The ball-hawking defense of Aaron Craft
(left) and Shannon Scott
can make life miserable for opponents. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
As part of its preview of the 2014 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, SI.com is taking a look at all 68 teams in the field. For more teams, click here.
Record: 25-9, 10-8 in Big Ten
Adj. Offense/Adjusted Defense: 107.1 (122nd) / Adjusted Defense 89.9 (4th)
Seed: No. 6 in South
Impact player: Aaron Craft, senior guard. 9.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 2.5 steals per game, 46.2 percent shooting.
The Case For:
Defense, defense and did we mention defense? The Buckeyes ranked No. 4 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. Between Craft and Shannon Scott (2.0 steals per game), Ohio State fields two guards who are among the nation's best at harassing ball-handlers. Ohio State's steal percentage of 11.7 -- the number of opponent possessions that end in a pilfer -- ranks 20th in the country. They are physical and relentless, and when they rev up full-court defensive pressure, even inbounding the ball becomes a chore. The Buckeyes allow opponents to shoot 40.3 percent from the floor, a figure that ranks 36th nationally, and just 28.4 percent from beyond the three-point line.
The defense ought to keep Ohio State in just about any game, even if it falls behind, as happened against Nebraska and Michigan at the Big Ten tournament. Those games gave the Buckeyes yet another reminder that they can climb back, a pair of reference points that will be handy in another one-and-done scenario. They also have plenty of tournament experience. Craft, LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith are among several Buckeyes who were on the 2012 Final Four team and the 2013 Elite Eight team, the latter of which won two tournament games with last-second shots. It is a seasoned group that will be unmoved by crisis.
The Case Against:
Offense, offense and did we mention offense? The Buckeyes have only two scorers in double figures -- Ross (15.3 points per game) and Smith (11.4 points per game), the latter of whom has slumped to single-digit scoring outputs in five of his last six games. Ohio State doesn't shoot well from the free-throw line (68.9 percent as a team) or from beyond the arc (32.6 percent). Craft will have the ball in his hands down the stretch, but his shot-making is wildly unpredictable.
There really is no hope to change any of this, either; the Buckeyes will have to generate offense off turnovers and transition opportunities, but if a team is careful with the ball, those run-outs won't come. It's also a potential issue if tournament games are called more closely than they were at the end of the Big Ten grind. If the approach of Craft, Scott and Co. is deemed too aggressive by unfamiliar game officials, it could lessen the effectiveness of the Buckeyes’ defense.
In the end, it depends which Ohio State teams shows up: the one that started the season 15-0, or the one that had a four-game losing streak and has played .500 ball since (10-9).
SI prediction: Lose in second round to Dayton
View complete bracket predictions from SI.com's panel of experts