The Buckeyes have what it takes to go all the way.
March Madness is finally here. 68 teams will be participating in one of the most exciting tournaments in all of sports, the NCAA Tournament, but only one will emerge victorious.
The road is long and challenging. Upsets are as common as rain and no team is safe. As a Buckeye, I’ve decided to make the case for Ohio State to be crowned the 2021 champions.
I know, it probably won’t happen. Ohio State is far from perfect, but their basketball program is run so well and the Buckeyes have proven time and time again that they’re fully capable of taking down anyone, from the worst to the best.
That being said, let’s dive right into it.
Forward E.J. Liddell and guard Duane Washington Jr., both of whom were named to the Big Ten All-Tournament Team, are the faces of Ohio State’s basketball program and will carry a heavy burden throughout the tournament.
Both Liddell and Washington, particularly the latter, were incredible during the Big 10 tournament and stepped up big time for their teams.
This season, Liddell averaged 15.9 PPG, 5.9 RBD, and 1.4 AST while shooting 46.5% from the field and 33.8% from three. Washington averaged 16.3 PPG, 3.2 RBD, and 2.9 AST while shooting 41.4% from the field and 38.1% from three.
Justin Ahrens is another player to watch. Ahrens emerged as one of the team’s best shooters and can be their biggest threat from 3.
Ahrens was on fire earlier in the season, but saw his production practically disappear and his minutes decrease as the weeks went by. He scored a grand total of five points in the entire Big Ten Tournament.
Because Liddell and Washington are going to need some help if the team hopes to make a deep run, head coach Chris Holtmann might have to trust Ahrens with the ball this time around. He himself is going to have to step up.
A legitimate threat from deep could go a long way for this Buckeyes team. If opponents are focusing on defending Liddell and Washington, getting the ball to Ahrens could prove to be productive and he could emerge as a serious x-factor.
Speaking of important players, you can’t talk about this Ohio State team without talking about forward Kyle Young. Young is one of the team’s best and most important players.
Unfortunately, he suffered an injury in Friday’s game against Purdue and was diagnosed with a concussion. There haven’t been any updates on his condition and it still isn’t clear if he’ll be ready to go against Oral Roberts on Friday.
The hope is that it isn’t too serious and that he’ll at least be ready to go in Ohio State’s next game after Oral Roberts. Liddell and Young are most effective together, and Young’s absence was extremely noticeable over the weekend.
Liddell was obligated to do more and has been tired out, as a result. Young is an excellent rebounder and shoots incredibly well from the field. His return to the lineup is crucial if the Buckeyes hope to make a deep run.
They won’t be able to take down top teams without him.
Ohio State does have some solid players, but credit must also be given to Holtmann. There’s no denying that the roster doesn’t have any nationally-recognized superstar players, but Holtmann was able to turn this group into one of the best in the country.
He’s clearly a great locker room presence and is almost always able to devise the proper game plan. There really aren’t many coaches fans should expect to do a better job with this Ohio State team in the tournament.
There isn’t much that needs to be said here. The clear and obvious number one weakness of this Ohio State team is the defense. The 2020-21 Buckeyes are one of the least defensively efficient teams in the tournament.
Their interior defense is especially bad and has struggled significantly against some of the better centers the team has faced. Barring an upset, defense shouldn’t be much of a problem early on.
The Buckeyes are incredibly lucky to have been placed in a region that doesn’t feature many big-time bigs. However, Ohio State’s opponents are well-aware of its defensive weaknesses and will look to exploit them with every opportunity.
Related to the issue of defense is size. Ohio State is a small team that will face some difficulty against bigger teams.
Center Ibrahima Diallo is the team’s biggest player, by far, but he’s barely gotten any playing time, primarily thanks to a knee injury that saw him miss a significant amount of time.
The absence of a big in this team prevents many from considering Ohio State to be a true contender.
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Ohio State will be taking on the 15 seed, Oral Roberts, in their first game of the tournament. This should be an easy win for Ohio State, but an upset isn’t impossible.
Oral Roberts is home to the highest scoring player in Division One college basketball, Max Abmas, who averaged 24.2 points per game this season.
Oral Roberts also makes more three-pointers per game than any other school in Division One college basketball. This could become a potential problem for a team that isn’t as defensively efficient as many of its fellow top seeds.
Emphasis on “could”.
Even if the Ohio State defense has trouble stopping Oral Roberts’ offense, the Buckeyes should have no problem getting through their defense.
Ohio State is one of most offensively efficient teams in college basketball and will be facing the worst defensive team in the tournament. That’s what will give them the edge.
Having no problem against Oral Roberts will be step one on Ohio State’s journey to making it all the way and bringing home the gold for the first time since 1960.
Ohio State doesn’t have a particularly good defense nor does it have any size. However, great coaching, talented players as well as potential x-factors, and a very efficient offense make the Buckeyes a potential contender.
They’re playing in a region that isn’t the hardest to come out of and have a legitimate shot if they can get healthy and stay focused. Don’t count Holtmann’s Buckeyes out.