There are things we know with certainty: Ohio State and Siena will begin their 2009 NCAA Tournament odysseys on Friday night at 9:40 p.m.
There are things we know with near-certainty: Both teams are playing for the right to be steamrolled by the Louisville Cardinals.
There are things we don’t know at all: Where is Siena? (Just kidding, it’s up near Albany, New York...I think.)
There are also things that we are pretty confident about: Siena will not upset Ohio State on Friday night in Dayton.
The Saints have a good team, and they have put together a nice season, but the MAAC Champs blew their cover last year against Vanderbilt, and they won’t sneak up on the Buckeyes.
The biggest weight around Siena’s neck is that they are this year’s trendy upset pick. Because everyone on television says they are ripe to pull an upset, it will be nearly impossible to sneak up on a team and pull an upset. Can you be a dark horse if every head on ESPN is talking about you?
Ohio State is a young, inconsistent, often-undisciplined team that plays flat footed defense, cannot rebound, and struggles to maintain intensity, but the Buckeyes can do one thing exceptionally well. They can shoot. That alone should be enough to get them into the second round.
Ohio State shot better than 48 percent from the floor during the regular season and conference tournament. They made almost 38 percent of their three point shots during that same stretch. They average 66.7 points per game, and dropped a heretofore unthinkable 82 on Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament. Whether it’s John Diebler from behind the arc, Evan Turner off the dribble, or BJ Mullins in the post, Ohio State can make baskets.
Against weaker opponents, Siena shot 47.3 percent from the floor, 33 percent from behind the arc, and averaged 77.7 points per game. The Saints can score too, but 81 points against Northern Iowa is not the same as 82 against Michigan State.
Now, let us talk about height. Among Thad Matta’s many accomplishments at OSU (eating gum off the floor, keeping his money to himself rather than handing it out to sub-par Serbian players, etc) he has developed quite a pipeline of talented big men. Ohio State has struggled over the season to work freshman BJ Mullins into the offense, and Mullins has struggled with positioning, defense, and fouls. Still, Mullins is 7'0" and that height comes with a built-in set of advantages.
It was this time last year that 7'0" Kosta Koufos finally grasped Matta’s system and began to thrive. He led the Buckeyes to the NIT Championship and parlayed that performance into NBA riches. No doubt, Mullins was watching closely. The kid wants to be “one-and-done”, but he needs to start strengthening his argument. Shutting down Siena’s 6’9” sophomore Ryan Rossiter is step one. Look for Matta to continue playing Mullins off the bench, in a platoon with 6’8” forward Dallas Lauderdale.
The Buckeyes can score, and they have a significant height advantage, but they do not hold all the cards. Siena has been to the dance before, and the Saints get great floor leadership and clutch scoring from senior guard Kenny Hasbrouck (14.8 points, 2.9 assists per game). As the talking heads have been repeating all week, Siena returns all five starters from the team that beat Vanderbilt and scared Villanova last March. Ohio State returns a few guys who won the NIT.
Siena will probably be more composed. They may make fewer mistakes, and they will certainly have better floor leadership, but Hasbrouck and Company still need to play their finest game if they want the honor of losing to Louisville.
The Saints went 19 years between their 1989 opening round upset of Stanford and last year’s first round upset of Vanderbilt.
You are welcome to pencil them in for a first round win in 2027. But don’t pick them to beat the Buckeyes. It’s just not going to happen.