Ohio State and Tennessee meet once again in the NCAA tournament. The last meeting was a nail biting shootout, ironically in the Sweet 16 three years ago. Ohio State comes in as the top seed in the Midwest bracket now that Kansas has lost.
The Buckeyes have notched wins against UC Santa Barbara and Georgia Tech as a No. 2 seed in the tournament. Tennessee is a No. 6 seed and slipped by San Diego State before crushing the Ohio Bobcats.
Tip off is Friday (3/26) at 7:07 PM, and the energy and anticipation are already beginning to build still days away from the action.
The eccentrically dressed Bruce Pearl of Tennessee will prowl the sidelines. Ohio State’s Thad Matta whose feverish gum chewing antics have become commonplace in Columbus will be opposite of Pearl. Both caches have impressive resumes, and will eager be to begin their rematch of the 2007 Sweet 16, which Ohio State won 85-84.
Neither team has a coaching advantage in this one; both are exceptional coaches and will enjoy this game as they match wits once again. Here’s a quick run down of their resumes with their current team.
Bruce Pearl: Pearl comes into this match up collecting a 210-83 record with the Volunteers, and has brought Tennessee to the NCAA tournament in every one of his five years as head coach.
Thad Matta: Matta brings a 156-53 record as the Buckeyes head coach to the table against Tennessee. His teams have enjoyed a multitude of post-season success, including a NIT championship in 2008 and four NCAA tournament appearances
The Buckeyes lack of depth and height in the post position has been offset by the implementation of the 2-3 zone. Dallas Lauderdale is the keystone to the defense and led the Big Ten in blocks this season. Keeping the big man out of foul trouble is a top priority for head coach Thad Matta and his staff.
David Lighty is a shutdown defender and often guards the team’s best small forward or shooting guard when the Buckeyes go man to man. His tenacity disrupts opposing teams offenses, causing turnovers the Buckeyes quickly turn into transition points.
Kyle Madsen, the Buckeyes back up center, has seen increased playing time since the Big Ten tournament. If Lauderdale gets into foul trouble early expect to see Madsen come in an absorb Lauderdale’s minutes. Madsen’s defense is not on the same level as Lauderdale’s, but his mid-range jumper and free throw percentage make him more of a contributor on offense for Ohio State.
Expect to see the Buckeyes fast break offense in full effect during the game against Tennessee. Ohio State is the opposite of what many think a typical Big Ten offense is. This team will run and gun with a four guard offense, and is not afraid to shoot the three.
All eyes will be on All-American Evan Turner, and that is exactly what Thad Matta wants. Ohio State’s other three guards, William Buford, David Lighty, and Jon Diebler, are all capable of taking a game over. This presents a problem for the Volunteers when matching up with the Buckeyes.
Jon Diebler has been sizzling from beyond the arc since the tournament started. He single-handedly dispatched the UCSB Gauchos in the opening round, and shelled Georgia Tech in the second round. If Diebler stays hot, Tennessee will have to direct more attention to him and off of Turner.
Scotty Hopson will be faced with the task of defending Evan Turner, but that may not be a bad thing. Turner turned the ball over nine times in the last game and eight in the first game of the tournament. Hopson is a pickpocket already; and if Turner is not more careful with the ball expect plenty of fast break points from the Volunteers.
Most of the talk about Lauderdale is about his shot blocking ability, but do not underestimate Tennessee's Wayne Chism. He leads the team with 47 blocks this season and is a true enforcer in the paint. The Buckeye guards will drive the lane at their own peril, as Chism is not afraid to put a body on someone.
Expect to see Brian Williams and Steven Pearl share time opposite of Chism. Cameron Tatum will come off the bench in support of the Volunteers at the guard position along with Melvin Goins. Tennessee, unlike Ohio State will use its bench and can go 11 deep in the line up.
The Volunteers get plenty of production out of their guards. Scotty Hopson and J.P. Prince are a potent one two punch. These two sharpshooters can score from the perimeter or drive the line. Their slashing ability opens up space in the paint for Chism and Williams to slam it home.
The Tennessee bench will provide plenty of offensive production during this game, especially in the second half as the fresh legs take on an already worn Ohio State team. In the last game against Ohio the Volunteer bench accounted for 28 of the 83 points.
The Volunteers will rely on the performances of Chism and Hopson to get them into the Elite Eight. Chism will have to out muscle Lauderdale in the post, while Hopson will need to create separation from either Turner or Lighty.
Ohio State is a constant mismatch. Not too many teams can match up with the four guards of Ohio State and still have any kind of advantage on either side of the ball. The Buckeyes may not have the height inside, but they do have plenty of speed to stretch the length of the court.
Perimeter shooting will also be key for the Buckeyes, and if Diebler gets into a rhythm it will be hard for Tennessee to stay out of his cross hairs. He is an exceptional passer and will dish the ball to either Buford on the wing or Lauderdale down low if he gets double teamed.
William Buford has been quiet so far in the tournament, and with the pressure off him and on Turner he’s gotten more confident shooting the ball. He prefers the wing when taking mid-range jumpers, but will drill a three if left open.
Buford has the ability to drive the lane if guarded too closely, giving him a special dynamic that allows him to take games over. The Volunteers will have to keep a close eye on the young sophomore, and not focus too much on Turner and Diebler.
Tennessee gets plenty of support off the bench on both sides of the court. If the Volunteers learned anything from watching Georgia Tech, it’s that Evan Turner does not like pressure bringing the ball up the court. Bruce Pearl can keep fresh legs on the court and press the Ohio State guards, making life miserable for Turner and crew.
The size difference in the paint is also something Tennessee can utilize. Georgia Tech had several mismatches it could have exploited, but got its post players got into foul trouble early. Wayne Chism, Brian Williams, Kenny Hall, and Steven Pearl can all rotate into the game creating problems down low for the Ohio State zone.
The past meetings have gotten a little chippy during the game. Both of these teams play at a high level and come into the game with equally high expectations. With tempers running hot and time running down emotions get in the way. This game will be no different, even with only a handful of players remaining from both teams that played in the 2007 game. Expect another shootout in this Sweet 16 showdown.
Prediction: Ohio State 83 Tennessee 79