham, and others straight to the basket, causing a defensive breakdown where someone like Joey Brunk — who should not even be playing key minutes but has to due to injuries — has to make a decision of whether to stop the guard or stick to his man. It’s a lose-lose situation for Joey, and it could be avoided if Ohio State didn’t gamble so much on primary ballhandlers.
Williamson and Norris could carve up Ohio State’s defense if they aren’t careful. Even if they aren’t scoring, their ability to slither into the lane and create panic for the Buckeye defense would be bad. If Ohio State gets paired with the Ramblers on Sunday, I don’t love their chances.
Justin: North Carolina
There are plenty of teams that we can go with here because the Buckeyes are limping into the tournament, but I decided to go with the baby blue unis on Tobacco Road.
North Carolina has had a weird season, losing to teams like Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, and getting blown out by Kentucky, Miami, and Tennessee. However, they won their last five games to end the regular season, including ruining Coach K’s final home game at Duke by taking down the Blue Devils.
The Tar Heels finished their season at 23-8 overall and 15-5 in conference. They will still likely be a 10 or 11 seed as they finished third in the conference and the ACC had a down season. Outside of Duke, the conference has not had any teams step up and stand out.
Carolina is led by star center Armando Bacot, who has been putting up videogame stats this season, averaging 16.6 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. He has 24 double-doubles in their 31 games this season.
They are also led by three incredibly talented guards in Caleb Love, R.J. Davis, and Leaky Black and Oklahoma transfer forward Brady Manek. This is a Tarheel team that really relies on their five starters to do most of the scoring. Dawson Garcia was providing good minutes off the bench for them but had to leave the team to tend to personal matters. Outside of the starting five and Garcia, their leading scorer is Kerwin Walton at 3.7 points per game.
But this team is veteran, they have solid guard play and are well-coached. They could be a very tough out for the Buckeyes if they are a 6-11 matchup or a 7-10 matchup, especially down low with Bacot if Zed Key and Kyle Young are still injured.
Which team would be a bigger problem for Ohio State?
This poll is closed
North Carolina (Justin)
Loyola Chicago (Connor)
Neither. I think Ohio State would beat both of these teams!