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VCU vs. Ohio State: Teeth Are Gritted…

Ohio State freshman D'Angelo Russell scored 28 points against VCU. Russell is projected as the No.2 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft by NBADraft.net

It’s been awhile since I’ve straightlisted the opposing players. Familiarity and all, which is not what we have with this group of Buckeyes. Oh sure, you know D’Angelo Russell, the uber-talented guard. But we need to play a little game of get to know you.

The Ohio State University Basketball Team

D’Angelo Russell is a 6-5 lefty guard who will be selected in the top five of this year’s NBA draft, if he chooses to go pro. For now, he’s a smooth, skilled playmaker and scorer. Russell has very Maynor-esque numbers (20 ppg, 5.1 apg) and is the team’s leading rebounder. He’s made 90 threes–six more than Melvin Johnson.

However Russell’s effect on winning is also similar to Maynor–he makes everyone better.

Now, there is hope.

Ohio State is 3-9 in games this year against teams that made the NCAA tournament. Russell shot 37% overall and 29% from three in those 12 games, as opposed to 46% overall and 42% from three in all games. In the nine losses, he shot 52-155 overall (33.5%) and 17-66 from three (25.8%).  (Thanks, Rusty.)

What does all that goop tell me?

If Ohio State is going to win games against good teams, Russell has to shoot well. I’m not willing to make this a declarative statement, but it sure seems like a “cut off the head of the beast” thing. And here’s where that gets my juices flowing. VCU has played some alpha dogs this season:

  • Pac12 player of the year Joseph Young of Oregon: 2-13 field goals, seven turnovers.
  • EC Mathews, Rhody stud: 1-6 from three and six turnovers.
  • Troy Caupain, Cincinnati leading scorer: made no field goals.
  • Jack Gibbs: 1-10 field goals and a frustration setting of 11.
  • Josh Richardson of Tennessee: seven turnovers.
  • And of course Missouri Valley POY Seth Tuttle was benched by his coach with 8 minutes let to play in regulation and never saw the floor again despite two overtimes because he was ineffective.

My point: I like our coaching staff’s ability to diagram a defense to frustrate a lead dog.

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(Side note: I think that’s the longest I’ve spent on one opposing player in the 15 years I’ve been writing about VCU basketball.)

There are others:

Sam Thompson (10.2ppg) is a big time athlete who attacks. He uses his 6-7 frame and athleticism to overwhelm opponents, but he is also a capable shooter, if given time (20 threes).

Shannon Scott (8.5ppg, 5.1apg) is a senior point guard who plays his best game in the middle of the floor. It will be important for the Rams to keep him out of the paint. However I’m most concerned about Scott on defense. He has 58 steals on the year and his 210 is second alltime for OSU.

Jae’Sean Tate is an interesting study. Tate is a freshman gaining speed. He is averaging 11.4ppg and 5.5rpg since entering the OSU starting lineup early in the Big 10 season and shooting 60% in that time. However Tate is a fierce rebounder despite being just 6-4. Think Jesse Pellot-Rosa.

I watched the Ohio State practice today, and Amir Williams is giant. He is every bit the 6-11, 250 pounds listed. He is a physical player and a good shot blocker, but I believe Mo Alie-Cox can take advantage of him when VCU has he ball, and if the Rams can move him around Williams becomes a fish on a dock.

Marc Loving (9.7ppg) is built similarly to Thompson but can light it up from three. Though he is shooting 46% for the year from beyond the arc, Loving is just 4-20 in eight games since returning from a three-game suspension. Of note: Loving is not a good defender.

Kam Williams, Keita Bates-Diop, and Trey McDonald will also see time. Williams is a solid, scoring wing. Bates-Diop is a skilled wing at 6-7. McDonald is another hulking, big-bodied post man.

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I watched the VCU “practice” today with Rodney Ashby, and we agreed that JeQuan Lewis is the most important offensive player for VCU, given The Freight Train is chugging along.

The Ohio State guards can be beaten at the perimeter, but their big men are true big men, and the Buckeyes are athletic.

That’s a problem.

Lewis, and Jonny Williams, are going to have to make good reads, and then good decisions when they get into the lane. There’s a better-than-not chance if they choose to attack the rim for a layup, it will end up back in their vicinity Mo Says No style. They need to pull up a few feet short of their normal deep drives and make the right pass.

Or in Treveon Graham’s case, pull up for a shot. The Freight Train will be best served throwing on the brakes for a short, six-footer.

The point, in general: the Rams have to get the ballscreen offense going downhill and attack, and then make the right play.

Ohio State will want to run, but not at a pace they are used to running. This has nothing to do with fatigue, but it has everything to do with goading the Buckeyes into bad transition shots. That will open up the game and fuel the VCU transition offense.

This could be one of those high turnover but high offensive execution games for VCU, much like the Oregon game in November.

Defensively, keep an eye on how Ohio State chooses to attack the press. Rodney made a very good point that VCU is much better at fixing the press after a high pass to a big man than a dribbler. The Buckeyes have several ballhandlers, and that cuts both ways: they can get careless and VCU can take advantage of them, or they can attack the rim and shoot layups.

Transition defense will be key.

In the halfcourt, well, there’s nothing to say. Do the same things they’ve done for a month and we will be fine. One item, though: JeQuan Lewis has to watch his fouls. He needs to be on the floor.

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What does all that sum up to? Ken Pomeroy calls it 70-69 in the favor of Ohio State. So the numbers say toss up. This is a VCU team feeling good after Brooklyn, and an enigmatic Ohio State team.

Keep an eye early. Both teams have struggled at times at the beginning of games. Who delivers the first punch may have a decided upper hand.

Then again, VCU plays with that sonofabitchenss. Stay tuned.