Kentucky Wildcats (4) @ Ohio Buckeyes (1): Game Preview

Tonight is the night both Kentucky Wildcats fans and Ohio St. Buckeyes fans have been waiting for since this weekend -- the Sweet Sixteen round of the 2011 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.  Since 1979 when the seeding process began, #1 and #4 seeds have met 56 times with the 4 seed winning 17, or 30%.  Of those upsets, however, 3 occurred in a single tournament -- 1997 -- where the Arizona Wildcats upset 3 #1 seeds, including Kentucky, to win the NCAA tournament.

A comparison of the team's two seasons looks like this:

 

W-L Splits: Kentucky Ohio State
Split W-L Pct W-L Pct
Home 15-0 1.0 20-0 1.0
Away 3-7 0.3 9-2 0.818
Neutral 9-1 0.9 5-0 1.0
Conference 10-6 0.625 16-2 0.889
Conf Home 8-0 1.0 9-0 1.0
Conf Away 2-6 0.25 7-2 0.778
Conf Neutral 0-0 - 0-0 -
Top 25 7-4 0.636 3-2 0.6
RPI 1-50 10-4 0.714 13-2 0.867
RPI 51-100 4-3 0.571 7-0 1.0
RPI 101-150 6-1 0.857 4-0 1.0
RPI 151-200 2-0 1.0 6-0 1.0
RPI 200+ 5-0 1.0 4-0 1.0

 

Both teams have had good years, but with only 2 losses, the Buckeyes' year qualifies as great.  Notable are the 9-2 road record sported by OSU compared to the 3-7 record by Kentucky.  Both teams are unblemished at home this year, although Ohio State has played conspicuously more home games than Kentucky (5), whereas Kentucky has 5 neutral site games instead, and sports a 9-1 record in unbiased arenas, their only loss coming to the Connecticut Huskies in the Maui Invitational.

Kentucky has played a tougher schedule out of conference, but the Big Ten is reckoned tougher this year than the SEC, although the tournament results don't indicate that as the case with only Ohio St. and Wisconsin surviving the first weekend.  Kentucky has a better winning percentage among the top 25, Ohio St. a better record among the RPI top 50 and RPI top 100.

For coverage of the Buckeyes, be sure to check out Along the Olentangy, SBNation's Buckeyes blog.  More after the jump.

Personnel

# Name (s=starter) Ht. Wt. Year GP GS Pts/gm FG% FT% 3FG% R/Gm OR/Gm DR/Gm A/Gm TO/Gm S/Gm B/Gm
44 William Buford (s) 6-5 205 Junior 35 33 14.54 0.47 0.83 0.44 3.97 1 2.97 3 1.83 0.83 0.31
52 Dallas Lauderdale (s) 6-8 255 Senior 36 34 4.33 0.73 0.31 0 3.28 1.06 2.22 0.17 0.67 0.08 1.5
23 David Lighty (s) 6-5 220 Senior 36 35 12.06 0.47 0.63 0.44 4.06 1.36 2.69 3.28 1.61 1.5 0.47
0 Jared Sullinger (s) 6-9 280 Freshman 36 35 17.06 0.54 0.7 0.25 10.03 3.42 6.61 1.19 1.53 1 0.53
33 Jon Diebler (s) 6-6 205 Senior 36 35 12.56 0.51 0.83 0.5 2.69 0.39 2.31 2.44 0.97 1 0.14
4 Aaron Craft 6-2 195 Freshman 36 2 7.11 0.48 0.73 0.39 2.81 0.5 2.31 4.86 2.17 1.92 0.11
1 Deshaun Thomas 6-6 230 Freshman 36 1 7.72 0.48 0.8 0.33 3.61 1.72 1.89 0.47 0.83 0.39 0.17
10 Eddie Days 6-0 180 Senior 9 0 0.11 0 0.5 0 0 0 0 0.11 0 0 0
30 Evan Ravenel 6-8 260 Junior Transfer from Boston College - year in residence
15 JD Weatherspoon 6-7 210 Freshman 10 0 1.8 0.5 0.22 0 0.8 0.2 0.6 0.4 0.2 0.1 0
2 Jordan Sibert 6-4 180 Freshman 25 0 2.08 0.29 0.53 0.25 1 0.32 0.68 0.56 0.52 0.4 0.04
32 Lenzelle Smith Jr 6-3 230 Freshman 20 0 1.2 0.45 0.83 0.13 0.8 0.4 0.4 0.45 0.4 0.25 0
24 Nikola Kecman 6-8 220 Junior Knee injury - out for season

The usual widget is not available for some reason, so I had to create my own.  Leaders in each statistical category are highlighted.  Note that Aaron Craft is generally subbed in early for Dallas Lauderdale, and although Lauderdale starts, minutes-wise he is the sixth man.  Deshaun Thomas is the only other major reserve, with Jordan Seibert the only minor reserve averaging just over 8 minutes per game.

Injuries

Ohio St.

Player Pos Status/Updated Notes
J.D. Weatherspoon F Prob Fri - Eligibility - 3/24/11 Weatherspoon has missed most of the season due to eligibility issues, but has recently been reinstated and is travelling with the team. He is expected to be available on Friday when his team meets Kentucky in a Sweet 16 match-up.
Nikola Kecman F out indefinitely - Knee - 12/26/10 Kecman is recovering from an off season knee injury and remains out indefinitely.

 

Kentucky

Player   Status/Updated Notes
Enes Kanter F out for season - Eligibility - 1/8/11 Kanter has been ruled 'permanently ineligible' by the NCAA after their investigation ruled that he received improper benefits while playing for a club team in Turkey in 2008-09.

 

 

Four Factors Analysis

The Four Factors in this matchup favor Ohio St.  OSU is a slightly better shooting team than Kentucky, 56.8-52.5% eFG.  All the other factors are exactly equal or favor OSU by an insignificant amount.

Matchup Analysis

  1. Aaron Craft vs. Brandon Knight.  This matchup is a tale of two different guards.  Craft is notable for his passing and defense, but isn't a huge scorer.  That is not to say that Craft cannot score, but OSU has so many scorers that his role is more of a facilitator.  Craft is also a notably good defender, although Jordan Taylor, about the only real equivalent to Knight in the Big Ten, lit Craft up in Madison.  Overall, though, Knight is just a better overall player than Craft, although not by much.  They are both very good at what they do.  Advantage:  Kentucky
     
  2. William Buford vs. Darius Miller/Doron Lamb.  This is a close matchup between two talented juniors.  Miller has the better size, but Buford is a better scorer than Miller.  Both play good defense, and both rebound the ball at about the same rate.  Miller's greater size will give him an advantage inside, while Buford will have the advantage on the perimeter.

    When lamb is guarding him, Buford will be faced with less size but more quickness, and forced to defend a more dangerous scorer.  Lamb's youth and the possibility he is still not quite 100% from the ankle sprain he suffered in the SEC Tournament vs the Alabama Crimson Tide make me think that, overall, this position favors Buford.  Advantage:  Ohio St.
     
  3. John Diebler vs. DeAndre Liggins.  Diebler is a better scorer and one of the best 3-point shooters in the nation.  He also turns the ball over less than Liggins.  Liggins is a better offensive rebounder and a better passer, not to mention a radically better defender.  The thing is, putting points on the board accounts for more than defensive prowess, and Diebler is such a threat from the perimeter that he is a game-changer.  Diebler is cagey with the basketball and knows how to get open.  On the other hand, he is at an athletic disadvantage against Liggins.  This is another tough call.  Advantage:  Push
     
  4. Terrence Jones vs. Dallas Lauderdale/David Lighty.  Lauderdale doesn't get that many minutes, and he is a lousy matchup for Jones.  Jones can take him off the dribble and foul him out of the game, so I don't expect to see too much of this.  Lauderdale is a good shot blocker and has excellent size, but he just isn't skilled enough to handle Jones.

    Which brings us to David Lighty.  Lighty will be very much undersized guarding Jones, although he will have a quickness advantage and force Jones to work very hard on defense.  Lighty can really score from the perimeter, and this will take another big player outside and reduce Kentucky's rebounding power.  When Lighty is on defense, Jones will be able to post him up, and Lighty will need major help to guard Jones inside.  In fact, if Jones plays well, it could force Sullinger to play him, and that is a matchup that Ohio State would like to avoid.  Advantage:  Kentucky
     
  5. Jared Sullinger vs. Josh Harrellson.  Harrellson is one of the bigger players that Sullinger has faced this year.  What will be key for Harrellson is if he can force Sullinger off the blocks a bit and keep him from shooting layups.  Harrellson is big enough, but Sullinger has excellent footwork for a first-year player and has a lot of moves around the basket.  Unlike Festus Ezeli of Vanderbilt, though, Sullinger is neither taller or longer than Harrellson.  Good matchup, but Sullinger is better.  Advantage:  Ohio St.
     
  6. Bench.  Nominally, I would expect for Ohio State's bench to be slightly better than Kentucky's, for no other reason than OSU has at least one more quality player in Deshaun Thomas that it can play.  Advantage:  Ohio St.

 

Game Analysis and Observations

  • This game is likely to be a game of spurts.  Both teams have tremendous outside shooting and solid interior play.  Neither team qualifies as deep.  Both teams have highly skilled players, like to get out on the break and play tough defense inside and out.  Neither team turns it over, and neither team is a great offensive rebounding team.
  • The conventional wisdom would be that a higher pace favors Kentucky, since Kentucky has the more athletic playes 1-5 than OSU, but I'm not sure that this is true.  Ohio State has lost only twice this year, and in both those games, the opponent outshot the Buckeys by a significant amount.  Purdue was able to hold the Buckeyes well below their season average, but Wisconsin beat them by a combination of slightly outshooting and outrebounding them.  The Buckeyes have won at every pace from low to high, but at a pace below 58, the games have been very close.
  • Kentucky must find a way to defend the Buckeys from three.  It sounds easy, but Ohio State is a very, very confident team.  They will shoot the three with the least crack of room, and defenders must get right up on every Buckeye perimeter player or they will rise and fire.  Having watched several OSU games now, I have rarely seen a team as willing to shoot even marginally open 3-point shots with as much success as the Buckeyes do.  Imagine facing a team with four Chris Loftons playing on it and you have some idea of how Ohio State has looked at times this season on offense.
  • Ohio State will try to speed the Wildcats up in the half court.  UK has been very good at offensive patience, especially lately, and teams that are patient against OSU often get very good looks.  Patient offensive teams tend to be very efficient against Ohio State, and it seems to throw OSU off their game if they have to play long half-court possessions.  This is one of those rare games where I think Kentucky benefits by a more deliberate offensive attack.
  • Transition-wise, both teams are excellent and love to run when they can.  Kentucky, being the slightly more athletic team, should have an advantage on the break, but it will be a marginal one.  OSU is very good at getting back on defense without sacrificing too much offensive rebounding in the bargin.
  • Foul distribution will play a critical role in this game.  Ohio State is slightly more vulnerable to fouls inside, and Kentucky is slightly more vulnerable to fouls outside.  Sullinger absolutely cannot get in foul trouble for OSU, so expect him to play very carefully on defense and guard the less dangerous Harrellson.  Kentucky must be able to keep enough shooters in the game to counter OSU's outside threats, so if two backcourt players for UK pick up early fouls, it will be trouble for the 'Cats.
  • The team to attack the basket off the dribble most successfully will likely win this game.  OSU and Kentucky both do this a lot, so we are talking strength against strength.
  • Overall, this figures to be a hard-fought game right down to the wire.  Both teams are capable of scoring a lot of points, and both teams play good defense.  Offensive rebounding will likely be the factor that places this game in the balance, and neither team has a proven advantage in that area.
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