ATLANTA — Georgetown would seem to have Ohio State outflanked.
While the entire college basketball world seems fixated on tonight’s battle of behemoths Greg Oden and Roy Hibbert, the game likely will be decided on the wings, where the Hoyas (30-6) have a massive matchup advantage in both size and depth.
“They are kind of small on the outside,” Georgetown freshman swingman DaJuan Summers said yesterday. “Our frontline is much bigger than theirs, so we definitely have to take advantage of that. Everybody always says this time of year is about matchups, and we will certainly look to cause them some trouble with our length on the wings.”
Ohio State (34-3) starts Oden (7-0, 280 pounds), three guards and 6-7 forward Ivan Harris, a dubious defender who has averaged just 3.5 points in the NCAA tournament. And there isn’t much wing help behind Harris. Junior college transfer Othello Hunter (6-9, 225 pounds) is a solid backup for Oden in the post but lacks the quickness to cover players on the wing. And 6-8 junior Matt Terwilliger is even less mobile and averages only 2.2 points and 1.8 rebounds a game.
Translation: Ohio State has no real answers for Georgetown’s trio of long, athletic wings — Summers (6-8), Big East player of the year Jeff Green (6-9) and sixth man Patrick Ewing Jr. (6-8).
“Memphis had some serious length, and we handled them pretty well, but Georgetown’s frontcourt is definitely an issue,” Ohio State 6-foot-5 freshman Daequan Cook said. “Aside from Greg, they are a much bigger team than we are, no question. And aside from Greg, their bigs are more mobile than ours. We have some matchup issues on the wings. It’s a disadvantage, there’s no other way to put it. We’re just going to have to try and neutralize that edge by giving maximum effort and showing them some different looks.”
One of those looks is clearly going to be a healthy dose of zone defense. Ohio State coach Thad Matta tried stopping the Hoyas with a man-to-man defense in the NCAA tournament last season and admitted that such a strategy was a mistake after Georgetown pummeled his second-seeded team 70-52.
“Because they’re a little vulnerable there, we expect them to zone us quite a bit,” said Green, who is a solid shooter from 3-point range like Summers and Ewing. “That’s going to test our patience, because there will probably be plenty of fairly open 3s available from the wings. We have to take and make some, but we also have to be careful not to start settling for those shots, even if they’re going in. The strength of our game is inside, and we can’t give that up. We have to attack Oden.”
Now, to some the concept of attacking the most athletic true center the game has seen in more decade seems insane. But Oden, much like Hibbert, has been extremely foul prone during an otherwise dominating debut season. A favorite to be the first player taken in the NBA Draft whenever he decides to take his immense game to the next level, Oden has watched huge chunks of the Buckeyes’ last three NCAA tournament victories from the bench.
He fouled out of the team’s stunning second-round overtime victory over Xavier, launching Xavier’s Justin Cage across the floor in frustration near the end of regulation. Similar to Green’s probable travel against Vanderbilt, Ohio State wouldn’t even be in Atlanta had the officials properly whistled Oden for what he later admitted was an intentional foul.
And in Ohio State’s two victories last week in the South Region, Oden averaged just 21 minutes, finishing with four fouls in each game after missing most of both first halves.
Therefore, Georgetown’s game plan against the Buckeyes is fairly simple. Attack Oden with their longer, deeper frontcourt in hopes of driving him to the bench.
“You have to go into him,” said Green, who is averaging 15.8 points and 7.0 rebounds in the NCAA tournament. “You can’t sit back and settle for jump shots. You have to take the ball to the rim. Just take it strong. If he blocks it, he blocks it, but you’ve got to keep going at him and try to get him in foul trouble. That’s the way teams have been hanging in with Ohio State is getting him in foul trouble.”
Without Oden on the floor, the Buckeyes become a much smaller version of Notre Dame or Vanderbilt — a jump-shooting team with one excellent penetrator (Mike Conley Jr.). And given that the Hoyas haven’t lost to a backcourt-centric team since Jan. 8 (Villanova), one has to like Georgetown’s chances if it can force Oden off the floor for a substantial portion of the game.
That said, the beauty of the NCAA tournament is its utter unpredictability. Pace was supposed to be the key against up-tempo North Carolina, and Georgetown still prevailed while playing at the Tar Heels’ preferred pace 96-84 in overtime.