This Friday, the Buckeyes will take on Tennessee in what has the making of a very interesting matchup. The Volunteers are fresh off their victory over Ohio 83-68, and now get their second straight Ohio team. So the Buckeyes will be playing for more than just a spot in the Elite 8, they will be playing to defend the State of Ohio and get revenge for fellow Buckeye John Groce and the Bobcats. All kidding aside, Turner and company have a tough task ahead of them.
On paper Tennessee doesn't seem like that scary of an opponent. Their 27-8 record has some holes in it, especially their very average road record. Not only that, but the Big Ten has shown that it is superior to the SEC in the tournament this season. Oh, and by the way, Tyler Smith isn't magically coming back.
It's the NCAA tournament though, so who cares about statistics? The reality is that Buckeye fans should be a little bit worried. Here is why...
Let me start by saying that Bruce Pearl is one of the most annoying coaches in college basketball. Any coach that 1) shows up shirtless with a painted body to a women's basketball game, 2) is caught hitting on college girls, and 3) wears a bright orange jacket on the sideline won't get my vote. Despite his obnoxious personality and love of coeds, the guy can flat coach. If there was ever proof of that, it has been this season. After the marijuana debacle (that led to the departure of T. Smith), most every coach in the country would have lost this squad. Instead the Volunteers, under Pearl, have played inspired basketball.
What's most impressive is the brand of basketball Pearl has gotten these guys to play. With a team that Roy Williams or Rick Barnes would have tanked (maybe a .500 record if they were lucky), Pearl has been able to establish an uptempo style of basketball mixed with some stellar defense. I fully expect Pearl to come in with a great game plan for the Buckeyes, and the week he has to prepare isn't a good thing.
Tennessee has played their best basketball against top tier teams.
You have to give it to UT, they have played great on the big stage. They were able to knock off both #1 Kansas and #2 Kentucky (almost twice) during the regular season. Granted, both wins came at home, but it still was no small feat (especially considering they won both without Smith). The only team that can boast of anything close to this, would be Louisville with their sweep of Syracuse this season.
Make no doubt about it, this game against OSU is the biggest game they have been in since playing those teams. Honestly, it is bigger, this is the Sweet Sixteen we are talking about. It even means more for UT considering they have never gotten past this round, EVER! So, plan on getting Tennessee's best shot come Friday. They will be hungry like the wolf!
The Vols will play much deeper than the Buckeyes.
Pearl seems to have been able to make up for his lack of star power by playing every last man on his bench. They have 11 players averaging more than 10 minutes a game on the season (with no one over 30 min.). Not only has this kept UT fresh, but it means that production comes from different places every night. Take for instances Melvin Goins' 15 points off the bench against San Diego State in the first round, or Cameron Tatum's nine points and Josh Bone's seven points against Ohio. Not only is that impossible to game plan for, but one has to wonder how fresh the Bucks really are in comparison.
UT will be very physical inside the paint.
Tennessee could cause some matchup problems inside because of how physical they like to play in the paint. Wayne Chism and Brian Williams combined for 24 rebounds last game, and the Bucks on the other hand just got out rebounded by GT. I think Lauderdale and Turner will do their job, but the rest of the team better get ready for a war inside. Pearl will happily bring in some of his guys off the end of the bench to bang people around (including his own son). If you watched UT play Kentucky in the SEC tournament you know that Pearl's boys don't mind playing a nasty game where everyone hits the boards.
I still like the Buckeyes...
I realized I just highlighted a lot of problems, but I still believe the Buckeyes will take this game. Don't underestimate what Tennessee brings to table though, and expect a nail biter all the way to the finish. I really think this game will cause more problems for the Buckeyes, than either UNI or MSU will bring in the Elite 8.