Can Ohio State Advance In Boise?

By Jeff Rapp, March 13th, 2018

The four teams seeded above No. 5 Ohio State in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament are familiar faces.

Xavier, a somewhat surprising 1-seed to some, is a fellow in-state power that has continued to make strides since former head coaches Thad Matta and Sean Miller left to become topflight names in the business at Ohio State and Arizona, respectively.

The 2-seed is North Carolina – the defending national champions and an OSU opponent this season. The Tar Heels posted an 86-72 win over the Buckeyes in the CBS Sports Classic in New Orleans two days before Christmas.

Similarly, Gonzaga occupies the 4-seed in the West and the Zags, the defending runners-up in this tournament, put a major hurt on OSU. That came in the form of an 86-59 loss at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Ore., on Nov. 23.

In between last year’s two finalists is third-seeded Michigan, a team the Buckeyes played twice with each team being successful at home. The Buckeyes set their Big Ten-contending season in motion by rallying from 20 points down and recording a 71-62 win over the Wolverines on Dec. 4. UM returned the favor on Feb. 18 (74-62), a loss that has some questioning if the Buckeyes can make much of a run in the Big Dance.

In fact, Ohio State will have to get by some lesser-knowns if it is to meet up with the big boys of the West and stick around for a bit in the tournament. And that challenge begins with a tough 5-12 matchup with South Dakota State on Thursday (approx. 4 p.m. Eastern, TNT).

OSU coach Chris Holtmann predicted moments after the bracket was unveiled that SDSU would be a popular upset pick over his Buckeyes and, sure enough, several anlysts and TV talking heads reached for that option in the hours that followed. However such metrics are arrived at, the Jackrabbits, champions of the Summit League, have been given a 20-percent chance of knocking off the Buckeyes (24-8), who finished second in the Big Ten regular-season standings and then lost to Penn State – for a third time this season – in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament.

The Buckeyes are rested, hungry and favored, but that is not going to be enough to get them by South Dakota State (28-6), which is looking for its first-ever win in the NCAA Tournament.

SDSU won the eight-team Summit League title for the third straight year and has been to the Big Dance four times previously but hasn’t managed to break through with a March Madness win just yet.

The Jackrabbits lost to Gonzaga 66-46 last year as a No. 16 seed; to Maryland 79-74 in 2016 as a No. 12 seed; to Michigan 71-56 in 2013 as a No. 13 seed; and to Baylor 68-60 in 2012 as a No. 13 seed. Interestingly – and logically – their nearest miss came as a 12-seed.

They have lived up to their team nickname this season with frenetic play and as one of the nation’s highest-scoring scoring teams at well over 80 points per game – 84.9 to be exact, which ranks sixth. They like to push the ball and shoot threes early in the shot clock. They also take care of the ball.

In fact, according to the KenPom ratings, SDSU is tops in the nation in turnover percentage. However, the Jackrabbits also don’t force a lot of turnovers, ranking 347th. That’s good news to Holtmann, who has seen his guards, who lack depth and superior ball handling, struggle at times.

Ohio State, by comparison, is 98th in turning the ball over and 208th in forcing turnovers.

Ohio State’s bigger headache will be trying to slow down 6-9, 250-pound forward Mike Daum, who shoots and scores from all over the court and is surprisingly creative a la former Creighton All-American Doug McDermott.

Like McDermott in his collegiate heyday, Daum is an NBA prospect. He was second in the nation in scoring last year at 25.3 points per game and this year ranks sixth at 23.8 points per game. He will test the Buckeyes inside but also can shoot over any defense as his three-point percentage of 42.5 attests.

Daum has canned 91 three-balls this season. By comparison, Keita Bates-Diop and C.J. Jackson lead Ohio State with 58 three-pointers apiece.

Bates-Diop is the Big Ten’s reigning Player of the Year and OSU’s top scorer at more than 19 ppg, but his primary focus may be on making life miserable on Daum with his lateral quickness and long wingspan. It should be one of the most intriguing head-to-head matchups to watch on Thursday.

Overall, Daum shoots 46 percent from the field and 86 percent from the free-throw line. He has scored at least 30 points on 12 different occasions this season including a 51-point outburst against Indiana-Fort Wayne. In his two NCAA Tournament games, Daum scored 17 against Gonzaga last season and 16 against Maryland two years ago.

The Jackrabbits also have plenty of firepower in the backcourt, most notably from 6-2 reshman guard David Jenkins, who produces 16 ppg. Wing Reed Tellinghuisen, who stands 6-7, averages 12 ppg. Jenkins has connected on 82 threes this season while Tellinghuisen has made 62.

Joining those three in the starting lineup are 6-2 guard Tevin King and 6-6 swingman Skyler Flatten. The SDSU bench includes 6-9, 240-pound forward Ian Theisen.

SDSU ranks 75th among all teams in the KenPom ratings and check in at No. 35 in the most recent RPI rankings. Ohio State is at 15 and 20, respectively, in those rankings.

SDSU’s best win came back in November against MAC champion Buffalo, a 94-80 victory on a neutral court. The team also owns nonconference wins over Ole Miss and Iowa, the only common opponent.

The Jackrabbits beat the Hawkeyes 80-72 in November, while the Buckeyes beat Iowa twice in Big Ten play, by 11 points and 18 points. SDSU was blown out in a 34-point loss to Kansas.