Starting Five: Ohio State-Gonzaga Third Round Preview
PITTSBURGH -- With its 78-59 victory over Loyola (Md.) on Thursday night, the No. 2-seeded Ohio State men’s basketball team (28-7, 13-5 Big Ten) managed to survive and advance to see another day in the big dance. In the third round, the Buckeyes will meet up the Boston’s No. 7-seed, Gonzaga (26-6, 13-3 WCC), a team that’s coming off of one of the more impressive victories from the tournament’s second round. Saturday’s 2:45 PM tip-off between the Buckeyes and Bulldogs will air nationally on CBS.
Getting Over A ‘Loss’
OSU’s margin of victory over the Greyhounds may have been 19 points, but don’t tell that to a Buckeyes team that committed 18 turnovers and let its lead slip to as few as 11 points with less than three minutes remaining in the game. On Friday, several OSU players said that they are viewing Thursday night’s win over Loyola as a loss, rather than a win.
“The first thing that jumped out at us was our inability to take care of the ball,” OSU point guard Aaron Craft said. “Turning the ball over 20 times is something we can’t do, especially against a great team like Gonzaga.”
OSU senior guard William Buford seemed equally concerned with the Buckeyes’ carelessness with the ball, and didn’t seem comforted by the fact that his team still won by 19 points without playing its best ball of the season.
“When you know you can play better than what you played, it’s not good at all, especially at this time of the year,” Buford said. “We have to treat last night like a loss. We did’t play too good. We just have to regroup and watch our mistakes and learn from our mistakes.
Red Hot Zags
Some of the mistakes that the Buckeyes committed on Thursday could wind up being more costly on Saturday, especially when facing a Gonzaga team that was as impressive as any on Thursday. The Bulldogs dominated West Virginia from start to finish in the tournament’s second round, blowing out the Mountaineers by a final score of 77-54.
“Gonzaga’s a great team. They have a lot of weapons offensively,” Craft said. “They have great post players. They have a really good skilled four. They have great role players, which I think makes them a better team than a lot just because their role players understand what they need to do when they come in.”
The Bulldogs are playing in their 14th-consecutive NCAA Tournament, with 12 of those appearances coming under coach Mark Few. Having spent time coaching at Butler and Xavier, OSU coach Thad Matta is no stranger to seeing success from a mid major, and isn’t surprised by the consistency of Few’s program.
“The thing you look at Gonzaga has done is they’ve really established their system, they’ve really done a great job recruiting to it,” Matta said. “I’ve always viewed Gonzaga as a top-20 program in the country because they’ve had the ability to sustain winning at the highest level.
This season, the Bulldogs have been led by point guard Kevin Pangos, who is averaging 13.8 points and 3.4 assists over the course of his freshman campaign. Drawing the assignment of covering Pangos will be Craft, who is two weeks removed from having been named the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year.
“He’s a great player. He’s definitely what makes that team go. He’s done a great job coming in and doing what he’s capable of,” Craft said. “I don’t think he tries to rush too many things. One of the best things he does is shoot the ball. He’s always a force throughout transition and he’s one of those guys you just can’t leave.”
Having played in a league with point guards such as Trey Burke, Jordan Taylor, Tim Frazier, Keith Appling, and Lewis Jackson, Craft is confident that both he and his teammates are prepared for a Gonzaga backcourt that at times features both Pangos and David Stockton.
“It’s going to be a team effort. It’s definitely not going to be a one-on-one matchup,” Craft said. “Just like all throughout the year, playing against good guards in the Big Ten, it’s always been a team effort, whether it’s on ball screens or hedging out on down screens, it’s going to be a good matchup.”
Big Man Battle
The matchup between OSU and Gonzaga’s point guards won’t be the only one of intrigue on Saturday. Perhaps no Bulldog looked more impressive against West Virginia than 7-foot center Robert Sacre, who will draw the assignment of guarding OSU’s leading scorer and rebounder, Jared Sullinger.
“This past season, I’ve seen a lot of great big men. I know I have my hands full, but I’m excited for the task and it’s going to be a great game,” Sacre said. “He’s a great player, especially when he gets the ball. He likes to get the ball in deep, so you want to keep him from getting the ball in so deep near the basket and make sure you limit his touches.”
Despite having struggled against players of a similar stature to that of Sacre’s, Sullinger said that he doesn’t plan on changing his playing style with his opponent in mind.
“I really don’t look at height difference,” Sullinger said. “I just keep playing my game. I think that’s what makes me me. I don’t change my game for nobody, no matter how big you are, how physical you are, or how tall you are. You just have to keep playing your game.”
A Common Opponent
Despite having finished Big Ten play with a loss in the conference championship game to Michigan State last Sunday, the Buckeyes find many similarities between Gonzaga and the teams that they played for 21 games over the course of this season. In fact, the Bulldogs played both the Spartans and Illinois in their out-of-conference schedule, suffering losses to both Big Ten foes.
“There’s a lit if similarities to their transition halfcourt offense to like a Michigan State and also Indiana with their personnel, what guys are capable of doing,” Matta said. “Defensively, they’re almost exact to all Big Ten teams. We’re a load-the-box conference, help from the strong side, guys are in position, that sort of thing.”
Sullinger said that the Buckeyes have already reviewed game tape of Gonzaga’s matchup with Michigan State and definitely sees where the comparison between the Zags and the Spartans comes from.
“With Michigan State with Draymond Green, (Elias) Harris is very similar,” Sullinger said. “It’s nothing that Deshaun (Thomas) or Evan (Ravenel) or me haven’t guarded yet, but the only the difference is they have height in the paint as well with Sacre.”