THE BRESLIN CENTER, EAST LANSING, MICHIGAN
SUNDAY, NOON (ET)
TV: CBS (Ian Eagle, Bill Raftery - Michigan State will come out in the MANTOMAN!)
ONLINE RADIO FEED: WJR
ENEMY BLOGS: Eleven Warriors, The Buckeye Battle Cry
- Overall record of 20-7; 10-4 in Big Ten play.
- Key wins: California (neutral), Florida St. (home), Purdue (away), Wisconsin (home), Illinois (away)
- Key losses: North Carolina (neutral), Butler (away), Michigan (away), West Virginia (away), Purdue (home)
- KenPom ranking of #10. #13 on offense, #22 on defense.
- 8 players averaging at least 10 minutes per game, but Thad Matta has shortened the bench of late. Only 7 players got 9+ minutes against Illinois two games ago, and only 6 players played against Purdue on Wednesday with 4 starters going the distance.
That is, to put it mildly, an impressive starting lineup. All five players are between 6'5" and 6'8", and the combined level of athleticism exceeds anything any other Big Ten team can put on the floor at one time. (Maybe Lucas/Allen/Summers/Morgan/Roe is right there, but with less overall productivity.)
Evan Turner is, of course, the man who makes the Buckeye offense go. Despite taking on a full one-third of the Buckeyes' offensive possessions and not being a terribly accomplished outside shooter, Turner is making nearly 60% of his 2-point field goal attempts. He's averaging almost 4 turnovers per game (to go with nearly 6 assists per game), but that's not an inordinate number of giveaways considering how often Turner touches the ball.
The rest of the Ohio State starters, meanwhile, are each doing exactly what's asked of them: William Buford is an efficient second scorer/creator who doesn't turn the ball over very often, Jon Diebler knocks down 3-pointers, David Lighty does a little of everything while serving as the team's defensive stopper, and Dallas Lauderdale dunks the ball on offense and blocks shots on defense.
Collectively, Ohio State's strength on offense is shooting the ball. The Buckeyes have converted 56.1% of 2-point attempts and 37.8% of 3-point attempts this season. They also take care of the ball well (17.8). But they don't rebound the ball much on offense (29.6) and, outside of Turner and Lightly, they don't get to the free throw line much.
Based on the statistics, the key to stopping Ohio State isn't so much stopping Turner. In the 4 Ohio State losses that Turner's played in, he's averaging 22.3 points/game. The team, meanwhile, has shot below .300 from beyond the arc in 3 of those 4 losses (and below .320 in the 3 losses in which Turner didn't play). The scoring numbers for Diebler and Buford are probably better barometers for Ohio State's success on offense than Turner's numbers are. Eleven Warriors noted the following about the lack of offensive support for Turner in the loss to Purdue:
Feeling the weight of limited help, Turner actually looked tired for maybe the first time all season as the offense went through him virtually every time down the court in the second half. Naturally, the should-be-undisputed national player of the year answered the call with 29 points (11/21), seven boards and five assists. To his credit, he bounced back from a four turnover first half with just one in the second. How bad was his help tonight? Turner hit 11 of OSU’s 20 field goals scoring 51% of the points while recording five of team’s lowly six assists.
It'll be interesting to see if Tom Izzo is willing to play Turner straight up and take his chances with Turner having a huge scoring day. That strategy would run somewhat counter to MSU's normal defensive tendency to hedge off shooters to try to stop penetration. Kalin Lucas, who will start the game assigned to guarding Turner, says his goal is just to stay in front of Turner:
"Don't reach or gamble," Lucas said of the key to containing Turner. "If you reach, he might do a spin move or something."
Ideally, Raymar Morgan will also spend quite a bit of time guarding Turner. Ohio State doesn't have a true power forward for Morgan to guard, and Morgan might be able to prevent Turner from using his size to create space for his patented bankshots around the basket (perhaps baiting him into a few unadvised long jumpshots). Of course, that will mean Morgan will need to avoid the kinds of fouls he tends to pick up on reach-ins when opponents drive the lane.
Defensively, the Buckeyes don't foul much, they don't give up a lot of easy baskets inside (due in part to Lauderdale's presence), and they rebound the ball adequately (thanks largely to Turner's work on the defensive glass). Thad Matta utilizes several zone looks on defense, which results in a lot of long-distance shooting attempts, but opponents generally haven't taken advantage by knocking down 3-pointers efficiently (34.5). In Ohio State's 7 losses, though, each opponent has made at least 37.5% of their 3-point looks.
A one-game extension of Chris Allen's recent 3-point shooting tear (14-24 in the last 4 games) would be very helpful. Draymond Green should have a mismatch against David Lighty when he's on the floor with Delvon Roe, but that'll work in the other direction on the other end of the floor. With the longer layoff since the Indiana game, hopefully Kalin Lucas is back near 100% and ready to try to keep up with Turner in terms of providing key scores to stop opposing runs. (He's been pretty good in the 3 games back since the ankle injury: 49 points on 32 FG attempts.)
I'm hopeful that MSU's depth will be a significant asset in this game. Even if it's only 7 guys each playing 20-30 minutes (probably not a lot of Nix/Sherman in this one), they should be much fresher than 5 guys each playing 35-40 minutes if this is a tight game in the final minutes. I'd love to see whoever's assigned to guard Turner harass him all the way up the court the way Purdue did. It seemed like Turner had to expend a lot of energy getting the ball over the timeline, only to give it up and then have to work to get it again and create a scoring opportunity for himself or his teammates.
KenPom has the game as basically a coin flip: a 68-67 MSU win in a 65-possession game. A win will need to be earned by playing a full 40 minutes of smart basketball: playing patient defense on Turner, waiting for him to turn the ball over or take a few bad shots at some point, and making crisp passes against zone defenses and consistently crashing the offensive glass to score some second-chance points.
Win and you've got a de facto Big Ten championship game a week later in West Lafayette. Lose and the focus shifts pretty quickly (for the fans at least) to postseason play.