This is it, folks. We are just over 24 hours away from the biggest basketball game this century for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Of all the teams in the country, the Buckeyes are going up against the one team that both has an answer to Oden and tourney experience against the Buckeyes. Roy Hibbert — last seen a year ago wrecking havoc against OSU’s interior defense before walking off into the next round of the tourney with OSU in his wake — is the other beast of a center in college basketball. He’s taller than Oden and has a year’s more experience. He plays the same sort of game as Oden, too. Both are big threats within 10 feet but limited outside of that range and both are monsters on the boards. Many people are putting the fate of their respective teams on the shoulders of these two players, which is not totally unfair given how dominating both players can be and how much of an influence either player has just by being on the court. To put this last point in explicit terms, during the tourney so far OSU is +37.4 points per 100 possessions when Oden is on the court and -20.5 points per 100 possessions when Oden is on the bench. That’s a huge difference in production. A huge difference. OSU is just not the same team when Oden is on the bench, and even though Oden has not statistically had a dominating tourney so far, individual statistics can’t adequately capture Oden’s defensive impact or even his offensive impact (how he opens up driving lanes and forces defenses to collapse, thus leaving space for the guards to have better looks at three pointers). A 57.9 point swing in production says it all.
Assuming that neither Hibbert or Oden totally outplays the other — nor that one is in foul trouble while the other is not — the teams break down similarly. So far in this tournament each team’s efficiency factors are remarkably close. Georgetown is the most efficient offensive team in the country, but they are also more turnover-prone that OSU. For the game Georgetown will probably shoot a higher percentage from the field than OSU, but that higher shooting percentage can easily be mitigated by turnovers. Of course, OSU ranks fourth in adjusted offensive efficiency, which means that the gap between the two teams on offense — something that might get played up by the media, about how Georgetown is good at forcing their tempo, etc, etc — is not that great and can be overcome by turnovers and rebounding. On the defensive end, OSU (14) ranks four places higher than Georgetown (18) in defensive efficiency. So Georgetown is better than OSU on offense by a margin roughly equal to the difference between OSU and Georgetown on defense. The two teams are so close, in fact, that Ken Pomeroy’s Log5 odds gives OSU the slightest of slight edges over Georgetown, 50.1% vs. 49.9% (Log5 odds are a statistical measure of the likelihood of a team winning a game). Essentially, the two teams are dead even.
The Ken Pomeroy’s stats provide an overview of the teams for the entire season. Hack the Bracket has provided statistics based on the four games each team has played in the NCAAs. These statistics have OSU as a slightly better offensive team than Georgetown and a slightly worse defensive team than Georgetown, with the overall efficiency for OSU at .9818 and for Georgetown at .9842 (a higher number is better). These numbers are not too hard to believe, and given how OSU has played it should be no surprised that based on the last four games Georgetown is a statistical favorite. Nevertheless, if the last game for each time is any indication, OSU is coming into the tourney playing slightly better basketball than Georgetown, albeit over a one game sample.
So, what will be the deciding factors?
If Oden is in foul trouble and Hibbert isn’t in foul trouble, OSU will not be able to win. The converse is true for Georgetown. OSU has an advantage if both big men are in foul trouble, however, since OSU relies heavily on players other than Oden to score whereas Hibbert carries a large scoring burden for Georgetown. OSU without Oden can still be productive on offense. Georgetown without Hibbert is hindered a bit. Another point worth considering — and its a point Hack the Bracket makes in its preview — is that to the extent that Oden has a factor on the game through blocked and altered shots, those blocked and altered shots figure to be taken by Georgetown’s two best scorers: Hibbert and Jeff Green. This is why Oden staying in the game will be so crucial. Oden’s defense is perfectly targeted at Georgetown’s strengths (unlike in the Tennessee game where Oden’s defense was targeted at Tennessee’s weakness). It’s also why rebounding will be a critical factor as well. Georgetown has a rebounding advantage over OSU. If Oden is able to alter and block shots, it’s very important that those misses are the ends of Georgetown’s possessions. This may sound like an old coaching cliché — and it is — but given how college basketball is being called by the refs, it’s fair to assume that Oden will only have so many opportunities to block or alter shots before he gets into foul trouble. Put it this way: it’s easier for Oden to be on the court for 55 defensive possessions than it is for him to be on the court for 88 defensive possessions. Every time Georgetown misses and OSU doesn’t come away with the ball is one more possession during which Oden could be called for a foul. Oden is far less likely to be called for offensive fouls against Georgetown than he’s been in the other games of the tourney since Georgetown plays with players close to Oden’s size. If Oden gets in foul trouble it’ll probably be because he’s picking up fouls on defense.
Whereas Oden will be poised to lessen Georgetown’s two best scoring threats, Georgetown cannot boast the same thing about OSU. Georgetown may run a more complex and effective offense, but OSU matches up better against Georgetown on defense than Georgetown matches up against OSU when OSU is on offense. If Lewis and Butler start knocking down shots early Georgetown is going to have to extend itself on defense by not collapsing on Oden when he has the ball. And just as Oden is more likely to pick up a foul while on defense than on offense, the same is true of Hibbert. The more Butler and Lewis are making shots, the more Hibbert will become foul prone.
Which is ultimately why I think the guard play for OSU will determine the outcome of the game. Conely has been given a lot of ink and deservedly so, but he’s never been much of a threat on the perimeter. The perimeter is where this game will be decided for OSU. If Connelly and Oden are able to create the space needed so that Lewis and Butler can knock down shots, OSU is going to win. Georgetown is too good a team on offense for OSU not to score with regularity, and OSU has not proven that they can score with regularity without relying on perimeter scoring (with the hedge that maybe this happened in the last 10 minutes against Memphis). While attention will be given to the Oden-Hibbert match-up — and rightly so; it could be one for the ages — look to Lewis and Butler to see how OSU is doing.
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