As part of its preview of the 2015 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, SI.com is taking a look at all 68 teams in the field. RPI and SOS data from realtimerpi.com. Adjusted offense and defense are from kenpom.com and measure the number of points scored and allowed per 100 possessions, and the team’s national rank. All stats through Monday, March 16.
Record: 23-10 (11-7 in Pac-12)
Adjusted offensive/defensive efficiency: 111.6 (29th)/94.7 (40th)
Seed: No. 10 in West
Impact player: D’Angelo Russell, freshman, guard: 19.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 5.1 apg
The Case For: In Russell, Ohio State features one of the most skilled guards in the country. He’s the Buckeyes’ top scorer, possession user and second-leading assist provider. He can drill shots with defenders in close proximity, possesses uncanny court vision and has a penchant for fitting bounce passes into narrow windows. Russell can keep Ohio State competitive in most games even if its other offensive threats are struggling to score. If an opponent manages to limit Russell, the Buckeyes can turn to fellow All-Big Ten freshman selection Jae’Sean Tate, top assist provider Shannon Scott, second-leading scorer Sam Thompson and three-point shooting threat Marc Loving. Though Ohio State’s defense has dipped considerably from last season, the Buckeyes still ranked fourth in the Big Ten in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency during conference play. Scott is one of the top on-ball defenders in the conference, and center Amir Williams is capable of providing quality rim protection.
The Case Against: If Russell struggles, can Ohio State find other ways to score? Consider the Buckeyes’ regular season finale against Wisconsin on March 8, in which Russell was limited to only 17 points on 7-of-18 shooting with five turnovers. It was a down game by his standards, but the more troubling part for Ohio State was that it failed to generate scoring from other sources. The Buckeyes finished with a ghastly 0.80 points per possession in a 24-point loss. The game illustrated the extent to which Ohio State’s offense could suffer if an opponent can devise methods to bother Russell. If the freshman can’t carry the Buckeyes on the offensive end, other players like Thompson, Tate and Loving will need to step up. Over the past three seasons, a relative lack of offensive alternatives would not have been so troublesome for Ohio State because it wielded a top-10 efficiency defense. It’s easy to see Thad Matta’s crew being bounced early due to a lack of non-Russell offense.
SI prediction: Lose to VCU in Round of 64