Some random thoughts on Kentucky’s upcoming Sweet 16 matchup with the Ohio State Buckeyes:
I’m glad Ohio State has won its first two tourney games by a combined 61 points. I’m glad that they’ve done it while shooting 59% from the floor and a scorching 56% from behind the arc. I’m also glad the Buckeyes are a 5-point favorite in Vegas and that very few pundits are actually picking them to win this one. Long story short, this team is on fire. Kentucky has nothing to lose.
Ohio State’s epic thrashing of George Mason Sunday has observers justifiably fawning over the way OSU is playing basketball. But on closer inspection, how impressive was that win? Before Sunday’s contest (a virtual OSU home game right up the road in Cleveland), Mason had faced two teams from BCS schools all season. The first of those two games came on a neutral floor vs. NC State, who beat the Patriots by 13. The second game was the thrilling victory over Villanova in the first round, in which Mason came back from a double digit deficit. That defeat was Nova’s sixth straight and 11th in its past 15 games, a stretch of ineptitude that also included losses to the likes of lowly Providence, Rutgers and South Florida. Translation: George Mason may have been a tad bit overrated, was playing Ohio State in hostile territory and was without its starting point guard. Yes, OSU beat them by 32. But George Mason has no bearing on what Kentucky brings to the table.
After all the bad publicity the NCAA tourney selection committee got for who it chose to put in the tourney and who it did not, the real controversy is nowhere more evident than in Kentucky’s matchup with Ohio State. The Cats finished the season ranked 11th in both major polls and 7th in the RPI. They’ve now won 10 of their past 11 games, including the SEC tournament championship over (2 seeded) Florida. With John Calipari-coached teams reaching at least the Elite Eight in four of the past five seasons, including the 2008 national championship game, it’s hard to argue with this fact: Ohio State and Kentucky matching up this early in the tournament does a disservice to what both teams have earned due to their bodies of work. Taking it a step further, the BBL thinks that the Cats would be clear favorites in Vegas over 10 of the other 14 teams in the Sweet 16 (Marquette, San Diego State, Arizona, BYU, Florida, Wisconsin, Butler, Florida State, VCU, Richmond). Anyone disagree?
Sure Kentucky was fortunate to pull off close wins in its first two tourney games. But of the entire Sweet 16, the Cats have faced the fifth toughest road according to RPI rankings at season’s end. The Cats faced the 40th ranked team in Princeton and the 21st in West Virginia. That’s a combined average RPI of 30. The teams that have done better? Florida State (20), Marquette (20), Butler (15) and Arizona (20). But all four of those squads had to win upsets over higher seeded teams to do it. The Cats are rewarded for their perilous journey this Friday with a matchup against the top overall seed in the tourney. But as they say, you have to beat the best to be the best.
Despite the damage it did in the Big Ten this season, Ohio State’s overall strength of schedule this year wasn’t exactly daunting. True, OSU handily beat both Florida and Florida State—two teams that are still dancing. Those are good out of conference wins OSU can hang its hat on. Beyond that, OSU split the season series with the two indisputably toughest opponents in conference, Wisconsin and Purdue. Besides those four teams, no one else on their schedule brought comparable talent to what Kentucky will show up with Friday. In fact, in our humble opinion, the Ohio State opponent from this year that most resembles Kentucky is probably Penn State. The Nittany Lions boasted an athletic, good shooting perimeter and some long, rangy bigs who could block shots. No, PSU doesn’t have quite the same caliber of talent as UK, but the personnel attributes are similar. Not surprisingly, Penn State’s length and outside shooting gave OSU some trouble. But the Buckeyes beat them three times.
For all the talk about OSU’s veteran lineup and UK’s inexperience, the two teams are actually quite similar in age and experience. UK, as we know, plays seven guys (if you count Eloy Vargas). Of the seven, three freshmen, three juniors and one senior get significant minutes. As for OSU, they also play seven guys. Their rotation consists of three freshmen, two juniors and two seniors. The primary difference is that a larger percentage (60%) of UK’s total points come from its freshmen than that of Ohio State (41%). But from a minutes-on-the-floor perspective, both teams rely heavily on freshmen while getting healthy contributions from savvy, more experienced upperclassmen. Don’t let the media slant fool you.
All in all, the Cats will have their hands full with this Ohio State team. All these trends and numbers will mean nothing come Friday.go back