Prepare to be Buckeyed: Sean over at Around the Oval thought it might be fun to do some basketball Q&A since this weekend's game is going to be bigger than Cats. His answers to my questions appear below; my answers to his should be up at his blog in a short time. Go on over and check out his fine site. You'll get all kinds of good info and commentary from the other side of the matchup as you anxiously await this Sunday's tip!
1. Michigan State beat the Badgers on Tuesday by doing three things, all of which were related: (1) They clogged the lane and didn't allow the Badgers to penetrate; (2) they forced Wisconsin to take a season-high 28 three-point shots, many of which they missed, and several of which occurred as the shot clock was expiring; and (3) they rebounded extremely effectively on both ends of the court. Which, if any, of these sound like hallmarks of Ohio State's game?
Number three is definitely a part of the Buckeyes' game; according to the Big Ten Wonk, the Buckeyes rank second in offensive rebounding percentage and first in defensive rebounding percentage. Number one is kind of a part of OSU's game. Players can penetrate the OSU defense, but as long as Oden's in the game and standing under the basket, those guys will generally either get their shot blocked or realize going inside was a bad idea and kick the ball outside. Number two is related to the first point in that Oden's presence forces a lot of threes (in Purdue's first game against the Buckeyes, Carl Freakin' Landry was jacking up threes). However, teams have been making enough of those threes for it to be worthwhile for them. It's great to see an opponent forced to shoot threes, but when they make 40% of them? Not so much.
2. What cost the Buckeyes the game when they came to Madison? Have you seen improvement in that area since then?
I'd say it was Greg Oden playing injured and being rusty, and the lack of a second quality big man. Oden had an okay game (ten points, seven rebounds), but OSU needs better than an okay game when they play one of the top teams in the country. He wasn't as dominating as you'd (or rather I'd) like to see. Some of that was because he was playing injured, and some was because of foul trouble. He's still not the absolutely dominating player you expect, but he's playing better, and he's playing smarter, so there has been improvement there.
If memory serves, Oden picked up at least a couple of those fouls defending pick-and-rolls away from the basket. Pulling Oden away from the basket like that was a good move: he doesn't defend nearly as well when he's not in the low post, and it freed up the inside, leading to Kammron Taylor driving to the basket over and over and getting put on the line sixteen(!) times. Now, if a team tried that, OSU would probably put Othello Hunter, a 6'9" forward who's really improved over the season, on the big man that sets the screens and have Oden just stay under the basket.
But on the other hand, the Buckeyes played pretty well in Madison. They shot well from outside, they contained Alando Tucker, they spread the scoring load. OSU has looked far worse in some games since then (in particular, they haven't shot threes as well as they did in Madison). So the improvements noted above may be offset by the Buckeyes playing worse in other facets of the game.
3. What's with the close calls to Penn State? The Badgers had no problem with them, and the Buckeyes seem to be a very solid team, and (possibly most importantly) the game wasn't on TV in Wisconsin, so I'm curious.
That's a good question. In the first game, the Buckeyes blew a big first-half lead, so the consensus was that the Buckeyes just took PSU too lightly and eased up in the second half. But then the rematch happened, and Penn State was in the game for its entirety, even leading for a while. I think the Buckeyes just had trouble with the Nittany Lions' 2-3 zone, especially the shooters, who didn't shoot well enough to take advantage of the openings given by the zone. Additionally, Oden didn't get the ball enough, particularly in the second game, though I'm not sure whether that's a result of the zone or Buckeyes players choosing to ignore the 7', 280 pound guy going up against 6'5" Jamelle Cornley in the low post. Overall, I'd chalk the close games up to a lack of focus by the Buckeyes (something the Badgers probably won't be able to take advantage of) and trouble handling a zone (something the Badgers might be able to take advantage of, if they so desire).
4. Rapid fire prediction time! Give me the percent likelihood of the following: Ohio State wins the Big Ten regular season title; Ohio State wins the Big Ten tournament; Ohio State makes the Final Four; Wisconsin goes farther in the NCAA tournament than the Buckeyes.
Regular season title: 60% outright, 95% co-champs with Wisconsin (assuming that, as in football, a team can share the title with a team that beat them)
Big Ten tournament: 40% (several teams will have more to play for than the Buckeyes and might pull off an upset, then there's the possible re-rematch with the Badgers)
Final Four: 30% (16 of 40 one seeds have made the Final Four in the past ten years (40%), then a deduction because the Buckeyes could be a two seed and because they aren't a dominating team like many of those one seeds)
Wisconsin going farther: 55% (I'm still hoping the Buckeyes reach their potential and play like a great team, but the Badgers have been more consistent and more consistently impressive this season)
5. Fill in the blank: Greg Oden will play basketball in Columbus for _____ season(s).
I gotta go one season. Oden could improve his game by staying for another year (or more), and college is fun, but he has nothing to gain financially by sticking around, and he'd be risking injury or slipping down draft boards Leinart-style. As much as I'd hope otherwise, and regardless of what he says, I still expect he'll make the safe financial decision at the end of the day.