Ohio State vs. Wichita State: Why Buckeyes Are on Upset Alert in Elite Eight
Ohio State fans, feel free to savor the flavor for a moment. The Buckeyes are back in the Elite Eight for the second straight season and third time during Thad Matta's tenure.
Another dramatic late-game shot sent second-seeded Ohio State surging past Arizona in the Sweet 16. Sophomore LaQuinton Ross buried a game-winning three-pointer with two seconds remaining just four days after Buckeyes guard Aaron Craft connected on a go-ahead three-point shot in the final moments of a victory over Iowa State.
Ohio State has won 11 consecutive contests and continues to display a championship mentality in crucial game-deciding moments. The Buckeyes advance to face ninth-seeded Wichita State in the Elite Eight.
Matta is on the doorstep of his third Final Four appearance since 2007, but the upstart Shockers represent a significant hurdle on the way to fulfilling lofty expectations in Columbus. Wichita State won its Sweet 16 matchup against La Salle Thursday evening and busted brackets across the country with a victory over top-seeded Gonzaga on Sunday.
Ohio State is flying high for now, but the Shockers represent a significant test. Wichita State is a dangerous foe on the verge of program history, so prepare for a nerve-racking Saturday showdown in Los Angeles.
Wichita State Attacks the Offensive Glass
When watching Wichita State players go to work, the team's interior toughness and wherewithal stands out. An inspired bunch of athletes embrace floor-burns and refuse to sacrifice position.
The Shockers scrape and claw for every chunk of real estate underneath the rim. This effort has paid off against tournament opponents.
Wichita State out-rebounded La Salle 44-23, ripping down 15 offensive boards in the process. The Shockers shoved around a larger Pittsburgh lineup in the Field of 64 and held its own against Gonzaga, claiming 19 total offensive rebounds in the pair of victories.
Forwards Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall combine to form a strong tandem down low. The duo doesn't back down and does an excellent job of snaring money balls during the tournament.
It is imperative Ohio State counters the Shockers' interior physicality. Wichita State has been able to wear down foes and find a way to pull away late in postseason match-ups.
Ron Baker's Return from Injury Has Sparked the Shockers
The freshman standout spent a portion of his season stuck in a walking boot after suffering a left foot injury. The 6'3" guard missed 21 games due to a stress fracture, costing him an opportunity to earn substantial early experience in his first year at the collegiate level.
He's making up for lost time with a mighty late March.
Baker reentered the rotation earlier this month but is only now beginning to show signs of a top-tier play-maker. He has 29 total points in the past two games, connecting on 9-of-13 shot attempts.
Perhaps the scariest prospect for Ohio State is Baker's ability to bury shots from beyond the arc. He converted four long-distance connections against Gonzaga and hit two more three-pointers during Thursday's victory over La Salle.
Baker may be one win away from becoming a cult hero of the 2013 tournament.
The Shockers Are Shooting the Lights Out from Long Distance
Wichita State slammed the door on Gonzaga's title dreams with a devastating onslaught from outside in the Field of 32. The Shockers caught fire from beyond the arc, connecting on 14-of-28 three-point attempts.
The team continued to find success along the perimeter against La Salle. Wichita State shot a significantly smaller volume of three-pointers (5-of-12), but maintained its efficient effort from outside.
The Shockers are shooting 48 percent from three-point territory in the past two games. That's 14 percentage points greater than the team's overall season average.
Wichita State will likely look to establish its outside offensive game early against Ohio State as an immediate attempt to counter the Buckeyes' advantage in the post.
Carl Hall Contends Everything Inside
The senior forward is playing like a man possessed. Hall hits the rim hard on rebounding opportunities and holds his ground with authority defensively.
He has swatted at least three shot attempts in three of four games, including the past two tournament games. Hall, a 6'8" forward, is a gritty defender who pesters taller post players with tireless determination that wears down opposing post players.
Hall enjoyed one of the finest games of his collegiate career in the Sweet 16. He scored 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting, pulled down eight rebounds and tallied three blocks.
He's the emotional leader of a team defined by its headstrong mentality.
Don't Underestimate the Mindset of an Underdog
After eliminating La Salle from the equation, Wichita State emerges as the tournament's top Cinderella story this side of Florida Gulf Coast. The Shockers fall far behind Kansas and Kansas State on the state's fan meter, but have certainly earned their share of the spotlight with a journey to the Elite Eight
Wichita State is looking to punch its first ticket to the Final Four since 1965. The Shockers are nearing uncharted territory and playing with extreme confidence.
Back in the Elite Eight after a 22-year hiatus, Wichita State clearly won't be cast aside without a fight. Ohio State must earn its way to Atlanta.
"It's like I'm in a dream still with this whole Elite Eight situation," Carl Hall told the Associated Press via ESPN.com. "I still can't believe it, but anything is possible when you play defense and you're peaking at the right time."