Ohio State Basketball: Position-by-Position Breakdown of Matchup vs. Dayton
Ohio State and Dayton are too close in proximity—the two campuses sit merely an hour apart—to have played each other in basketball only six times in their history.
The NCAA tournament selection committee, in its quest for juicy television storylines, decided to remedy that issue by matching the Flyers and Buckeyes in a second-round matchup from Buffalo, N.Y. (Thursday, 12:15 ET, CBS).
The sixth-seeded Buckeyes have righted the ship, winning nine of their last 13 after a 3-5 Big Ten start, although losses to Penn State and Indiana are cause for sustained concern.
No. 11 seed Dayton has stormed to 10 wins in its last 12 games, not losing to any team other than St. Joseph's since Jan. 25. Like Ohio State, the Flyers had to pick themselves up off the canvas after a four-game losing streak early in conference play.
These two teams have a lot in common, but who has the advantage heading into this rare head-to-head Buckeye State battle? Read on as we examine the matchup position by position.
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Point Guard: Aaron Craft vs. Khari Price
This is the one matchup that looks like a lopsided blowout on paper. In one corner, a senior who's among the most feared defensive forces in Big Ten history. In the other, a sophomore who's played as many minutes in two years as his opponent played this season alone.
But, as they say, the game ain't played on paper.
Dayton's Khari Price is a safe, reliable ball-handler under normal circumstances. He's committed three turnovers in only three games this season. One of those was a matchup with VCU's master thief, Briante Weber, so he has some experience with handsy opponents.
Price has a difficult task against Buckeye pest Aaron Craft, however. The Big Ten's all-time leader in steals picks the pockets of much more celebrated and experienced guards than Price. And he'll have to victimize the Flyers repeatedly if Ohio State harbors any expectation of running away with this game.
Dayton has a plethora of perimeter shooters, with four starters draining more than 38 percent of their three-point attempts—including Price at 40.7 percent. The Buckeyes must be careful when helping onto a shooter, because the chances are good that they'll be leaving another one open if the rotation is late.
As he's not usually a major part of the offense, the best thing Price can do is avoid turnovers and knock down his open jumpers. If he catches Craft sleeping once early, though, don't expect Craft to keep making the same mistakes.
Craft's defense will be key to Ohio State's offense. The transition game is where Ohio State can press an advantage, since the Buckeyes' shooting—especially Craft's—is highly unreliable in the halfcourt. Don't underrate Price as a defender, either. He's capable of giving Craft a rough time as he tries to run OSU's sets.
Call this matchup in favor of Craft, but he'll have a lot of work to do for the Buckeyes to hold off the fired-up Flyers.
Advantage: Ohio State
Shooting Guard: Lenzelle Smith Jr. vs. Jordan Sibert
Think Jordan Sibert would look good in scarlet and gray right now?
The 6'4" Ohio State transfer is Dayton's leading scorer, dropping 12.5 points per game on nearly 44 percent three-point shooting. That kind of perimeter touch is something that the Buckeyes have missed all season.
Sibert has six 20-point games on the season, and they didn't come against the weak sisters on the schedule, either. Gonzaga, Baylor, St. Joseph's and UMass surrendered an average of 21.8 PPG to the skinny junior, allowing him to make 19 of 35 (54.3 percent) from deep.
Ohio State senior Lenzelle Smith Jr. has about a 25-pound weight advantage on Sibert, so he can be a bit physical in trying to disrupt his opponent's timing. Smith's own timing, however, may be the most important facet of the OSU offense.
Over the Buckeyes' last eight games, they haven't been able to rely on Smith's jumper. He's made only six of 32 triples during that span, good for 18.8 percent.
Smith has a difficult task on the defensive end as he tries to contain a motivated Sibert. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't hype about the game," Sibert said to Tim Graham of The Buffalo News. "Playing against your friends and going against people you've grown up with is definitely something to be excited about."
Small Forward: Sam Thompson vs. Dyshawn Pierre
If YouTube-worthy dunks were worth an extra point, Sam Thompson would have contended for the Big Ten scoring crown. "Slam" raises the fans out of their seats seemingly every time he takes the court.
Dayton, however, is bringing a smooth finisher who knows his way around the rim himself. Canadian sophomore Dyshawn Pierre is a threat to score from anywhere on the court, as a matter of fact. According to Hoop-Math.com, the 6'6" Pierre converts 61.7 percent of his shots near the rim, 40.6 percent of his two-point jumpers and 38.6 percent from three.
Where Pierre is even more dangerous is on the offensive glass. His 11.1 offensive rebounding percentage according to Ken Pomeroy is the best on his team, even above the Flyers' trio of lightly used 6'9" centers. Pierre has five double-doubles on the season.
For all Thompson's athletic gifts, he hasn't ripped more than four rebounds in any game since Jan. 7. Where he can excel is in making sure that the shots don't even get to the rim. His 3.8 block percentage would rank second on the Flyers.
Offensively, Thompson is improving as a perimeter threat, draining 40.6 percent of his three-point shots since Feb. 4. He needs to avoid falling in love with the jumper, though, as his primary value is as a psychological weapon, getting behind the defense and slamming home lobs from Craft or Shannon Scott.
Pierre will need some help shaking free of Thompson, but if he gets good looks off of screens, he's very able to produce a big game for the Flyers.
Power Forward: LaQuinton Ross vs. Devin Oliver
LaQuinton Ross made his name in last season's NCAA tournament, stepping out from bench weapon to primary threat. This season, he's been the primary threat all season long, and he's mostly lived up to the role.
Ross averaged 16.9 PPG in Big Ten play, good for sixth in the conference. He finished strong, dropping 20.7 per game in his final six. Unfortunately, Ross missed 15 of his 17 three-point shots in that span and the Buckeyes split those six games.
OSU coach Thad Matta will need to counsel Ross not to fall in love with that long jumper, but the player may be tempted after a few minutes against Dayton senior Devin Oliver. Oliver is a tough, athletic forward with long arms who can threaten opponents on either end.
At 6'7", Oliver leads the Flyers in rebounding, upping his game to 8.5 RPG over his last eight. He's also the team leader in assists and steals in addition to coming second in scoring and free-throw percentage. If Ross isn't the best all-around player in this game, Oliver certainly is.
Perhaps the only place Ross gets separation from Oliver is in experience. Ross has shown that he can produce against top-level competition in a tournament setting. Oliver, like most of the Flyers, has never suited up for an NCAA tournament game.
Advantage: Ohio State
Center: Amir Williams vs. Matt Kavanaugh
This matchup will see very minimal exposure during the course of the game. Both teams are prone to playing without their starting centers for certain stretches, and Dayton coach Archie Miller only runs Kavanaugh onto the court for 16.3 minutes per game.
When the 6'10" Kavanaugh does get his minutes, he may be a threat with his mid-range jump shot. According to Hoop-Math, he knocks down 36.5 percent of his mid-range shots, good for third on the team among players with more than 100 total shot attempts.
Outside of his decoy value, however, Kavanaugh doesn't look like a major factor against Williams, who's been known to disappear from games himself. Kavanaugh is a decent rebounder, but Williams is better—hence the value of Kavanaugh's stepping out of the paint. Kavanaugh is nowhere close to Williams' class as a shot-blocker.
The possibility exists that both of these men will spend 30 of the 40 minutes waving towels. But if you must choose the lesser of these two evils as a factor in this game, Williams seems like the slightly more prudent bet.
Advantage: Ohio State
Bench vs. Bench
Dayton has three starters who average more than 10 points per game. Sixth man Vee Sanford (pictured) fell only two points shy of joining the party, scoring 328 in 33 games. Unlike most of his teammates, Sanford has some NCAA tournament experience, but what little he has isn't exactly positive.
Sanford was a member of Georgetown teams that lost to Ohio and VCU in their opening games. He played only five minutes in each defeat.
Freshman point guard Scoochie Smith is essentially Dayton's answer to Shannon Scott, a defensive pest and solid passer who sometimes exhibits questionable shot selection. Big men Devon Scott and Jalen Robinson are occasionally more effective versions of Matt Kavanaugh, and the three may split minutes evenly.
Ohio State will lean on Scott to spell all of their perimeter players. Scott's play has leveled off since he first stepped down as a starter in early February, but he did play a solid game in the Big Ten semifinals, scoring 18 points with six assists and three steals in a loss to Michigan.
Sophomore Amedeo Della Valle came out of nowhere for 12 points, six rebounds and a highly surprising three blocks in the Big Ten quarters against Nebraska, and he'll be an unheralded key if no one else can get any long shots to fall.
Junior center Trey McDonald, a 33.3 percent foul shooter, shouldn't see the court if the game's remotely close. Freshman forward Marc Loving hasn't been seeing many minutes at any time in March.
Expect Archie Miller to get a lot more minutes, and likely more production, out of his bench than Thad Matta. Matta's frequently tight rotation may go only six men deep in this game unless Della Valle's red hot in warmups.
Summary and Prediction
Ohio State has struggled to put the ball in the basket all season. Dayton has frequently struggled to stop others from doing so. According to Pomeroy's figures, A-10 doormats Rhode Island, George Mason and Fordham all managed to produce more than a point per possession against the Flyers.
That matchup may be even more important than Dayton's efficient offense against the Buckeyes' nasty defense. Ohio State expects to get some run-outs off of steals, but no team can live on strips alone. The half-court offense needs to produce, preferably by attacking the rim and drawing contact against the Flyers' foul-prone big men. Making those foul shots (68.9 percent on the season) would be a bonus.
Dayton has a very talented roster with good perimeter depth, but it's sorely lacking in NCAA tournament experience. Ohio State's veteran squad may be full of guys who are used to relying on one dominant scorer—Jared Sullinger two years ago and Deshaun Thomas last season—but the key contributors have all been through this drill every year in Columbus.
If Aaron Craft's defensive intensity is a bigger story than his leaky shooting, the Buckeyes will win this game. If not, Dayton's more than equipped to capitalize.
Prediction: Ohio State 67, Dayton 64