You know about Evan Turner. You may even know about Mark Titus. But for a team that runs a glorified six man rotation, what little else is left to know is of great importance. Win or lose, Ohio State will be doing it with four guys who average more than 34 minutes per game. "Good thing Tennessee presses all the time"...is what the national media would say, if they were talking about Tennessee at all.
Let's take a look...
G #44 William Buford - 6'5" Soph. - 14.4 pts, 5.7 reb, 3.1 ast, 34.2 min
Buford is one of several guys who may not be named Evan Turner, but are certainly capable of matching him in any number of statistical categories on any given night. Playing an expanded role this season, Buford has nearly doubled his assist/turnover ratio from 2009, now at 1.74. All of the numbers for Ohio State are inflated, to a degree, because these guys play so many minutes, but Buford had scored in double figures in nine consecutive games before getting nine against Georgia Tech, and has reached double figures 28 times in 36 games. He's also grabbed 10+ rebounds four times, including double-doubles against Michigan State and Illinois down the stretch.
If the Vols play man-to-man, whoever guards Buford will be giving up size, whether that's Bobby Maze (6'3"), Melvin Goins (5'11"), or Josh Bone (6'3"). Tennessee has the length to matchup well with Ohio State at every other position, but with Buford - a guard who will also rebound - Tennessee may be at a disadvantage. As we'll see (and as was the case with San Diego State, only with less overall talent), this is a team that won't have any liabilities on the floor. Slowing down Turner is step one, but not allowing anyone else to explode is a big key to success as well, and Buford could have the most favorable match up to do so.
Buford knocks down 38.2% of his threes, and takes 3.4 per game. The perimeter players for Ohio State (which really is everyone not named Dallas Lauderdale) can all knock down the outside shot...which brings us to:
G #33 Jon Diebler - 6'6" Jr. - 13.3 pts, 2.8 reb, 1.5 ast, 37.1 min
The best shooter on the floor will be Diebler, who hits 42.8% of his threes, and is currently on a 29 of 61 (47.5%) clip in his last six games. This guy will not hesitate: he's taken at least nine three pointers in OSU's last four games, and averages 7.5 per game for the year. He's far too consistent to hope for a really off night (though we will point out that as a freshman in 2008, Diebler went 0 for 4 in Thompson-Boling Arena) - Tennessee will have to account for him at all times on the perimeter. Diebler played all 40 minutes of both of Ohio State's NCAA Tournament games.
If there's good news, it's that we won't have to worry about him much elsewhere: 72% of Diebler's points this season have come from beyond the arc; when you factor in free throws, 87% of Diebler's total points come from threes or at the stripe. He's an excellent free throw shooter, but is only 69 of 79 on the year, meaning he's drawing a shooting foul around once per contest. Whether the Vols put Scotty Hopson on him or someone else, Diebler has not been a threat inside the perimeter: in the tournament, only 4 of his 26 shots have been twos. We'll only have to worry about him from the arc, but he's the shooter, and however we choose to guard him, we cannot lose him.
G/F #21 Evan Turner - 6'7" Jr. - 20.0 pts, 9.2 reb, 6.0 ast, 35.6 min
The only team that even came remotely close to stopping this guy was...the Gauchos of UC Santa Barbara, who held him to 9 points on 2 of 14 shooting. Turner missed six games after breaking two bones in his back against Eastern Michigan on December 5 - after Ohio State went 3-3 in that span, with losses at Butler, Wisconsin, and Michigan, Turner returned to score 8 points in 20 minutes against Indiana. Since then, the Gauchos are the only team to hold him to single digits.
Did UCSB do anything in particular we should take note of? The Buckeye Battle Cry says:
Particularly scary was that the Gauchos had completely eliminated Evan Turner from the game. Turner only hit 2-14 for the entire game from the floor. UCSB found the success by putting solid pressure defense on Turner up top and getting some great help-side defense on him. The effort forced Turner to pass the ball away to someone else, and kept him from making an impact on the game. When he did try to make an impact, the shot was horribly forced and often clanked off the rim. However, despite his terrible numbers, he still almost nailed a double double with 9 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists.
The Gauchos made a conscious decision to take Turner out of the game by sacrificing their defense elsewhere. The Buckeyes took clear notice of that and began to make a conscious effort to find Diebler off the help-side defense. Given the missing defender, the Buckeyes were able to find Diebler open more often than not, allowing Diebs to score his game leading 23 points on 8-12 shooting with 7-11 from beyond the arc.
It should also be noted that UCSB's matchup zone includes a 7'3" center to clog the lanes and cause problems...we don't have that luxury. After it was over, Turner said "I can't picture another game being like this," then responded with a 24-9-9 against Georgia Tech. A week earlier, he followed up his buzzer-beater against Michigan with 31-10-6 against Illinois and a 31-11-6 against Minnesota in consecutive days in the Big Ten Tournament. Yeah...
How fortunate is Tennessee this year? After Friday night, we'll have seen four of the top eight players in Chad Ford's Top 100, and with no disrespect to Cole Aldrich, John Wall, or DeMarcus Cousins...Turner might be the best one. Two years ago as a freshman, he lit up Tennessee for 21 points and 10 rebounds in Knoxville, a game the Vols held on to win 74-69. His numbers are absurd, so much of the offense runs through him, and he's a guy that can do so many things well. But one of those things also happens to be turning the ball over: again, some of this is a byproduct of playing so many minutes, but Turner averages 4.3 turnovers per game - that's third in the nation. Against Georgia Tech, he almost had a quadruple-double, because along with his 24-9-9 were 9 turnovers. J.P. Prince has never looked so good.
It should be Prince who draws most of the work on Turner, and that will be one of the biggest keys to victory (which we'll discuss more tomorrow). Evan Turner will not be stopped, and he may be the best player we've seen all year...but that doesn't mean he can't be frustrated.
G/F #23 David Lighty - 6'5" Jr. - 12.8 pts, 4.6 reb, 2.9 ast, 36.6 min
Lighty is probably Ohio State's best non-post defender, and like Buford he's capable of putting up similar scoring numbers to Turner on any given night. He shoots 38.4% from three, and will join Wayne Chism as the only two players in this game who played in the epic 2007 Sweet 16 battle. Lighty is a redshirt junior, who missed most of last year with an injury, but before that he scored 7 points in the '07 game and 10 in the '08 contest.
Again, this team has no liabilities on the floor. And for Tennessee, like Buford, Lighty can present a matchup problem: if Prince is going to guard Turner, who guards Lighty? Chism has four inches on him (and can use that to his advantage on the offensive end), but can he really be expected to stay with him defensively? Will the Vols adjust their lineup to account for Ohio State's group of basically four swing players?
F #52 Dallas Lauderdale - 6'8" Jr - 6.6 pts, 5.2 reb, 2.2 blk, 25.0 min
The one guy who won't go for most of the whole game is Dallas Lauderdale, the closest thing to a center Ohio State will employ. He won't be the tallest guy on the floor, but he will be the best shot blocker: he led the Big Ten in blocks per game this season. The Vols have experience going against a guy like Lauderdale, having played Sam Muldrow at South Carolina twice this year, and we've seen lots of Jarvis Varnado.
Lauderdale is not a scorer: since he got 14 against Michigan on February 27, he's scored 4 points or less in each of Ohio State's last six games. And he's not always a huge rebounding presence, somewhat negated by the fact that everyone on this team except Diebler will hit the glass: he did have 12 boards against UCSB, but only had 4 against Georgia Tech, and only 2 in both the semifinals and finals of the Big Ten Tournament.
Obviously, the Vols can't completely ignore him in an effort to extend against the other four guys on the floor...but Greg Oden, he ain't. This time, Tennessee will have the advantage on the inside.
Madsen is the guy who'll play when Lauderdale comes out, a 6'9" senior who played a fair amount of minutes in the Big Ten Tournament, but averages only 13.5 on the year and played only 9.5 in the two NCAA Tournament games. Again, here the Vols will have a size advantage that should negate his ability to really help the Buckeyes.
Simmons and Hill got four minutes of action in the first two tournament games, Hill against the Gauchos and Simmons against the Yellow Jackets. Hill played a bunch of minutes early in the season, but has been dropped almost completely from the rotation since late January. Simmons has seen a decrease since late February, as the Buckeyes have kept their best players out on the floor longer. Both are seniors.
This should be a case of "move along, nothing to see here"...no reason for the Vols to allow any of these three guys to hurt them in any way.
Overall, they're a talented but thin group, with one of the best players in college basketball and two other guys who can really hurt you in a number of ways, the second best three point shooter in the Big Ten, and the best shot blocker in the Big Ten. There's not much to figure out, but there's a ton to try and stop. Will the Vols be equal to the task? We'll breakdown the keys to the game on Friday.