The Buckeyes have advanced to the Round of 32 for the third time in three years. This time around their opponent is the 7th seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs, a team that has been to the dance many times in the last decade.
Coach Mark Few is one of the only coaches in the country to regularly put together 20 win seasons. Since he first joined Gonzaga in 1999, his first Head Coaching gig, his teams have not won fewer than 23 games in a season. He and Thad Matta are the only coaches with upwards of a decade of straight 20 win seasons, making this game a particularly interesting matchup of coaching minds.
Gonzaga has also never failed to make the NCAA Tournament while under Few, but have never advanced further than the Sweet 16. The last two seasons have seen the ‘Zags only win their first game in the tournament before being knocked out. That’s a streak the Buckeyes would obviously like to continue this season.
The Bulldogs are surprisingly led in scoring by a freshman this season. Guard Kevin Pangos (6-1, 180) out of Ontario, Canada, is averaging nearly 14 points per game and 3 rebounds. He shoots a cool 40.7% from beyond the arc in 32 minutes per game and will most likely be Aaron Craft’s defensive assignment. He’s more than a scorer, though, and is skilled at feeding his teammates in good positions to score. He’s also good at protecting the basketball, losing control less than twice per game.
Balancing their offense is a powerful forward out of Speyer, Germany. Junior forward Elias Harris (6-7, 240) has been a scoring machine for Mark Few his entire career, averaging no less than 12 points per game in any season of play. This year, he has substantially enhanced his rebounding as well, picking up just shy of 9 per game. He’s also a very dangerous shooter, dropping 42.2% of this long range shots, meaning that he can simply not be left alone beyond the arc. He prefers to take his shots inside 3 point range, but will take the longer shot if he has to.
After the Buckeye’s game against Loyola on Thursday night, things seemed a little worrisome. Gonzaga had killed West Virginia, and the Buckeyes hadn’t looked quite as good as everyone had expected in a 15/2 matchup. Buford was up to his old tricks, and Sullinger seemed to be regressing to pre-Northwestern form again. The bright side, of course, was DeShaun Thomas’ putting up 31 points, and Aaron Craft being a defensive nightmare again.
Then “Upset Friday” happened. Both Missouri and Duke, two seeds that were expected to do some good things in the tournament this year, fell in their respective second round games. First Missouri, easily the best two seed, failed to take Norfolk State seriously and paid for it when they couldn’t quite retake the lead. That was immediately followed by the Duke Blue Devils tripping over Lehigh. It was the first time in NCAA tournament history that two 15 seeds had won in the same year – let alone the same day.
After Upset Friday, the Buckeye win over Loyola could be viewed in a new light. Considering the quality of the 15 seeds this year, the Buckeyes played a great game. That’s particularly true considering Loyola’s penchant to press, something the Buckeyes didn’t have to face much of this season. Add to that Loyola’s quickness, and it becomes apparent why the Buckeyes struggled – Loyola was a quality 15 seed and it showed.
|#32||L. Smith Jr.||24.571||6.057||46.5||57.9||34.9||4.629||2.057||0.914||0.114||1.971|
|#10||G. Landry Edi||17.208||5.583||48.5||50.0||26.3||2.375||0.875||0.583||0.167||1.542|
Gonzaga is a team that plays to the Buckeye’s strengths much more than Loyola. The Zags are not particularly proficient beyond the arc, meaning that they have to attack the paint, where OSU’s defense has been particularly effective this year. Gonzaga is going to have to go into the paint in order to get their points, and with OSU’s philosophy of good defense without fouling it may be hard for Gonzaga to come by.
One way or another, it will be quite the battle between the Bulldogs and Buckeyes, and should be a fun one to watch. I expect the Buckeyes to struggle early as usual before surging. They should be able to claim a small lead and carry it through the end of the game.
The Buckeyes and Bulldogs face off in the Round of 32 in Pittsburgh on Saint Patrick’s Day – Saturday, March 17th at 2:30 PM EST. You’ll be able to see that game on the CBS. Ohio State is a 6.5 point favorite in the game.