Georgia’s Scoring Depth Presents Threat to Ohio State in NIT Quarterfinals Despite Lackluster Offensive Output

By Andy Anders on March 26, 2024 at 7:00 am
Noah Thomasson
Andrew Nelles/ The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network

As long as there are games and championships to be won, Jake Diebler says he and his team will stay motivated.

19 - 16
Value City Arena
Columbus, Oh
ESPNOSu -8.5

With each of its wins, Ohio State inches closer to a prize of dubious notoriety, an NIT tournament title. One foe stands between Ohio State and a date in Indianapolis’ Hinkle Fieldhouse for the semifinals of college basketball’s second-most prestigious postseason crown.

Fourth-seeded Georgia, who has climbed past fifth-seeded Xavier and top-seeded Wake Forest to arrive at Value City Arena on Tuesday, will square off with Diebler’s second-seeded crew.

“I think the metrics would back this up, the last five to six weeks, we’ve been one of the better teams in the country,” Diebler said. “I love the way we’ve played. We felt like we had put ourselves in the conversation to be in the NCAA Tournament. That’s where we wanted to be, that’s where we were fighting to get to. But we’ve also had an opportunity here in the NIT to show, again, that we’re playing some of the best ball in the country. ... We’re embracing the opportunity in front of us.”

Georgia enters with a 19-16 record three games worse than Ohio State’s 22-13 mark on the year, and the Bulldogs came into the NIT losing five of their previous eight matchups. Two of their usual starters are out with injury.

Diebler isn’t discounting the “versatile” nature of Georgia’s offense under coach Mike White, however, especially with a trip to Indianapolis at stake.

“I think with Georgia, there’s a great deal of versatility from a scoring standpoint on their roster,” Diebler said. “You look and they’ve got seven guys who are (at) seven points or more (per game) on the season. He’s a good coach, they’ve got great players, we’ve gotta have a great day of practice to get ready.”

It’s hard to tell where the biggest threats will come from in Georgia’s offense.

As Diebler stated, seven different Bulldogs average at least seven points per game, with five that score nine or more but none that clear the 13-point-per-contest threshold.

Of those seven players, six are listed as guards. Senior Noah Thomasson paces the Bulldogs with 12.9 points per game. It does hurt that the team's second-leading scorer, fellow senior guard Jabri Abdur-Rahim, has been out with an ankle injury.

Starting center Russel Tchewa also missed the Wake Forest game with an illness, and his status for Tuesday is unclear.

White has made a habit of cultivating good backcourts, Diebler said. He produced a first-round draft pick at guard in Tre Mann while at Florida in 2021.

"I have a ton of respect for Coach White going back to when we were in the SEC together," Diebler said. "I think he’s a really good coach. His teams play tough and he’s usually had some really good guard play, you can go back and look at his time at Florida."

The scoring depth on Georgia’s roster helps make up for lackluster overall numbers. The Bulldogs are 142nd nationally with 74.8 points per game and 188th with 105.8 points per 100 possessions. They rank 256th and 220th in the same two categories for points allowed on the defensive side.

Projected Starting Lineup
No. Player Position Height Weight 2023-24 Stats
4 Silas Demary Jr. G 6-5 190 9.6 PPG, 2.5 APG
3 Noah Thomasson G 6-3 210 12.9 PPG, 1.7 APG
0 Blue Cain G 6-5 194 7.3 PPG, 2.4 RPG
13 Dylan James F 6-9 207 4.2 PPG, 2.7 RPG
54 Russel Tchewa C 7-0 275 7.8 PPG, 6.6 RPG

Ohio State’s path to the NIT quarterfinals has been rocky at times. Getting just one full day of preparation between a Sunday night selection to play Cornell in the first round and a Tuesday tilt, the Buckeyes required some last-minute heroics to nudge past a Big Red squad featuring a fast-paced unique style.

Thirty-two total fouls were called in an ugly second half between Ohio State and Virginia Tech, but a 29-of-32 night from the free-throw line helped Ohio State hold a 10-point halftime lead throughout the final 20 minutes despite it being cut as low as three in an 81-73 victory.

“I think the quick turnaround, the ‘Win or go home’ element of the game, all that stuff plays a factor (in the games being close),” Diebler said. “But most importantly, it’s good teams (we’re playing) and what have been good, veteran teams and well-coached teams. I think that’s probably the biggest reason.”

Ohio State also faces some availability question marks entering Tuesday’s game.

Middleton missed both NIT games to date while tending to an undisclosed family matter, and though he rejoined the team over the weekend, Diebler said that he’s still “processing” what happened.

Thornton, the Buckeyes’ leader in points and assists per game with 15.8 and 4.6, took a knee to the thigh in the final few minutes against Virginia Tech and missed the rest of the action. That ailment is still being evaluated, Diebler said. Thornton also missed the final 10 minutes of the Cornell game after spraining his ankle.

One thing going in Ohio State’s favor will be a home crowd that proved raucous against the Hokies. The Buckeyes are 15-4 in the Schottenstein Center this season and 5-0 under Diebler.

“The atmosphere has been awesome. Awesome,” Diebler said. “Buckeye Nation has been incredible. The NutHouse has been there. We’ve felt the presence of our fans in both of these NIT games and it’s helped us, particularly down the stretch. So going into the game, it wasn’t necessarily rooting for one game over the other because they’re both really good teams, but we certainly welcome the opportunity to be in the Schott and thankful we get to do that one more time.”

All the while, the corner of Diebler’s eye is on the future after he was named Ohio State’s full-time head coach just nine days ago. The last time the Buckeyes won the NIT in 2008, they reached the NCAA Tournament in each of the following seven seasons.

“I think if you look at the history of Ohio State basketball, you’ve seen an NIT run impact (the future),” Diebler said. “We’ll see, ultimately, how impactful that can be. Time will tell there. But there’s a history here of teams that have done that and it’s gone on to provide some momentum. ... We’re not doing this because of that, we’re doing this because of the guys we have here. But we’ll certainly welcome as much momentum as we can get moving forward.”

Ohio State and Georgia tip off at 7 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN.

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