NCAA Tournament: Ohio State vs. Gonzaga Preview


A funny thing happened last night when watching the #7 Gonzaga versus #10 West Virginia game.  I began the game rooting for Gonzaga, with a seemingly obvious method behind the madness of hoping your team plays against the higher ranked potential opponent.  The bottom line WAS that WVU was a very physical team, and would match up well with OSU and Sullinger underneath, thus making for a scary game in the Round of 32.

And then the game got going, Gonzaga punched the Mountaineers in the mouth (metaphorically, for the most part), and never let up.  The Bulldogs were anything but the team that I was expecting to see on the court.  They played very physically in the paint, and were incredibly accurate when shooting the ball anywhere on the court.

So, like I said, a funny thing happened when watching this game, as I did an about-face and began rooting for WVU.  All of the sudden, a team with some athleticism in the frontcourt wasn’t quite as scary as a team that had that along with a deadly accurate shooting percentage.  Now that I’ve had a chance to watch the Bulldogs spank a Big East team to the tune of 23 points, it’s time to compare their starting five to ours and see how we line up..

#1 Guard (Kevin Pangos vs. Aaron Craft)

Kevin Pangos (#4, 6’1″, 180 lbs) is a sharpshooting, freshman guard for the Bulldogs who averages over 13 points and 3.4 assists per outing.  He can be a bit of a streaky scorer, finishing games with anywhere from 4 points to 33 points.  On the year, he is shooting over 40% from behind the arc, and almost 44% from the field.  He will, almost certainly, outscore Aaron Craft in this matchup.  However, the real battle will be in ball protection, as Pangos has turned the ball over 4 or 5 times in his matchups against solid, athletic defenses like Xavier and Michigan State, who line up similarly to OSU.

Ohio State could possibly benefit from a team coming off of a hot shooting performance (bear with me on this), as they may be more apt to force longer, outside shots early in the game instead of working their offense and looking for good, open shots.  Either way, this will be a very good matchup, and it will be interesting to see how the young point guard adjusts to having a hand in his face and slapping at the basketball at all time.  I’m going to give the edge to Aaron Craft in this one, based on his defensive prowess alone, as I think Pangos will struggle initially with the pressure.

#2 Guard (Gary Bell, Jr. vs. Lenzelle Smith, Jr.)

In a battle between people that share their father’s names, I think that the opposing styles of these players make this a difficult matchup to predict.  Smith, Jr. will likely outrebound Bell, Jr. by 3 or 4, but should lose the point battle by about the same margin.  GBJ doesn’t exactly go crazy behind the arc, firing up shot after shot, but he is the team’s most efficient deep shooter, and usually knocks down 2 or 3 per game (47%).  This won’t be the most anticipated rivalry in the game, but I’m looking forward to seeing if LSJ’s performance on the glass yesterday will give him the confidence to be a bit more aggressive offensively agaisnt the Bulldogs.  I’m going to stretch just a bit and say that LSJ will outplay GBJ in this battle of the often overlooked starters.  GBJ will not get the 14 points that he had against WVU, instead I think he will end with around 8-9 points, to LSJ’s 6.

#3 Forward/Guard (Guy Landry Edi vs. William Buford)

If you’re waiting for William Buford’s break out, dominating performance where he puts up 25+ points…this isn’t it.  Guy Landry Edi will keep Buford at or around 14-15 points, while scoring 8 or 9 himself.  Size-wise, these two are nearly identical, lining up at 6’6″ and roughly 220 lbs each.  I want to give you some deep, bold prediction, but the bottom line is that both players will be efficient and not overly exciting.  Buford will hit his shots quietly, and will win this position battle.  The end.

#4 Forward (Elias Harris/Sam Dower vs. Deshaun Thomas)

Now we’re getting into the interesting matchups…  Thomas will likely get to see a good deal of Elias Harris, as well as Sam Dower.  Dower and Harris combine for roughly 21 points per game for the Dogs, and will both have a slight size advantage on the scoring machine, Deshaun Thomas.  However, what Thomas lacks in weight or height against the two (gives up about 20 lbs and 2″ to Dower – no Jeremy Lin jokes, Whitlock), he makes up for in pure scoring ability.  My biggest concern for this matchup is that Gonzaga will use this size to bully Thomas and try to get him into foul trouble.  This has not worked so far this season, as Deshaun simply avoids foul trouble like the plague, but the Zags are an intelligent team and will play to their opponents weaknesses.  For OSU, bench scoring is a significant weakness, and having Thomas on the bench due to fouls would be bad…very bad.

I think Deshaun continues his streaks of solid defense and finding the basket on offense and wins this battle against Gonzaga’s forward duo.

#5 Center/Forward (Robert Sacre vs. Jared Sullinger)

Ah, yes.  Now we’ve reached the big one.  The heavily tatted, giant, senior leader for the Bulldogs against the All-American power forward from Columbus.  Forget the other matchups for a minute, because this was is the key.  Robert Sacre looks like a character out of a fighting video game.  His combination of athletic frame, numerous tattoos, bald head, and overall size make for an ideal basketball intimidator.  His leadership on and off the court (he was responsible for getting his teammates on board with the aggressive, in-your-face style that they used against West Virginia) is also a tremendous asset for his game.

Sacre will not outscore Sullinger, nor will he outrebound him.  The true battle lies in his ability to get under Jared’s skin with constant pressure and the ability to get OSU’s big man into foul trouble.  I have no doubt that Sacre will be coming directly at Sully, so keeping composure, playing his game, and relying on his teammates’ help, instead of trying to be a one-man wrecking crew, will be major factors for Jared.  I think that Sully plays a smart game, does not try to play outside of himself, and wins this matchup against Sacre tomorrow afternoon.

Overall Prediction: Based on the matchups above, you’d think that I have the Buckeyes winning this game in blowout fashion.  However, I think that the positional battles are close from top to bottom, and this game will come down to basic fundamentals.  If Ohio State plays their game and does not try to outreach themselves by becoming too aggressive on either side of the ball, they will win.

OSU  75 – Gonzaga 68

Follow me on Twitter @ScarletandGame or @AJBorland