Will Buckeyes defense carry them to tourney success?

Will Buckeyes defense carry them to tourney success?
March 19, 2014, 12:00 am
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Vinnie Duber

If defense wins championships, where's Ohio State's trophy?

The Buckeyes were the Big Ten's best defensive team this season, but that didn't translate into a regular-season title or a conference-tournament title. Heck, it didn't even translate to a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament. The Buckeyes were the five seed.

But that didn't slow them down too much heading into the NCAA tournament. In fact, despite a semifinal loss to Michigan in the conference tourney, Ohio State hits the Big Dance with a good deal of momentum. After besting Michigan State in emotional fashion in the regular-season finale, the Buckeyes staged three straight comebacks in the Big Ten Tournament against Purdue, Nebraska and Michigan. They erased an 18-point second-half deficit vs. the Huskers, a 13-point second-half deficit vs. the Wolverines and led late in both games.

But while recent performances will help, it's the season-long defensive prowess that will do the most in getting the Buckeyes into the deeper rounds of the tournament.

What could be problematic, however, is the offense. While the Buckeyes have limited opponents most of the year, they've had their woes getting the ball into the hoop. It's that kind of inconsistency that led to some less-than-desirable losses, including a pair of defeats to Penn State.

Ohio State has the experience to make a run. Seniors Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. have been to the Sweet Sixteen, the Elite Eight and the Final Four. During the preseason they said there's just one thing to check off the list: a trip to the championship game.

[MORE: Which Big Ten team has best shot at the Final Four?]

First up

The Buckeyes are one of the only Big Ten teams being placed on upset alert for the second round. And here's why: No. 11 Dayton has won 10 of its last 12 games, including a trio of wins over teams that ended up in the field of 68 (George Washington, Saint Louis and UMass). The Flyers also played in an event back in November that saw them beat Gonzaga and lose to Baylor by just a point.

And making this game all the more interesting, Dayton's top scorer is Jordan Sibert, the former Buckeye who transferred to the Flyers ahead of last season. He sat out last year after playing two seasons in Columbus. The former four-star recruit is averaging 12.5 points per game.

Survive and advance

Like plenty of other places on the bracket, Ohio State is sandwiched in around some real tough competition in the South Region. A win over Dayton would likely set up a third-round date with Syracuse, the team that sat atop the rankings for much of the year. Move past the Orange and Kansas could wait in the Sweet Sixteen. Get by the Jayhawks and the Elite Eight could mean a showdown with No. 1 overall seed Florida. It's a rocky road for a team that's had scoring issues this year.

[RELATED: In tourney's toughest region, can Wolverines return to Final Four?]

One shining moment

Craft has dominated the Ohio State talking points this season, and there's good reason why. The senior point guard does all the things that don't show up in the box score, and he does them in a glaringly apparent way. Diving on the ground, sticking arms in passing lanes and just out-hustling everyone else is Craft's calling card, and it's not inconceivable that it could mean the difference between a win or a loss in a tournament game for the Buckeyes.

Thing is, while Craft does plenty that doesn't show up on the stat sheet, there are areas on the stat sheet where he could use some improvement, namely scoring. So it'll be up to guys like Shannon Scott and LaQuinton Ross to provide offense for the Buckeyes.

How far can they go?

The Buckeyes have plenty of talent and plenty of intensity to get them deep in the tourney. But the bottom line is whether they'll be able to score enough points to keep up with aforementioned powers like Syracuse and Kansas. The defense will be there, the effort will be there. Will the offense? It seems like a tough ask for the Buckeyes to run through that kind of gauntlet with the generally up-and-down level of play they've experienced this season.