Sweet Sixteen: Ohio State vs. Cincinnati Preview


As nice as it has been to brag about Ohio putting 4 teams into the Sweet Sixteen, it’s now time to focus on a matchup that will end the season and send home one of those teams.  The Bearcats of Cincinnati are an interesting team to meet in the tournament, because they play a 4 guard rotation, and also dominate many games in the paint.  The numerous guards help to provide them with tremendous speed and athleticism on the court, and their big man, Yancy Gates, is a beast underneath and can hold his own with most players in the country.  This is certainly going to be a tough game, and one that will likely resemble an OSU versus Michigan State game with a high level of physicality anytime a player gets near the paint.  Compound that with the fact that Cincinnati fans/students seem to think that Ohio State is the devil and will no doubt be pulling out all the stops to send their in-state enemies home to Columbus.

Regardless, these teams once battled for National Championships, so it’s nice to see them facing each other again in a very meaningful game.

Below are my positional breakdowns for this Sweet Sixteen matchup…

#1 Guard (Cashmere Wright vs. Aaron Craft)

Cashmere Wright (#1, 6′, 170 lbs), Cincinnati’s point guard, has struggled shooting the ball in the tournament, so far.  It’s hard to imagine those struggles improving when going up against the best on-ball defender in the country in Aaron Craft, but that’s what Wright will need to have happen in order to keep Cincy in this game.  In his first two March Madness games in 2012, Wright is 6-18 from the field and just 1-8 from behind the arc.  Craft, on the other hand, is 8-11 from the field in games against Loyola (MD) and Gonzaga.

Wright, like the other Cincinnati players, plays aggressively on both sides of the ball, so Craft will likely appreciate the 5 days of rest that he got after the Gonzaga game, because Cashmere and Co. will likely use a lot of motion to keep OSU running and switching.  I don’t think that Aaron Craft will have the offensive output that he had against the Bulldogs, but should be close to 8-10 points.  Similarly, I think that Wright will have a handful of assists in Thursday’s game, but will be held to under 10 points against the Buckeyes.  Overall, I think this matchup is a push, since both players will produce close to their normal numbers.

#2 Guard (Dion Dixon vs. Lenzelle Smith, Jr.)

Dion Dixon (#3, 6’3″, 195 lbs) will be a good matchup for Lenzelle Smith, Jr. because of his size and skill set.  Dixon is quick and has the ability to drive the lane and score in the blink of an eye, averaging 13.1 points per game.  However, he’s just an average shooter from the field (37%) and is allergic to the arc (26%).  Smith Jr. will need to be alert and active defensively, as Dixon and his teammates are quick off the dribble and able to drive and score against less athletic teams.  OSU will  need to prove that they are able to defend this and force the outside shot whenever possible.   

LSJ will need to make a shot here and there for the Bucks, move his feet and get into position on defense, and most importantly, grab rebounds!  Having such a good rebounder at our #2 spot could go a long way in keeping offensive possessions going and ending the Bearcats looks at the other end.  Once again, I think that both guards will be close to their averages, so I’ll push this matchup as well.

#3 Guard (Jaquon Parker vs. William Buford)

Ok, Buckeye fans, it’s the game that we’ve been waiting for…  you know, the one where Buford scores 20 points and plays to his potential.  I think that Thursday will be that game for William Buford, and hopefully the first of 4 to come in this tournament run.  Jaquon Parker (#44, 6’3″, 210 lbs) gives 3 inches to Buford, although Parker can certainly play bigger than his size.  Parker is a very versatile player that can bang underneath and grab boards or hang back and hit from outside (38%).  Buford will need to be on the top of his game, defensively, to prepare for Parker’s diverse attack.

However, I think that it is on the offensive end of the court that Buford will make his stand.  Parker may be called upon to help in doubling-down on Sullinger and/or Thomas in the paint, and this should leave Buford with some open looks.  If Buford can hit a couple of early shots, I think that his confidence will sky-rocket and he will nail 3-4 deep balls and a handful of mid-range jumpers.  Naturally, he’s going to keep his streak of charging fouls going for this game, but I am giving the edge to Willy B in this one.

#4 Guard/Forward (Sean Kilpatrick vs. Deshaun Thomas)

It’s only fitting that the hot hand for the Bearcats should be lined up against OSU’s X Factor in this in-state battle.  Sean Kilpatrick (#23, 6’4″, 215 lbs) led Cincy with 18 points in their win over Florida State, matching Thomas’ total against Gonzaga.  Kilpatrick, like many of Cincy’s players, is not necessarily the fastest or quickest person on the court, but simply has the entire package and natural ability to get to the lane, protect the ball, and get a good look at the basket.  This helps them all, including Kilpatrick, to be solid players in all aspects of the game, whether it be scoring, grabbing rebounds, or playing lockdown defense.  This guard is no exception, but he happens to be the Bearcat that I least want to see with the hot hand.  He is most consistent scorer on the team, leading the way with 14.3 points per outing, is the most likely candidate to put the ball up from deep, and also happens to be second on the squad in rebounds and assists.

(Spoiler) So why do I like Deshaun Thomas in this matchup?  Because Thomas can also hit from behind the arc, is an offensive rebounding freak of nature, in the kindest sense of the word, and has 3 inches on Kilpatrick.  For some of the other matchups, that height factor might not play a big part, but because Cincinnati hates giving up space in the paint, I think that’s exactly what Matta will try to do.  And what better player to throw into the mix down low than a guy that has a remarkable knack for finding the ball and getting it up quickly, like Thomas?  Kilpatrick may still get his 12-14 points in this game, but Thomas’ presence inside will force Cincinnati to bring extra help and fold down onto he and Sullinger, thus allowing Buford a look from outside.  Advantage = Thomas.

#5 Forward (Yancy Gates vs. Jared Sullinger)

Gates averages very close to a double-double per game, with 12.4 points and 9.1 rebounds.  Both he and Sullinger use their physiques very well to get themselves under the rim for boards and points.  Sullinger definitely holds the edge over Gates in shooting ability, as he can back out for mid-range shots and deep balls, where as Gates’ output comes almost entirely from the paint.  The Bearcats will likely throw Justin Jackson (#5, 6’8″, 210 lbs) into the game to battle with Sully as well, but the real competition will certainly be between Gates and Sullinger.  Even more so than Sullinger versus Sacre (Gonzaga), I think that this matchup between the big men will be an epic battle that ends with Ohio State’s star on the winning end.

I expect both players to be at or above their averages in points and rebounds, but for Sullinger to outscore and outrebound Gates on Thursday night in Boston.

Overall Prediction:  This game has all the makings of a down-to-the-wire thriller.  Both teams can play solid, fundamental defense and have a number of players to account for offensively.  Ultimately, I think that this game is decided in the paint.  If Yancy Gates is able to own the box and force OSU outside for its looks, then the Buckeyes could be in trouble.  Likewise, if Ohio State is able to play through Sullinger and Thomas down low and kick the ball out for open shots by Buford, Smith and Craft, then the Bearcats will be in trouble.  My edge goes to OSU in a tight one.

OSU  70 – Cincinnati 65   (a touch of irony for the 1961 NCAA Championship game)