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Scouting Ohio State

Buckeyes provide a pick-your-poison challenge

Posted: Wednesday March 21, 2007 1:26PM; Updated: Wednesday March 21, 2007 3:06PM
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Scouting The No. 1 Seeds
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OHIO STATE: It's pick-your-poison with Buckeyes
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Mike Conley's improvement over the course of the season makes the Buckeyes harder to defend.
Mike Conley's improvement over the course of the season makes the Buckeyes harder to defend.
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SI.com checked in with an assistant coach from a former Ohio State opponent to get an anonymous scouting report on the South Region's top seed.

"With Ohio State it's kind of like, pick your poison. Do you commit a lot of help on [Greg] Oden and end up leaving shooters open, especially when they surround him with four guys -- [Jamar] Butler, [Ron] Lewis, Ivan Harris and [Mike] Conley -- who have the ability to knock down threes? Or do you let your posts play one-on-one inside and try to shut off the threes? It's a double-edged sword, but you do need to make an effort to limit his touches.

"Teams have tried to double Oden, but he's done a pretty good job of making them pay with his passing ability. They have the floor stretched enough -- doing four-out, one-in a lot -- that it becomes hard to double. If you want to double big-on-big and Harris is in, that means coming off of the perimeter. And once that happens, they make cuts and get in position to catch and shoot jumpers. You used to be able to sag off of Conley, because the book on him early was that he couldn't hit threes, but he's improved enough now -- shooting over 30 percent in Big Ten play -- that he's respectable. You can't leave him alone anymore.

"Conley was the best pure point guard in the Big Ten this year. He has a natural sense of where the ball needs to be, and he gets it in the right positions at the right times. He's quick as a cat, and long, too; he's 6-foot-1 but plays like 6-4 because of that length. When he gets in the lane he can really make plays or elevate well and score. The assist-to-turnover ratio he has is amazing for any age player, let alone a freshman. He knows when to push the right buttons and when not to, and I think he's as valuable to the Buckeyes as Oden is -- especially in tournament time when guard play is so critical. Oden can't affect games as much if he doesn't touch the ball, where Conley is going to have the ball in his hands no matter what. He's become invaluable to them.

"Offensively, if you're playing them man-to-man you're just defending a lot of ballscreens. They spread the floor, four-out, one-in, and try to isolate Oden with different screening action. They want to force help-and-recover situations, and force defenders to make quick decisions, and hopefully make mistakes. With the amount of shooters they have, and Oden inside to kick the ball out to Harris, or Lewis, or [Matt] Terwilliger, it puts immense pressure on your defense to recover quickly.

"On their pick-and-rolls on the perimeter, you have to hedge fast enough so that Conley and Butler -- who are both good penetrators -- can't turn the corner on you and get in the paint and make plays. I don't think Ohio State's offense is very intricate or complicated. It just forces you to make a lot of decisions on the fly defensively. Even when they play the two bigs together, Oden and Othello Hunter, it stays mostly the same, with Oden and Hunter doing more screening in the lane for each other.

"People like to talk about trying to get Oden in foul trouble as a key to the game, but the reality is that he didn't foul out of a game during the entire regular season. His timing blocking shots is amazing, and his presence alone is so effective that he doesn't have to leave the floor. Players are always wondering where he's at -- sometimes you can tell guys are thinking about Oden even when he's not in the game. I've seen players take wild, erratic shots inside, thinking that they need to adjust for where he's coming from, when he's actually sitting on the bench. And when he is in, he's a very patient shot blocker who waits until the ball is released to leave his feet. With his length and timing, he's going to get -- or at least alter -- a lot of shots."