Will Ohio State limit KU's easy baskets?
Team: Ohio State
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 9
• Taking care of the basketball: Ohio State gets a shot on almost every possession. The Buckeyes have turned it over on just 15.4 percent of their possessions, which is fifth nationally. This has been a staple of Thad Matta's teams at OSU, as the Buckeyes have ranked in the top 30 in offensive turnover percentage in each of their last three seasons. In addition, opponents have only registered steals on 5.6 percent of the Buckeyes' possessions (third nationally).
• Rebounding: Ohio State isn't a huge team inside, ranking 102nd in KenPom's effective height measure that takes into account the top two players' heights on the floor, but the Buckeyes still have been dominant on the boards. OSU has grabbed 72.3 percent of the available defensive rebounds (38th nationally) and also 37.3 percent of the available offensive rebounds (52nd nationally). Six-foot-8 senior forward Evan Ravenel is OSU's best rebounder, ranking in the top 365 nationally in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. He gets plenty of help, though, as even a guy like 6-2 point guard Aaron Craft averages 3.1 rebounds per game.
• Interior defense: Much like KU, Ohio State's defense is strong in the paint, as opponents have made just 40.8 percent of their twos against the Buckeyes (24th nationally). Part of the reason for this is getting back on defense; according to Hoop-Math.com, only 27 percent of opponents' shots come on layups/dunks/tip-ins (NCAA average is 34 percent). OSU also forces a high number of two-point jump shots from opponents (36 percent; NCAA average is 33 percent) while limiting opponents to 30-percent shooting on those jumpers (NCAA average is 35 percent). The Buckeyes also thrive at blocking two-point jumpers, rejecting 11 percent of those shots. Six-foot-7 sophomore Sam Thompson and 6-11 reserve Amir Williams are OSU's two best shot-blockers inside.
• Three-point defense: If there's a weakness in Ohio State's defense, it's that the Buckeyes surrender too many three-pointers. So far, 35.7 percent of opponents' shots have been three-pointers, which is the 251st-lowest split nationally. Also, 30.4 percent of the points against OSU this year have come from threes (89th-highest split nationally). Teams haven't shot overwhelmingly well from three against OSU (30.7 percent) but that might be more of a product of the teams OSU has played.
• Soft schedule: Through 10 games, Ohio State has only played one team in KenPom's top 100. To compare, seven of the 10 teams KU has played so far ranks in the KenPom top 100 (Michigan State, Washington State, Saint Louis, Oregon State, Colorado, Belmont, Richmond). Ohio State did lose its only game against a top-100 foe, but, to be fair, a 73-68 road loss at AP No. 1 Duke can definitely be forgiven. Take out that Duke game, and OSU has had no game that has been within single digits and only four games that it's won by a margin between 10-19 points. Give credit to the Buckeyes for dominating inferior opponents, but there still has to be some question about how the team will perform against upper-level competition.
• Getting to the free throw line: Ohio State's free-throw rate (a team's rate of free throws shot compared to its field goals) is much lower than you'd expect for a team that has played a soft schedule. OSU ranks 143rd in the stat while averaging 21.7 free throws per game. That might sound like a lot of free throws, but remember, the Buckeyes get a lot of shots up. They don't turn the ball over much and are strong on the offensive glass, meaning that free throw count is relatively low compared to the field goals they have attempted (591).
3 Players to Watch
• Six-foot-7 junior Deshaun Thomas (No. 1) has become Ohio State's unquestioned go-to guy offensively and could be in line for All-America honors at the end of the year. He takes on a huge offensive load for the Buckeyes, attempting 34.2 percent of their shots when he's on the floor (12th nationally). He's efficient with those attempts as well, making 40.9 percent of his threes (27 of 66) and 49.5 percent of his twos (46 of 93). Thomas doesn't get to the free throw line often, but he helps his productivity by almost never turning it over. He has the 40th-best turnover rate in the nation, giving it away just 13 times all season. Thomas also is a solid rebounder, ranking second among OSU's rotation players in defensive rebounding percentage.
Thomas isn't without weaknesses, though. He's not a great defender, and some analysts believe a good way to slow him offensively is to make him work hard defensively. Thomas also has a tendency to fall in love with two-point jumpers even though that's not where he's at his best. According to Hoop-Math, 43 percent of his shots this year have been two-point jumpers, and while shooting 39 percent from that range is a good percentage (35 percent is NCAA average), it's not elite. To compare, former KU forward Marcus Morris shot 52 percent on two-point jumpers during his final college season in 2010-11.
• I love the 2012-13 College Basketball Prospectus description of six-foot-2 junior point guard Aaron Craft (No. 4), as the preseason magazine said he "is something of the Derek Jeter of college basketball, in that he’s the most overrated and underrated player in Division I." Your opinion of Craft likely is based on how closely you watch him, as his stats are nothing special, but his defense still appears from the eye test to be extremely valuable. Craft is probably the nation's best on-ball defender, always staying close to his man while also drawing plenty of offensive foul and illegal screen calls. His steal percentage is down this year after ranking in the top 35 nationally in each of the last two years, but recent charting by SI.com's Luke Winn still indicates he's forcing quite a few "uncredited" turnovers.
Offensively, Craft's best skill is passing; he's second on the team in assist rate and is especially dangerous on kickouts following drives. KU would be best to not help on his drives while daring him to shoot. He's made just 40 percent of his twos and 33 percent of his threes this year while only taking 16.9 percent of OSU's shots while he's in.
• Six-foot-4 junior guard Lenzelle Smith (No. 32) is the other player, along with Thomas, that has the potential to beat KU on the perimeter. He's made 49 percent of his threes (19 of 39) while ranking in the top 130 nationally in effective field goal percentage. Like Thomas, he almost never turns it over, posting the nation's 32nd-best turnover rate. Even with his efficient numbers, Smith isn't always aggressive, attempting just 20.8 percent of his team's shots while he's on the floor.
Here's what would scare me about this game if I was KU: I don't think the Jayhawks will get their normal easy points in transition.
As I mentioned in a blog earlier this week, KU has been thriving offensively by getting lots of easy baskets.
I don't expect Ohio State to give many of those up Saturday, partly because OSU doesn't allow teams to get steals, which is the best way for the Jayhawks to get out and run.
I like KU coach Bill Self deciding to put Travis Releford on Deshaun Thomas defensively. To me, this signifies that Self is going to force Thomas into guarded twos rather than open threes, which percentage-wise is the best way to go.
There's still reason for KU to worry because of Ohio State's quick guards. Craft and sophomore guard Shannon Scott (19th nationally in assist percentage) have been effective this year at driving then passing to open shooters. If KU overhelps defensively, Ohio State will have plenty of chances at shots from the perimeter (and away from the long reach of Withey).
In the end, this is two evenly matched teams playing at OSU's home gym. At Allen Fieldhouse, I'd take KU. On a neutral floor, I'd still like KU's chances.
In Columbus, I'll go with the Buckeyes pulling away late.
Ohio State 69, Kansas 63
Hawk to Rock
He's the only non-senior in KU's starting lineup, but I don't think the road atmosphere will affect the Jayhawks' Ben McLemore at all. The Jayhawks will need some half-court scoring against the Buckeyes, and I expect that McLemore will provide that on the interior and perimeter. Put me down for a 20-plus-point game from the future lottery pick.
10-0 record, 155 points off (15.5 points off/game)
Hawk to Rock
SE Missouri: Perry Ellis (2nd in KUsports.com ratings)
Michigan State: Jeff Withey (4th)
Chattanooga: Andrew White III (10th)
Washington State: Ben McLemore (4th)
Saint Louis: Perry Ellis (7th)
San Jose State: Travis Releford (2nd)
Oregon State: Jeff Withey (2nd)
Colorado: Elijah Johnson (4th)
Belmont: Kevin Young (6th)
Richmond: Jeff Withey (1st)
Average: 4.2nd in KUsports.com ratings