Tuesday, Jun 19, 2018
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More than one reason to believe in Buckeyes

INDIANAPOLIS -- Who has the easiest job in American college sports? Barring foul trouble or injury, it might be Thad Matta. The Ohio State basketball coach has a starting 4 1/2 and a bench of one. If he produced a TV show it would be called Five and a Half Men.

So, here are five and a half reasons the 32-2 Buckeyes, the No. 1 overall seed after polishing off Penn State 71-60 yesterday to win a second straight Big Ten tournament title, can win the NCAA tournament:

1 -- Jared Sullinger is immovable on defense and unstoppable on offense. He isn't the tallest big man or the fastest big man or the big man most able to leap tall buildings. But he is the best in the college game on the low block because of his body, strength, and temperament.

"I'm trying to think where to start," Jon Diebler said of Sullinger. "I mean, what doesn't he do? Just how he affects the game without having the ball, and even when he does have the ball he draws so much attention and creates for all of us on the perimeter. He's such a force inside. And I love how he rebounds. He takes so much pride in his rebounding."

2 -- During the last 10 years, Florida in 2007 is the only NCAA championship team to shoot better than .403 from 3-point range. And those Gators didn't measure up to Ohio State's .411 season mark capped by Sunday's 7-of-16 effort against Penn State. Diebler, of course, has to be every opponent's No. 1 target, but the balance offered by William Buford, David Lighty, and even Aaron Craft makes the Buckeyes awfully tough to stop. The four of them have combined for 221 treys.

Diebler made two in a row Sunday, separated by about 20 minutes -- the first barely beat the halftime buzzer and the next, on a long clearing pass from Craft, opened the second half. They bumped a 26-23 OSU lead to 32-23, and the Bucks soon led by as many as 17.

"We were scrambling, I was right there in [Diebler's] face, and he just knocked it down," Penn State star Talor Battle said. "He gave them momentum, then he buries another one to start the second half. He can shoot. They have a lot of guys who can shoot."

3 -- The Buckeyes take a lot of 3s in transition or out of their secondary break. In their half-court sets, they often run a weave while Sullinger sets a screen to clear a side. Any of OSU's perimeter guys are just as good slashing to the basket as they are launching shots from long range.

"I think we're very hard to match up with for other defenses," Diebler said, "because we've got a lot of guys who can make a lot of plays."

4 -- No NCAA tournament winner in the last 10 years has held opponents to under 60 points a game, and the average for those teams has been 63.2. After 34 games, OSU foes are averaging 59.8 points.

"I don't think we get nearly enough credit for our defense," said Diebler, a senior from Upper Sandusky.

5 -- Other than Duke a year ago, none of the other nine most recent champions averaged fewer than 12.4 turnovers a game. The Buckeyes are averaging 10.1, which has a little something to do with their defense too. As a football coach might say, Ohio State doesn't allow opponents many short fields.

5 1/2 -- Dallas Lauderdale starts and then mostly sits after Craft enters to create a lineup that is basically four guards and Sullinger. Lauderdale, a 6-foot-8 senior, played just 24 total minutes during the Big Ten tournament but when he is fully engaged, he can be frighteningly good.

He shuts off penetration at the defensive end -- he had three blocked shots in eight first-half minutes yesterday -- and is smooth near the basket, where he scored consecutive baskets as OSU pulled away in the second half. Lauderdale is a nice safety valve for a team with depth issues.

There you have it. This is Matta's second NCAA No. 1 seed to go along with a couple No. 2s at Ohio State. He had one team reach the title game. But this is his best. We'll see if the job remains easy for another six games.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.

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