Mar 14, 2019; Chicago, IL, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes guard Keyshawn Woods (32) reacts after making a basket against the Indiana Hoosiers during the second half in the Big Ten conference tournament at United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Time: approximately 8:50 p.m.
Location: Tulsa, Okla.
KenPom Prediction: 72-68, Iowa State
1 – Wesson’s World
There is no secret to what (or who) makes Ohio State go.
It is 6-foot-9, 270-pound sophomore center Kaleb Wesson.
When Wesson plays well, like he did while scoring 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting, grabbing 11 rebounds, dishing four assists and snagging three steals in a 90-70 domination of Iowa on Feb. 26, the Buckeyes are very tough to beat. When he plays poorly, as he did while scoring two points and recording four fouls in 23 minutes in the Hawkeyes’ win over Ohio State in January, the Buckeyes become much less harrowing.
“Everything kind of goes through Kaleb Wesson,” Steve Prohm said on Thursday. “That’s just kind of how they like to play. A lot of ball-screen motion, a lot of isolations trying to get the ball inside.”
Offensively, there are few young big men in the country who are as impactful to their team as Wesson. He shoots 54.3 percent from inside the arc and is a capable 3-point shooter as he’s connected on 24-of-67 this season.
Plus, he’s amongst the best players in the country at getting to the free throw line as he draws 6.8 fouls per 40 minutes. The unfortunate thing is he also commits 5.0 fouls per 40 minutes, which often puts him on the bench for extended stretches.
“People ask me, ‘Who does Kaleb remind you of?’ and the only guy I would say in our league is (Kansas’ Udoka) Azubuike,” Prohm said. “That’s just because of the physicality. He is so big… If you get above him, he’s going to ride you up. If you get below him, going to bury you under the rim. We’ve got to be really smart with our post coverage.”
2 – Pace Pushers
Last week in Kansas City, we saw Iowa State force teams to play at their pace for the first time in quite awhile. This does not necessarily mean taking quick shots, but it means converting quickly from offense to defense and immediately putting the opposing team on its heels.
When the Cyclones push the ball ahead with a pass in transition rather than walking the ball up the court or jogging with the dribble, they tend to get into their offense much quicker and move the ball from spot to spot at a considerably higher rate. These moments are when Iowa State’s offense does its best in creating open looks.
Whether or not those shots always fall is a different story, but we saw what can happen when they are during the Big 12 quarterfinal win over Baylor.
“They’re a great offensive team. They play real, real fast,” Ohio State guard Keyshawn Woods said. “They have every piece that you can have on a basketball team. But for us, we just got to bring our defense on the road, and our defense is going to lead us to a win — to win this game.”
Iowa State will need to force Ohio State into playing at a higher pace as the Buckeyes rank No. 272 in adjusted tempo according to KenPom. The Buckeyes are No. 27 nationally in adjusted defense and are going to do everything they can to seal off driving lanes to force teams to shoot over the top.
If the Cyclones are able to move the ball effectively around the perimeter and put the defense on its heels early by pushing the ball in transition, it could help break the Buckeyes’ usually stingy defense.
“I do think the reality is they’re playing as good as a handful of teams in the country,” Buckeyes head coach Chris Holtmann said. “We know the environment is going to be very much a road environment and we expect that, given how well they travel and the location.”
3 – Defending With Purpose
My biggest takeaway from last week in the Sprint Center was the way Iowa State defended with urgency. The Cyclones were able to get their hands on balls and create turnovers better than we have seen them do in several months.
This will be key against Ohio State, and really during any sort of NCAA Tournament run. That statement is especially true when it comes to defending Wesson.
It will be on the shoulders of Michael Jacobson, Cameron Lard and George Conditt to not allow Wesson to get early post seals and bully them into easy baskets. The guards will need to do a good job of creating ball pressure that makes it difficult to complete easy entry passes into the post.
If the Cyclones play the way they did defensively in Kansas City, Friday night could be the start of a fun run of madness.