The No. 4 Gonzaga Bulldogs and the No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes face off on Saturday after both had to hold off fierce games in their first round matchups.
The Zags needed a Zach Norvell three point magical shot to push past No. 13 UNC Greensboro Spartans, and Ohio State needed a couple of fouled three point shooters to finally put away the No. 12 South Dakota State Jackrabbits.
Interestingly enough, this is the Zags second time facing Ohio State this year. The two teams first met in the PK80 Invitational earlier this year, and Gonzaga had an absolute field day in the game. Johnathan Williams scored 21 and Josh Perkins added 20 and don’t let that game distort your vision of how good the Buckeyes turned out as the season progressed.
We spoke with Matt Tamanini over at Land-Grant Holy Land to try and figure out what the Zags are going to see tomorrow.
1) Gonzaga beat Ohio State by nearly 30 points in the PK80. Clearly, we are dealing with a different Buckeyes team here. How did Ohio State turn it around and make it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament?
The PK80 matchup was so early in the season, looking back, it’s pretty obvious that the Buckeyes were still a work in progress, trying to figure out how to play together in new head coach Chris Holzmann’s style. At times, the team still struggles to solidify an identity, but there is no doubt that Keita Bates-Diop is the leader of the team on both sides of the court. However, back in November, Gonzaga held the eventual Big Ten Player of the Year to just seven points on 2-of-7 shooting. It is one of only two times all season that he’s been held to single-digits.
As the season progressed, and KBD asserted himself as the best player in the conference, that also allowed other players more freedom and space to contribute as well. For example, against South Dakota State in the Round of 64, Bates-Diop went for 24, but both Kam Williams (22) and C.J. Jackson (20) went for at least 20 as well. While the Buckeyes are far from a finely tuned machine, when they are at their best, they are moving the ball, and multiple players can make defenses pay for selling out to stop KBD.
2) We know Keita Bates-Diop is the dude. Who do you think can be the x-factor in this game against Gonzaga?
That’s really tough, because there hasn’t been a proverbial Robin to KBD’s Batman this year. Depending on the game— and the matchup— different guys have been called upon to contribute. On the heels of the SDSU game, the easy answer is probably either Williams or Jackson. As you know, Gonzaga’s opponents don’t shoot very well from behind the arc. So, after the Buckeyes put up a season-high 40 attempts from distance against the Jackrabbits, if Holtmann intends to use the same philosophy on Saturday, the only chance OSU has is if they are on fire.
However, I think the right answer is Kaleb Wesson. The true freshman was held scoreless in Thursday’sgame, and only played seven minutes, because of the matchup problems that Mike Daum presented. With Jonathan Williams and Killian Tillie both having two-three inches on Bates-Diop, the younger of the Wesson brothers is going to have to contribute for OSU to have any shot.
3) What do you think is the biggest issue for Ohio State in matching up against Gonzaga?
This might sound glib, but OSU just isn’t as good as Gonzaga. The Buckeyes have five players that are solid, DI contributors, but beyond that, their bench is thin, and, honestly, pretty unathletic. Now, that doesn’t mean that they can’t win, because two of the first guys off the bench— Andrew Dakich and Andre Wesson— consistently find ways to defy logic and make a substantial impact. However, if the game comes down to who has the most talented roster, OSU has no chance.