Ohio State Wants to Increase Its Tempo to Topple Virginia Tech, Advance to NIT Quarterfinals

By Andy Anders on March 23, 2024 at 7:00 am
Jake Diebler and Roddy Gayle Jr.

It’s said in the world of combat sports that styles make fights. If styles make basketball games, Ohio State should be going from an unfamiliar contest against Cornell to one it knows all too well against Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech
19 - 14
Value City Arena
Columbus, Oh

The Hokies play at a similar pace to the Buckeyes, averaging 68.8 possessions per game to OSU’s 69.1. They play with a physical presence reminiscent of Big Ten foes with balance on both ends of the floor, ranking 136th nationally in points per game and 138th in points allowed per game.

“Really good team with some experience, a lot of experience, and really well-coached,” Jake Diebler said on Friday. “Coach (Mike) Young, he does a great job. He’s built a reputation for being a great offensive mind in college basketball. They’re a really good offensive team again, and so it’s a big challenge.”

In many ways, this NIT is about building for the future in Columbus as the Buckeyes enter their first offseason under their first-time head coach. That’s why, to Diebler, the biggest key to advancing past the Hokies and into the quarterfinals of the tournament is pushing the team’s increased tempo under his leadership even faster.

“They’ll be a little more deliberate, I think, offensively than what we saw and we may not be in as many advantaged situations offensively as we were against Cornell,” Diebler said. “But we still want to make sure we are pushing the tempo and taking advantage of early-clock opportunities.

“Moving forward, that’s how we want to be and how we want to play. We want to be able to change ends, we want to be able to take advantage. Specifically in Big Ten play, it’s so hard to score going against a set Big Ten defense over and over and over again. You’ve gotta be able to push the pace and take some chances early in the clock.”

‘It’s so hard to score going against a set Big Ten defense over and over and over again. You’ve gotta be able to push the pace and take some chances early in the clock.”– Jake Diebler on establishing a fast-paced identity

The whirlwind for Diebler has slowed its swirl in the past several days.

After being named the program’s full-time leader on Sunday, he and his team found out its NIT placement that night and only got one full day of preparation before facing Cornell in the first round on Tuesday.

The Big Red came out with a unique style involving a full-court press, relentless pace and an offense centered around spacing the floor with a litany of backdoor cuts. The Buckeyes needed some last-minute heroics to pull out an 88-83 victory.

“I talked about how challenging of a team that is to prepare for such a quick turnaround, but I thought the last three, four minutes of the game, it was a great experience for us,” Diebler said. “Like we’ve been able to do here in this last month and some change, our guys stepped up. Jamison hits a big shot, we’re able to get the stop we need. I think that’s a great experience for all of us.”

Ohio State will have had four days to prepare for Virginia Tech when the two teams tip off on Saturday.

The Hokies enter Value City Arena led by guard Sam Pedulla, who averages a team-high 16.4 points and 4.5 assists per game.

Two other Virginia Tech players cross the 13-point per game threshold, those being guard Hunter Cattoor and center Lynn Kidd at 13.4 and 13.2 points a contest. Kidd also paces the squad in rebounding with 6.6 boards per game.

Those above-mentioned possession numbers place the Hokies just 267th in the country, and they’re 186th in KenPom’s opponent-adjusted tempo metric. They like to slow things down, hence Diebler’s impetus to push the pace.

“We’ve gotta run hard and we’ve gotta advance the ball up the floor and see if we can get some early paint touches, whether that’s through the post or off penetration,” Diebler said. “Try to create some rotation early. That’s what we want to do. A team like this is going to get back (in transition defense) well. You want to try to find a way to get them in rotation early in the possession rather than later in the possession.”

Projected Starting Lineup
No. Player Position Height Weight 2023-24 Stats
3 Sean Pedulla G 6-1 195 16.4 PPG, 4.5 APG
2 MJ Collins G 6-4 195 7.5 PPG, 2.7 APG
0 Hunter Cattoor G 6-3 200 13.4 PPG, 1.9 APG
31 Robbie Beran F 6-9 215 5.8 PPG, 3.9 RPG
15 Lynn Kidd C 6-10 235 13.2 PPG, 6.6 RPG

Ohio State averaged less than six fast break points per game under former head coach Chris Holtmann this season. In nine games under Diebler, they’ve racked up 11.9 fast break points per contest. 

Rotating depth to keep legs fresh will help to maintain the assault against Virginia Tech, as Ohio State has done since Diebler took over. Even without Scotty Middleton – who remains out while tending to a family matter  – 10 players saw action for the Buckeyes against the Big Red with eight playing at least 10 minutes.

Star point guard Bruce Thornton is expected to play against Virginia Tech after exiting midway through that game with an ankle sprain.

“I want to continue to utilize our depth,” Diebler said. “I think last game, we had to do a lot of teaching on the fly and you probably saw guys coming out and I’m drawing up things, trying to really teach because of the unique style that they played. So we were substituting regularly because we were making adjustments throughout the flow of the game and we had to do it quickly.”

Ohio State and Virginia Tech get underway at 7 p.m. on Saturday in Value City Arena, with ESPN+ set to stream the game.

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