Sweet 16 Preview: Ohio State/Tennessee
by Robert Ferringo - 03/21/2007
Quick, name me Ohio State's best non-conference win this season? What was their defining victory outside of the Big 10 this year?
I know; it was a tricky one. You really only had two choices: the Buckeyes' two-point home win over Tennessee on Jan. 13 or their seven-point overtime victory over Xavier last weekend. That's it. Those are the only two teams outside of the feeble and decrepit Big Ten that Ohio State actually took down. Not very impressive when you consider they're a No. 1 seed and - to some poor fools - a tourney favorite.
The Buckeyes will run it back against the Vols at 10 p.m. on Thursday in the South Regional semifinal game at San Antonio. Ohio State has been instilled as a 5-point favorite and the total is set at 144.5.
While Ohio State's experience facing top-level competition could certainly be called into question I would have to say that Tennessee's should not. The Volunteers have beaten Virginia, Texas, Memphis and Oklahoma State this season in the non-conference. Toss in a victory over a Florida club that dominated the Buckeyes and I would say that the Vols have a much more impressive resume than Ohio State at this juncture.
So why don't most people believe that they can beat Greg Oden and Ohio State?
I'm really not certain. Most of it has to do with hype, and the fact that the Buckeyes have already topped the Vols this season. However, I think that win in these teams' January meeting is more of an endorsement for Tennessee than it is for OSU. The Vols actually led late in that game before Ron Lewis hit a 3-pointer with 11.2 seconds remaining to provide the final margin, 68-66. But the fact that the game was played in Ohio State and that these two clubs will now be meeting on a neutral court in Texas should bother Buckeye backers.
That being said, Ohio State fans still have to like their odds and some of the trends that will follow their team into the Sweet 16. Big 10 schools in are 11-6 straight up and 14-3 against the spread in this round of the tournament. Also, No. 1 seeds that covered in their first round game are 21-7-2 ATS in the Sweet 16 over the past several tournaments.
>From a personnel standpoint, Greg Oden dominated the first meeting in only his 10th game back. He's clearly a much better player now and the Buckeyes are more comfortable incorporating him into their game plan.
"We're playing probably 10 times better (than the last meeting)," Lewis said in Associated Press reports. "We're more confident in ourselves. We've got our rhythm. Our inside-outside game is way better than it was then, because now we know how to play off of Greg (Oden) a lot more. And we've been working on the press, so it's helped us a lot."
But Tennessee and excitable coach Bruce Pearl certainly won't back down. Pearl, the former Wisconsin-Milwaukee headman, is used to the role of the underdog and is most certainly selling his team on the played-out David vs. Goliath Angle. The Vols are 12-6 ATS as an underdog over the past two seasons under Pearl and have won their past three games as a dog outright.
Also, Tennessee is 9-2 SU since the return of leading scorer and deadeye marksman Chris Lofton from a mid-season ankle injury. Lofton averages 20.7 points per game for the nation's No. 9 offense (80.8 ppg) and managed 21 against the Buckeyes in their previous meeting. The Vols are averaging 99 points per outing in their two tournament games and their trapping, pressing style forced Ohio State's young guards into 20 turnovers in the first meeting. If the Buckeyes have trouble with the pressure again this week and the Vols are knocking down their threes then I believe this No. 1 seed could get knocked out.
However, there are some troubling signs out of the Tennessee camp. The Vols are the worst defensive team left in the tournament (296th nationally in scoring and 245th in field goal defense). Other than Lofton they have only one player making more than 70 percent of their free throws and in giving up so much on the interior to Oden they could get hammered on the boards. Further, Tennessee is just 2-7-2 ATS in their last 11 tournament games and has never played in a regional final.
I've been pretty successful this year by avoiding teams like these. Ohio State's relative inexperience is a huge question mark but their talent level is appealing. I do think that Tennessee can win this game, but can they get enough stops to make that dream a reality? Regardless, this is the end of the road for one of these schools and simply delaying the inevitable ouster for the others. Neither club is going to cut down the nets in Atlanta but I think they will provide us with one of the Sweet 16's more exciting games.
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