Ohio State's strengths, weaknesses and players to watch
All statistics courtesy of KenPom.com and are current as of March 30.
Team: Ohio State
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 2
In terms of balance offensively and defensively, there's been no NCAA team better this year than Ohio State.
The Buckeyes rank second in adjusted defensive efficiency and seventh in offensive adjusted efficiency — the only team in the nation to be ranked in the top 10 in both.
Defensively, Ohio State is one of the best in the country at limiting second-chance points. The Buckeyes grab 75 of the available defensive rebounds (second nationally) while also thriving in almost every other statistic.
Ohio State forces lots of turnovers (22 percent of possessions, 60th nationally) and also makes it tough inside, where opponents shoot just 45 percent (63rd nationally). Coach Thad Matta also stresses playing defense without fouling, and that shows up in the stats, as the Buckeyes allow just 15.4 free throws per game while playing the nation's 69th-fastest pace.
Offensively, Ohio State's strength also is inside. The Buckeyes make 53 percent of their twos (11th nationally) while also grabbing 36 percent of the available offensive rebounds (33rd nationally). Ohio State rarely turns it over giving it away on just 18 percent of its possessions (30th nationally).
Ohio State's biggest weakness is three-point shooting ... but even that is deceptive.
The Buckeyes have made just 33 percent of their three-pointers this year (223rd nationally), yet each of their five starters are shooting at least 34 percent from three.
This statistic is only possible because Ohio State's bench has been awful from three-point range. If you combine the Buckeyes' eight bench players, they've made just 18 of 92 threes this year (20 percent).
So if you see someone at the scorer's table for the Buckeyes, odds are he's not a threat to hit a three.
Defensively, Ohio State also isn't as strong at defending the three as it is in other areas. Opponents have made 33 percent of their threes this year (87th nationally), but perhaps the more frightening number for the Buckeyes are the high number of three-point attempts they allow.
Exactly 35.4 percent of opponents' field-goal attempts have been threes, while 31 percent of opponents' points have come from behind the three-point line (65th-highest split nationally).
KU isn't a great three-point shooting team, but the numbers suggest that the Jayhawks should have opportunities for open shots from the outside if they want to try their luck.
Like KU, Ohio State also has a very limited bench. Just 24 percent of the Buckeyes' minutes come from their bench (303rd nationally), which is only slightly higher than KU's numbers (23 percent, 309th nationally).
Players to Watch
Six-foot-9 forward Jared Sullinger is one of the best players in the country, ranking third in KenPom's player-of-the-year ranking (behind only Michigan State's Draymond Green and Kansas' Thomas Robinson).
The sophomore Sullinger shoots it well from everywhere, making 54 percent of his twos (207 of 382), 42 percent of his threes (16 of 38) and 77 percent of his free throws (172 of 224). He also draws 6.2 whistles per 40 minutes (52nd nationally), meaning those guarding him have to be wary of foul trouble.
Sullinger is Ohio State's best rebounder on both ends, grabbing 24 percent of the available defensive rebounds (38th nationally) and 12 percent of the available offensive rebounds (113th nationally).
He's no slouch as an on-ball defender, either, blocking 4 percent of opponents' two-point attempts (296th nationally).
Deshaun Thomas is Ohio State's next-best offensive weapon and shoots it nearly as much as Sullinger (taking 26.5 percent of his team's shots when he's in compared to Sullinger's 27.3 percent). The 6-7 forward Thomas can stretch the defense and is a great shooter, making 61 percent of his twos (191 of 315), 36 percent of his threes (49 of 138) and 74 percent of his free throws (81 of 109). He also has an extremely low turnover rate, giving it away on just 10 percent of the possessions he ends (37th nationally). He likes to get to the offensive glass as well, grabbing 10 percent of the available caroms on that end (348th nationally). In this year's NCAA Tournament, Thomas has averaged 22 points and nine rebounds per game.
Six-foot-6 sophomore William Buford also shoots a lot of shots (26.2 percent of team's attempts), but he's much less efficient than Sullinger and Thomas. Part of that is because he's more turnover-prone, and part of it is that his two-point percentage — at 45 percent (140 of 311) — is about three percent lower than the NCAA average. Buford can shoot well elsewhere, making 35 percent of his threes (59 of 168) and 83 percent of his free throws (90 of 109).
Point guard Aaron Craft isn't a huge contributor offensively, but he might be the best defensive player in the nation.
KU coach Bill Self has said the 6-2 guard has the best hands defensively in college basketball, and that shows up statistically, as he grabs a steal on five percent of the defensive possessions he's in (12th nationally). His defensive impact is probably even greater than that, as his pesky nature oftentimes forces illegal screen calls or creates steals that he isn't given credit for in the box score. Offensively, Craft is a distributor, dishing out 25 percent of his team's assists while he's in the game (235 nationally). Though he only shoots 13 percent of his team's shots while he's in, that doesn't mean teams can go without guarding him, as he's made 57 percent of his twos (90 of 158) and 34 percent of his threes (21 of 61) this year.
Much like the North Carolina game, KU will face a team in Ohio State that gets almost all its scoring from two-pointers (59 percent, 18th nationally). This would normally be an advantage for KU, which boasts the nation's best two-point percentage defense (40 percent).
The problem for KU is this is the matchup that has given it the most troubles defensively this year, as Ohio State plays a "stretch 4" in Thomas — the same type of player that Thomas Robinson has struggled guarding all year.
If Robinson can't handle Thomas (and he couldn't in the teams' first game in Lawrence in December; Kevin Young was switched to him in the second half), the whole lineup for KU starts to disintegrate.
Robinson is not quick enough to guard Buford, and leaving defensive specialist Jeff Withey on Sullinger seems like the best matchup, leaving KU few options.
Playing a Triangle-and-2 will be difficult when Ohio State has its starters on the floor, as the defense requires one awful outside shooter to be out there, and each of the Buckeyes' starting five can hit a three if left open.
It should all make for an interesting chess match between Self and Ohio State coach Thad Matta. Basically, though, everything becomes much easier for KU if Robinson is somehow able to stay on Thomas to allow KU to keep the rest of its defensive matchups.
Beyond that, it will be important for Withey to stay out of foul trouble, as KU has no other great options for Sullinger should Withey be forced to the bench.
Defensive rebounding will also be key for KU.
If Robinson is guarding Thomas, he most likely will be pulled away from the basket, meaning players like Withey and Travis Releford need to pick up the slack on the defensive glass against one of the best offensive rebounding teams in America.
Offensively, KU will need to try its best to limit turnovers. Craft is the only Ohio State player who ranks in the top 500 in steal percentage, meaning if a turnover is forced, most likely he's the one creating it. Craft will be matched up on Tyshawn Taylor, though the Ohio State guard has been outstanding this season at forcing turnovers while playing help defense as well. Because the Buckeyes do such a great job of limiting opponents' second-chance points, the Jayhawks' ability (or inability) to avoid turnovers should be magnified in this game.
Finally, because KU is a slight underdog against a team that doesn't foul often, shooting a few extra three-pointers might not be a bad way to go. KU has made just 24 percent of their threes in the NCAA Tournament, but Ohio State's defense appears to be prone to giving up the outside shot. In the teams' first matchup, KU was 9-for-17 from three (53 percent), which included a 5-for-7 performance from Johnson.
Putting up a three-point shot would at least give KU the chance for a high reward (three points) while also presenting a small opportunity for an offensive rebound if the shot is missed.
Against one of the nation's top defenses — and one that forces a lot of turnovers — KU certainly could do much worse than getting an opportunity at three points each possession.