Will Koufos repeat his NIT success?
OPPONENT: UNC Asheville is the first Big South team to be invited to the NIT and they are thrilled to be here, even holding a NIT selection party at the local Wild Wings Cafe. They seem to be experienced and take good care of the rock, winning a share of the regular season title and losing to Winthrop in the tournament final.
The Bulldogs come in with a 23-9 record, 10-4 in Big South play and score 75.4 points a game. On the season they shot 48.7 percent from the floor and 36 percent from threeland. As mentioned their assists (17.4) to turnover (13.3) ratio is outstanding and their rebounding is just as good, with six players grabbing more than 4 a game and 36.8 as a team.
KEY PLAYERS: The Bulldogs feature five players in double digits, all juniors or seniors. Bryan Smithson is a 6'0" senior who leads this team in scoring at 16.4 a game to go along with 4.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists. KJ Garland, a 6'1" senior, scores 13.4 points, grabs 4.4 boards and leads the team in assists with 5.9 per game.
Kenny George is the 7'7" junior who literally doesn't leave the floor to dunk the basketball. George scores 12.4 points a game in just over 19 lumbering minutes and leads the nation in shooting at 69 percent. He also ranks eighth nationally with 3.4 blocks a game.
Vincent James and Reid Augst are the others in double figures, scoring 10.6 and 10.3 respectively. James is a 6'7" senior who also grabs 4.6 caroms and dishes out 1.5 assists per game. Augst, a 6'6" junior averages 4.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. John Williams, a 6'4" freshman chips in with 6.5 points and 6'6" sophomore Sean Smith will help out with 5.1 points per game.
NOTES: UNC-Asheville lost at North Carolina (93-81) and at Tennessee (86-73)... The Bulldogs are coached by Eddie Beidenbach in his 12th season... UNC-Asheville has an enrollment of 3500... They averaged less than 1100 fans per home game.
BUCKEYE BREAKDOWN: I actually like the fact Ohio State received the NIT bid. This young team needs to gain valuable tournament experience going into next year. I know the NIT is second tiered talent, but that is what OSU seemed to be all year and I will take the extra practice versus a NCAA first round loss.
However, if OSU takes on any type of sulking attitude towards this game, they could suffer a dreaded NIT first round embarrassment. The Bulldogs are excited to play a major conference team and Ohio State needs to match their opening intensity. It is no secret this nucleus of young players must get stronger on the inside and handling the ball, so a run through this tournament can help develop the much needed toughness.
KEY PLAYERS: I think I just expected too much from this team. I should have realized after the exhibition loss to Findlay that the early exit of Michael Conley was going to have a crippling effect. Jamar Butler simply is not a floor general and was hurt most by Conley's departure. While Butler did lead OSU in scoring this year, his shot selection, lack of offensive imagination and untimely turnovers really hurt this team. He will go down as one of the best guards statistically at Ohio State, but I think his play tonight may help define his legacy. He can not let this team have a one and done in this tournament.
Kosta Koufos could have a big game tonight. Koufos will force Andre the Giant to guard him on the perimeter, which will open his driving game and he should be able to beat his defender down the floor to get some early touches and baskets. Kosta has been coming off the bench recently and was a beast early against Michigan State, but once again his teammates stopped feeding him the ball and he became a non-factor.
I really like the recent development of David Lighty and see him separating himself as the next leader of this team. His defense has always been solid and again, offensive expectations were a bit high, but he is scoring over 10 points a game the last three and his slashing has opened up different opportunities for the sometimes futile offense.
The combination of David Lighty, Evan Turner and William Buford is going to be sick next year. Turner has preformed well this season and while his trouble with turnovers have plagued him, his defense probably doesn't get enough credit.
Othello Hunter has scored double digits in three straight and should be able to continue that trend tonight. Beyond Paul Bunyan, UNC-Asheville is not that tall and Hunter will be much faster getting up and down the court. Fellow senior Matt Turwilliger has been playing some good defensive minutes lately, but I'm excited to see Dallas Lauderdale get his minutes next year.
The NIT is also a perfect setting for Jon Diebler to gain some confidence after a tough freshman season. Division II basketball in Ohio is obviously no training ground for Big Ten hoops. Diebler would be smart to take a page from Lighty and Turner's playbook and drive the ball every so often. He played a season low 4 minutes against MSU and looks as if all faith in his shot is gone.
NOTES: If for no other reason, OSU needs a win tonight to get Thad his 20th victory and keep his streak alive... OSU is 4-7 in their last 11 games... The Buckeyes lost to Georgia Tech, 72-58 in their last NIT appearance back in 2003...