Kentucky Wildcats (4) @ Ohio Buckeyes (1): Open Game Thread

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Welcome, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, and college basketball fans everywhere, to the official A Sea of Blue open game thread for the 2011 Sweet Sixteen contest between the Kentucky Wildcats and the Ohio St. Buckeyes.  Kentucky is the #4 seed in the East Region, and Ohio St. is the #1 seed in the East and #1 overall seed in this year's tournament.  Game particulars as follows, courtesy of UKAthletics.com:

Kentucky @ Ohio St.
Game Notes Kentucky Game Notes Get Acrobat Reader | Ohio State Game Notes Get Acrobat Reader
Date & Time Fri., Mar. 25, 9:45 p.m. ET
Location Prudential Center
Newark, N.J.
  Kentucky Seniors Video


The Buckeyes got to this point by blitzing the #16 seed Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners and #8 seed George Mason Patriots.  Kentucky got by the #13 seed Princeton Tigers and #5 seed West Virginia Mountaineers.  So far, the Buckeyes have barely broken a sweat, and Kentucky has had two very challenging games, the first of which came down to the last shot.

Ohio State is, and deserves to be, favored by between 5 and 6 points over the Wildcats.  The Buckeyes have been excellent this year with a balanced attack in every sense of the word.  Kentucky at times has struggled in tough, physical games, but has been extremely tough of late in every way.  Both teams enter this game arguably at the very top of their respective games.

Keys to a Kentucky win:

  • Defend the perimeter.  Kentucky has been an above average, but not great, perimeter defensive team this year.  They have been outstanding at guarding the 2-point shot, but not so much defending the three.  If they want to defeat the Buckeyes, they must defend the perimeter.
  • Brandon Knight vs. Aaron Craft.  This matchup is both intriguing and pivotal.  Brandon Knight is going to put up shots.  If Craft can make them tough shots, it really is a good sign for the Buckeyes.  If Craft cannot keep Knight out of the paint or guard him effectively on the perimeter, it could go ill for Ohio St.
  • Rebound the ball.  Kentucky and Ohio St. are similar rebounding teams.  If Kentucky can win this stat, it just might be the difference. 
  • Shoot at least 53% eFG.  Ohio St. is the best 3-point shooting team in the nation, and they are unlikely to shoot a poor percentage against Kentucky.  If Kentucky is to win, they must keep pace with OSU shooting the basketball.
  • Attack the rim.  Two teams that have attacking guards have managed to hand the Buckeyes their only losses this year.
  • Stay out of foul trouble.  This needs no exposition.  Kentucky has very little room to maneuver with fouls.

Keys for the Buckeyes:

  • Force Brandon Knight to give up the ball, and keep him from getting it back.  Knight has become the main initiator of the offense.  If OSU can take that away, it will force somebody not as good as Knight to do it, and that's advantage Bucks.
  • Hammer Kentucky in the post.  If Jared Sullinger can have his way inside, Kentucky will be forced to double-team, and double-teaming the post against OSU usually results in a fusillade of threes.
  • Find a way to stop Terrence Jones.  Jones is the biggest offensive matchup nightmare that Ohio St. has.  If they can render Jones ineffective, it will cripple Kentucky's game and force them to beat OSU at their strength -- shooting.
  • Render DeAndre Liggins ineffective.  Very few teams have been able to do this, but if OSU can bait Liggins into a technical or some other detrimental action and limit his minutes, it will free up one of their shooters.  If they allow Liggins to get to them, the balance of the game would be shifted to Kentucky.
  • Turn Kentucky over.  Kentucky takes good care of the ball, but they have had a recent tendency to make habit passes that the Buckeyes can steal and get fast breaks.  Kentucky cannot lose the turnover battle by much, if any, and hope to win.
  • Get Kentucky, particularly Terrence Jones and Josh Harrellson, in foul trouble.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, this is what we have been waiting for.  Win or lose, we have a chance to make our mark on the 2011 NCAA tournament.  As I see it, Kentucky is already playing with house money.  If they lose tonight, the season will not really suffer at all.  From here, other getting blown out, Kentucky can only add to their accolades and prove many of us who said they were a Sweet Sixteen team at best wrong.  I am confident that every single member of the Nation would gladly enjoy being proven wrong.

To borrow an advertising phrase, "Here we go."  It's time for Kentucky to prove that they are more than the sum of their parts, or go home and get ready for a national championship run next year.  I prefer we put the latter off for, say, four more games.

Go 'Cats!

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