X-Factors to Watch in Ohio State vs. Dayton NCAA Tournament Matchup
While Big Ten rivals Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin appear to have one-sided matchups in their first NCAA tournament games, Ohio State does not find itself in a potential walkover.
Instead, the selection committee decided to hit the Buckeyes right where they live, sending a hungry Dayton team in their direction. The Flyers have wanted to get a piece of the Buckeyes for years, and their opportunity is right at hand.
The Buckeyes are not going to scare anybody with their ability to fill the net, but this team plays sensational defense. They came from 18 points down to beat Nebraska in the Big Ten tournament and from 16 down to tie Michigan before losing.
Head coach Thad Matta does not have a team of superstars, and he will look to his roster of X-factor players to attempt to get past the Flyers.
Guard Shannon Scott, Ohio State
When Matta wants to turn his team's vicious defense loose, he can tap any number of players to jump-start the team.
Shannon Scott is one of the best options for doing just that. Scott regularly comes off the bench, but he plays nearly 27 minutes per game, and he was second on the team to Aaron Craft in steals with 69. He has quick hands, excellent instincts and when he steps into the passing lanes, he usually makes good things happen for the Buckeyes.
Scott is not a brilliant shooter, making just 44.0 percent of his shots from the field, but he averages 7.6 points per game and can get under the skin of his opponents. He is also an excellent passer and can do a lot of things to turn a game in the Buckeyes' favor.
Guard Jordan Sibert, Dayton
Jordan Sibert is likely to be the face of this matchup for Dayton. Sibert is one of the team's two double-digit scorers, and he leads the team with an average of 12.6 PPG. He is also shooting 46.2 percent from the field.
However, Sibert has even more motivation than the rest of his teammates. He is an Ohio State transfer, so it's hard to imagine any player getting more satisfaction from an upset than Sibert.
Sibert has played his best basketball down the stretch, averaging 14 points per game while the Flyers went 4-1 in their last five games. He has been on fire from beyond the arc, shooting 46 percent (subscription required) on his three-point attempts over that span.
If the Flyers are going to advance, Sibert must be at the top of his game.
Guard Lenzelle Smith Jr., Ohio State
Lenzelle Smith Jr. is one of those players who will do anything to win a basketball game for Ohio State. While Matta will probably look to leading scorer LaQuinton Ross for big points in crunch time, he knows that Smith is also capable of knocking down big shots.
Smith is averaging 11.1 PPG, and he can also get the job done on the boards, as he is third on the team with 5.1 rebounds per game. At 6'4" and 210 pounds, he's not the biggest player, but Smith is not afraid to go into the paint to find his shot or come away with the big rebound when the game is on the line.
That was the case in last week's Big Ten tournament when the Buckeyes faced Purdue in the opening round. With the Buckeyes up by one point and 33 seconds left in the game, teammate Sam Thompson launched an errant three-pointer.
The Boilermakers were surrounding the ball and appeared poised to steal the game, but Smith came from out of nowhere, got the rebound and made two free throws after getting fouled. The Buckeyes hung on to win the game 63-61.
"A lot happened at the end there," Smith told Cleveland.com's Art Wasserman. "It's OK if nobody remembers that rebound. I know it had a big impact on us winning the game, and that feels good."
That kind of attitude has endured Smith to Matta and his Buckeye teammates.
Forward Devin Oliver, Dayton
The Dayton Flyers may be motivated to take out Ohio State in the first round, but it's difficult to see that happening unless they have a big game on the offensive end.
However, the Flyers lack great offensive performers. Sibert is their leading scorer, and Devin Oliver is their only other scorer in double figures. Oliver is averaging 12.0 PPG and gets most of his shots fairly close to the rim.
Oliver is shooting 49.5 percent from the field, and that qualifies him to take big shots when he gets the opportunity. He cannot shy away in this game. He's going to have to find a way to get open, and his teammates must get him the ball if the Flyers are going to advance.
Center Amir Williams, Ohio State
Rebounding goes hand in hand with defense, but that has not been one of the Buckeyes' strengths this season.
They have a rebound margin of minus-0.3 per game (subscription required), a figure that ranked ninth in the Big Ten and 197th nationally. If they are going to beat the Dayton Flyers and advance in the tournament, they are going to have to improve in their rebounding effort.
That's where center Amir Williams comes into play. Williams is averaging 5.8 rebounds per game, which is second on the team to LaQuinton Ross. Williams is also averaging 8.0 PPG and shooting 60.5 percent from the field, but it's his rebounding that matters most.
He's going to have to go to the boards hard against Dayton to give his team its best chance to advance.