Sweet Sixteen: #1 OSU vs. #5 Tennessee

By Chris Lauderback on March 21, 2007 at 10:47 pm
lewisconley.jpgLewis and Conley saved the season vs. X
Ohio State Buckeyes
#1 Ohio State
32-3, 15-1 Big Ten
Roster | Schedule

9:57 PM ET
San Antonio, TX
Tennessee Volunteers
#5 Tennessee
24-10, 10-6 SEC
Roster | Schedule

Opponent: It seems everybody's picking Tennessee to upset Ohio State. The fact that OSU beat the Vols 68-66 to spark their current 19 game winning streak back in January appears lost in the glory that is Tennessee's first two tournament games. The Vols' offense exploded for 121 points in a 35 point pistol-whipping of 12 seed Long Beach State in the first round as Sweaty Bruce Pearl's squad hit 14 triples (14-27), shot 59% overall and committed just 6 turnovers. The LBC domination was followed by a gutty 77-74 win over #4 Virginia as the Vols were again smokin' from deep, hitting 42% of their triple tries (11-26) to overcome 16 turnovers mostly in a sloppy first half. On the season, UT has solid wins against Memphis and Texas but they are definitely susceptible to getting killed on the boards and their 65% shooting from the line is equally concerning if you's a Vol fan. That said, the bottom line is that these guys are a little on the small side but they can be crazy explosive on offense and defense. Their full court press produced 20 OSU turnovers until Matta finally got the idea of using Oden to break the press by receiving the inbounds pass via a foul line lob. The press only trapped in the corners, but the OSU guards couldn't solve it on their own as Mike Conley had a season high 5 turnovers (Butler 4, Cook 3, Lewis 2). How well the Buckeyes handle the press and control the tempo will likely determine which team advances to the Elite Eight.

Key Players: SEC Player of the Year Chris Lofton is one of the nation's best in the backcourt. On the season, he's averaging 20.7 points per game and hit for 25 and 20 in the first two tourney games. Lofton shot just 4-16 against UVA but hit 9-10 free throws including 6-6 in the last 19 seconds to preserve the win on the heels of a 9-14 shooting night (4-8) against Long Beach. Lofton is part of a solid three guard set that includes 6'2" junior JaJuan Smith (15.3 ppg) and 6'2" freshman Ramar Smith (10.6 ppg). 6'4" Dane Bradshaw is a glue guy that scores 5.6 points per game while 6'9" Wayne Chism (9.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and 6'7" Duke Crews (8.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg) serve as the primary threats down low. 6'9" Ryan Childress (5.4ppg, 4.0rpg) will also take a few turns on Oden. While size is a bit of concern for the Vols they are incredibly athletic.

Notes: Reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2000, the Vols are riding an emotional high that started with the terrific hire of Pearl. The guy strikes me as a bit of a grand-stander but you can't argue with the success he's had in turning around a program that made him their 6th coaching hire in the 16 seasons. He restored excitement and enthusiasm in UT basketball in much the same way as Thad Matta did for the Buckeyes. The main difference is that Pearl must have instituted a mandatory headband rule. Pearl was on PTI Tuesday night and pulled a Holtz by telling Kornheiser that he thought OSU had improved more since the first meeting of the two teams.

Buckeye Breakdown: Like I said, this game breaks down quite simply for Ohio State. If they can handle the press and control the tempo by forcing it inside to Oden, they'll win. If they turn it over 16+ times resulting in an up tempo game allowing Lofton and company to get wide open looks in transition, they'll lose. Luckily, that's exactly why I think OSU will come out victorious. Oden is looking to make a statement after a poor second half against X that was magnified by the hard foul earning him some negative hype from the media. The big man burned UT for 24 points in 15 rebounds earlier this season and the same production should be expected in the rematch. As for the press breaker, the Vols deserve credit for the defensive effort they put forth in January. That said, I find it hard to believe that Mike Conley and Jamar Butler will crap their pants again nor do I think Matta will be foolish enough not to use Oden if the guards can't break the press on their own.

Key Players: What can you say about Ron Lewis? Watching him drain the three that forced OT against Xavier right in the middle the sportsbook of the Imperial Palace with a group of diehard Buckeyes who all had some jack on the line was as good as it gets. Ron Ron has been a force averaging 17 points in his last 6 games while reaching double figures in 9 of 10. Look for Lewis to stay aggressive by driving the lane looking for layups or trips to the line. OSU shot 18-20 from the stripe in the first matchup and a half court game could produce the same number of chances from the line. While the most important task for Conley will be to break the press, the Buckeyes will need him to have another solid offensive game. With Daequan regressing into a virtually untrustable (is that a word?) player, OSU will need some points from Conley especially if Lewis or Butler have an off night. I mean, can Matta really afford to put Lazy-Quan in the game against a team that wants to pressure the ball and force a run and gun game? Three months ago, I'd say this is a matchup that is built for Daequan but the kid has simply refused to play smart or with any intensity for the better part of the season. Maybe he'll surprise us after that big three against X. (You know, the one were he held his shooting hand in the air for about 15 seconds after making his first shot (1-7) of the game.)

Notes: Wonk likes the Buckeyes...Pat Forde of the WorldWide Leader breaks down Matta's superstitious ways...