It’s time to wipe the slate clean for the Ohio State basketball team.
For as frustrating as this up-and-down season has been for Buckeye fans who had Final Four aspirations before the year began, a few wins in the NCAA tournament would cancel out the multiple losses to Penn State, the season-long rebounding woes, the clanked free throws, the heartbreaking loss to Michigan in the Big Ten tournament and the fact that this team only appears comfortable when facing a double-digit deficit.
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But the only way the Buckeyes are going to advance in the Big Dance is if they answer a number of questions. Here are five of them.
Can Ohio State make its three-pointers?
Ohio State’s three-point shooting, or lack thereof, becomes of particular concern if the Buckeyes beat Dayton and face Syracuse in the round of 32.
The Orange play a 2-3 zone almost exclusively, which means opponents will have to hit perimeter shots if they plan on walking away with a victory. Considering the fact Ohio State shot less than 33 percent as a team this year and doesn’t have a single player shooting better than LaQuinton Ross’ 36 percent, this could be an issue.
Asked if he was worried about this potential matchup, coach Thad Matta seemed to have the one-game-at-a-time mentality that is necessary in March, via Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors:
"I just hope I see it, to be honest with you," -Thad Matta on Syracuse's zone defense.— Kyle Rowland (@KyleRowland) March 16, 2014
If you are looking for a silver lining, consider the fact that the Buckeyes hit seven threes against Michigan in the most recent game. What’s more, a number of players on the current team played critical roles in Ohio State’s beating of Syracuse in the Elite Eight in 2012.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. hit three shots from long distance in that contest, and even Amir Williams played important minutes because Jared Sullinger was in foul trouble.
That’s not to say it will happen again, only that there is something of a precedent to look toward.
Has Shannon Scott turned the corner?
Given the circumstances and the stakes in a postseason game against the Buckeyes’ biggest rival, Saturday was arguably the best game of Scott’s Ohio State career.
The guard lit up Michigan for 18 points, six assists, five rebounds and three steals and limited his turnovers to only two. He hit four three-pointers, created open looks for his teammates with penetration and seized a handful of transition opportunities.
If Scott plays like that off the bench, Ohio State becomes a much better team.
He has always been a terrific defender, but this squad needs more offense. If the Shannon Scott we saw on Saturday shows up against Dayton in the round of 64, the Buckeyes will advance.
Will the Buckeyes be able to stop a motivated Jordan Sibert?
Jordan Sibert is arguably Dayton’s best player, but Buckeye fans will likely remember him from his days in Columbus.
He certainly seems motivated to play Ohio State in the NCAA tournament, via Rowland:
Jordan Sibert: "The whole thing, especially with me transferring from there, is exciting. I’m really at a loss for words."— Kyle Rowland (@KyleRowland) March 17, 2014
Any talk about which team wants to win more is something of a ridiculous cliche at this point in the season. After all, everyone is presumably going to be motivated to play in the Big Dance, regardless of seeding or the opposition.
Yet it’s safe to say there will be some extra juice in the tank for Sibert after he transferred from Ohio State because of a lack of playing time. Ironically, the Buckeyes could use his perimeter shooting on this year’s team, but instead they will have to find a way to stop him on Thursday.
Sibert may be too lengthy for Aaron Craft or Scott to guard, which means Sam Thompson and Smith Jr. will be tasked with containing the former Buckeye. They will have to do just that if they want a crack at Syracuse.
Will LaQuinton Ross be the alpha scorer Ohio State needs him to be?
Ross assumed the job of primary scorer for Ohio State the moment Deshaun Thomas elected to forego his senior season in Columbus.
Much like the Buckeyes as a whole, Ross has been inconsistent all season. He has been playing well as of late, however, and even made the All-Big Ten tournament team in Indianapolis despite the fact his team fell short of the finals.
He is the one consistent three-point threat Ohio State has on the roster, can drive past defenders, finishes through contact and can handle the occasional double-team. He appeared more comfortable in the role of alpha scorer as the season progressed, which is a good sign heading into the Big Dance.
As long as Ross can maintain his composure (he was ejected against Northwestern and received a technical foul against Nebraska for shoving an opposing player), he can be the offensive force this team needs.
How far can this team realistically go?
Given the way this season has unfolded, it’s safe to say that the exact opposite of whatever you expect to happen with the Buckeyes will occur.
We are talking about a team that lost twice to Penn State and turned right around in the next game after the second defeat and beat Michigan State. The Spartans are a trendy pick from many experts to win the entire NCAA tournament, so that victory should not be taken lightly.
What’s more, Ohio State lost at home to Iowa but won on the road against that very same Hawkeyes squad. The Buckeyes even won at the Kohl Center for only the second time in Matta’s career. There have been much more talented Matta-led teams that could not win at Wisconsin.
That being said, reaching the Sweet 16 would be an impressive accomplishment considering this team’s inconsistency. The only way that will happen is if the scarlet and gray answer the bell on these questions (as well as those about the free-throw shooting and rebounding) against Dayton and (presumably) Syracuse.
The guess here is that the season ends against the Orange’s zone, but when has any guess about this year’s Ohio State team been accurate?
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