The first round matchups for schools that are seeded #1 or #2 tend to give us a glimpse at a smaller school that may not be on our radar for the other eleven months out of the year, and Ohio State’s game against the Loyola (MD) Greyhounds on Friday night is no exception. Unless you’re a diehard MAAC fan, a relative of a student, alumnus, or faculty member, or just have a passion for all things Maryland, I’m assuming you’re like me and need some more information about the Greyhounds.
Loyola University (Maryland) is located in Baltimore, was founded in 1852, and has a student population of just under 4000. To my knowledge, this will be just the Greyhounds’ second appearance in the Big Dance (1994), so with nothing to lose, they aren’t simply arriving in Pittsburgh on Thursday night to shake hands and play dead. Loyola is coming off of a four game win streak, including a solid run through the MAAC Tournament. They may need to work through the rust, as they won’t have played a game for ten full days before OSU meets them this week.
Instead of more vague facts about Loyola (Ex. – You could fit the capacity crowd from a Greyhounds’ home game inside of Value City Arena approximately nine times over), Scarlet and Game is going to give you our best breakdown of the on-court matchups that you’ll see in this game.
#1 Guard (RJ Williams vs. Aaron Craft)
RJ Williams (#12, 5’8″, 155 lbs) will have the unenviable task of bringing the ball up the court for the Greyhounds and going up against the best on-ball defender in the country, Aaron Craft. To be fair, that would be a tall order for any point guard in the nation, as Craft has been able to cause the best to look silly at times. Case in point, Trey Burke, the Big Ten’s Co-Freshman of the Year, averages 2.8 turnovers per game, but in three meetings with Craft, has turned the ball over sixteen times. What makes this individual matchup even more lopsided in OSU’s favor is the six inch height advantage that OSU’s resident Rubik’s cube expert will have over Williams.
I never thought I’d type this sentence, but Craft is averaging twice as many points per game as Williams (8.6 to 4 ppg). In fact, Aaron has RJ topped in nearly every significant category, although Williams has been better in protecting the ball than Craft, averaging only 1.5 turnovers per game. I’m going to go out on a pretty sturdy limb, however, and predict that Williams will at least double that on Thursday. This battle, without a doubt, belongs to OSU’s First Team Academic All-American, Aaron Craft.
#2 Guard (Dylon Cormier/Justin Drummond vs. Lenzelle Smith, Jr.)
Dylon Cormier (#3, 6’2″, 176 lbs) has been inconsistent in his scoring for the Greyhounds lately, but will most likely have to be a factor if the team wants to scare Ohio State on Thursday. Cormier will have the scoring advantage over Lenzelle Smith, Jr., but that shouldn’t come as a biggest surprise, since LSJ only puts up six points on about five shots per outing. Dylon may be in for a bit of a shock, however, as Lenzelle is not your typical #2 guard. Many would argue that, despite being two inches shorted than Buford, Smith is actually the #3 guard/small forward of the group.
Smith Jr., like most Matta system starters, plays a very aggressive on-ball defense, and his reach and two inch height advantage, as well as the 25 pounds that he has on Cormier, could reduce this Loyola guard’s output down from 13.1 ppg. Don’t be surprised to see Justin Drummond (#2) in this position too, as he gets almost 25 minutes on the court, and offers a bit more size (6’4″, 190 lbs). Either way, I think that Drummond + Cormier will combine for between 20 and 25 points, compared to Smith Jr.’s six to ten. This will probably be the Greyhounds’ most successful position on Thursday, so I’ll make some Baltimore natives happy and give them the edge on this one.
#3 Guard (Robert Olson vs. William Buford)
This matchup will be interesting to see, as it will have the best deep ball shooter from Loyola going heads up against Ohio State’s sharpshooter, William Buford. Robert Olson (#25, 6’4″, 191 lbs) averages just 11.2 points per game, but has attempted and made more three pointers than any other Greyhound baller on the roster. His three-ball shooting percentage is just over 44%, but he has made it easy to compare to Buford in this category, as both have amazingly attempted the same amount of threes this season (147). Of those 147, Olson has made 13 more than Buford, so it’s obvious that he should be a major concern. If there is one aspect of the game that quickly evens out a #2 versus #15 matchup, it’s having a hot shooter from behind the arc.
William Buford has been streaky for most of his senior season, but with all due respect to Olson, Willy B has been streaky against some of the best teams in the country. Olson’s four point performance against the Marist Red Foxes, by comparison, makes Buford’s four point showing against #1 seed Michigan State back in February seem a bit easier to swallow. Advantage = William Buford.
#4 Forward (Erik Etherly vs. Deshaun Thomas)
For yet another game, Deshaun Thomas will be lined up against a team’s best scoring threat. Erik Etherly (#24, 6’7″, 219 lbs) is averaging 13.5 points per performance, and has the ability to bang underneath and pop out for a mid-range jumper. Etherly also leads his team in rebounding, with just under eight boards per game, but I’m guessing that he has not faced too many offensive rebounding freaks like Thomas in his career. On top of that, it’s tough to tell if Etherly is 100% healthy, due to back related issues from carrying his team through the MAAC Tournament.
Although both players will line up equal in height, Thomas’ athletic ability should give him the advantage in this matchup. On top of that, the “X Factor” has really progressed on both ends of the court in the second half of the season, and will likely test Etherly’s defensive talents early and often. In this battle of scorers, I have to lean towards Indiana’s third leading all-time scorer in high school history, Deshaun Thomas.
#5 Forward (Shane Walker vs. Jared Sullinger)
Set up anyone against Sullinger in the paint, and few will walk away with better numbers than this Northland High School grad. Give him someone who is only averaging six rebounds per game in a mid-major conference, and Jared should eat him alive. Compound that with a loss in the Big Ten Tournament’s final game, one that obviously angered OSU’s All-American, and you have a recipe for a first round party in the paint.
Sullinger has the advantage in points, rebounds, weight, booty, and talent. Other than that, this should be a good matchup. I tried to hold back on this one and be fair, but if you saw the look on Jared’s face after the loss to Michigan State on Sunday, then you know that Shane Walker (#5, 6’10″, 222 lbs) is in for a rude awakening at approximately 9:50pm on Thursday night. Advantage = Sullinger.
Overall Prediction: Obviously, based on the matchups above, I am giving this one to the Buckeyes. There have certainly been easier #15 seeds to go against, and Loyola worries me a bit, but the Bucks’ talent should prevail in this one.
OSU 84 – Loyola (MD) 65
Topics: Aaron Craft, Deshaun Thomas, Dylon Cormier, Erik Etherly, Jared Sullinger, Justin Drummond, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Loyola (MD), NCAA Tournament, Ohio State Basketball, RJ Williams, Robert Olson, Shane Walker, William Buford