Gonzaga Record: 26-6 overall, 13-3 in West Coast Conference (2nd). Seed: 7. RPI: 24. Bid: At-large. Tournament record: 17-14. Best finish was in...
Record: 26-6 overall, 13-3 in West Coast Conference (2nd).
Seed: 7. RPI: 24. Bid: At-large.
Tournament record: 17-14. Best finish was in 1999, when it played in Elite Eight.
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Last tournament experience: 2011 (lost in 3rd round to Brigham Young).
What the Zags have to do to win: Despite their power game, Buckeyes will run, so GU must be alert on transition defense. Rebounds will be as much of a key against OSU as they were in win over West Virginai; Buckeyes have a big 7.9 board margin and thumped Loyola (Md.) there, 49-24. Gonzaga can’t let Jared Sullinger go wild; he went for 30 in the Big Ten tournament opener against Purdue. Given OSU’s spotty perimeter shooting (.327 on threes), Zags probably will try some double-teams on the big guy.
F/Guy Landry Edi/6-6/Jr./5.6/2.4/0.9
G/Gary Bell Jr./6-1/Fr./10.1/2.4/1.9
Record: 28-7, overall, 13-5 in Big Ten Conference (tie, 1st).
Seed: 2. RPI: 7. Bid: At-large.
Tournament record: 42-22. Best finish was national title in 1960.
Last tournament experience: 2011 (lost to Kentucky in Sweet 16).
What the Buckeyes have to do to win: Shutting off Gonzaga’s engine, Kevin Pangos, appears the key to controlling the Zags, and the Buckeyes could have the man to do it in Aaron Craft, Big Ten defensive player of the year. But GU will run screens for Pangos, so Lenzelle Smith Jr., also a defensive specialist, will have to be effective as well. Buckeyes might also have to help down low on Robert Sacre, who can hurt defenses around the basket and could induce fouls on Jared Sullinger. Another key is controlling Elias Harris, who was limited by foul trouble in the West Virginia win but otherwise played well down the stretch, both off the dribble and with confidence in his perimeter shot.
G/Lenzelle Smith Jr./6-4/So./6.1/4.6/2.0
Who has the edge?
On the perimeter: Buckeyes have one of the nation’s premier on-ball defenders in Craft, and a scorer — albeit an inconsistent one — in the fluid William Buford, who gets many of his points coming off screens. Smith is a defense-and-rebounds-first player whom teams often try to play off. Zags’ freshman guard tandem of Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. was very good against West Virginia, not so much in the WCC final. Edi is a dynamic athlete and capable defender but raw offensively. Edge: Ohio State.
Among the bigs: Sullinger might be the best low-block big man in the nation, but has had periods this season of ineffectiveness, missing time in December with back spasms and turning in a 4-for-14 game in the NCAA opener against Loyola (Md.), in which he had five shots blocked. Deshaun Thomas can score from inside or out and has a crafty, old-school game. He went for a career-high 31 points against Loyola. Sacre can muscle with the best of them but has a nice touch down low if he’s played straight-up. He struggles with double-teams. Harris is a mercurial player who has topped 20 points three times this year. Edge: Ohio State.
First off the bench: The Buckeyes’ Sam Thompson is a leaper without shooting ability, while Shannon Scott, a point guard, has been seeing increasing time in place of Smith alongside Craft. Eric Ravenel is a big body who plays sparingly. For the Zags, Sam Dower is a finesse postman who can score, Mike Hart is a glue guy who provides a scrappy attitude and defensive willingness, and David Stockton is a clever passer who can be exploited defensively. The Zags also use senior Marquise Carter, and freshman Ryan Spangler had eight rebounds against West Virginia. Edge: Gonzaga.
Coach: Ohio State’s Thad Matta has the Big Ten’s best winning percentage since he took over in 2004-05 (.773) and is 98-40 in Big Ten games. Mark Few has taken the Zags to the NCAA tournament in each of his 13 years as coach, an NCAA record for starting a career. Edge: Even.
Prediction: It might not be easy, but Buckeyes look to have too much of a combo of size and skill for Gonzaga. Ohio State, 69-60.