On their surface, the 2011 NCAA tournament Dayton region's #4 seed Ohio State Buckeyes and #16 seed Stetson Hatters would appear to have nothing in common.
In fact, what probably stands out most given that Ohio State is led by 6'4" center Jantel Lavender is that Stetson has only one player on their roster over 6'0" while OSU has six on their roster over 6', not including Aleksandra Dobranic.
Yet despite that glaring difference, they have a surprising commonality - they are the two worst offensive rebounding teams (by percentage) in the Dayton bracket and the only two to enter the tournament with a negative offensive rebounding differential. And it's not like that got better for OSU during the 9-game winning streak that they're riding coming into the tournament: they got outrebounded (sometimes badly) in each of those.
That's probably the easiest way to summarize the struggle of figuring out Ohio State this season: offensive rebounding is about effort and being more than tall. For some reason, OSU just hasn't gotten that done consistently, if at all. The harder way might be to throw out statistics all ttogether and simply say that they don't matter for this team.
And perhaps when they want to win games, they can find ways to do so despite not rebounding particularly well. In fact, I'd even say that if they turned it on and wanted to win this bracket, they could win this bracket (though I suspect they'd have to rebound better than they have all season).They could also legitimately lose any potential matchup in this bracket.
The bottom line is that Ohio State will live on Lavender in the post and die with their consistently wavering focus on the little things.
I was going to go with an Ohio Players song for this region, but Dayton native Kim Deal gives us great upset music.
Upset watch: #12 Bowling Green vs. #5 Georgia Tech/#4 Ohio State
Saying that BGSU could beat Ohio State necessarily begins with the proposition that BGSU will beat Georgia Tech. I'll defer to James, who covered Georgia Tech, to add some validity to this proposition.
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Why do the basketball gods seem to hate Georgia Tech? Last year, they faced Arkansas-Little Rock in the first round and were sent home early. This year, they get to face 28-4 Mid-American Conference Champion Bowling Green. I love Georgia Tech, but if MaChelle Joseph's team is napping in the first round it's going to be the world's longest trip to Atlanta, Georgia.
In addition to having a potentially friendly crowd, we've talked about BGSU a few times on this site (here, here, and here) and most important to note is that the Falcons are a team that has strong senior leadership and simply doesn't stop coming at you. And as efficient a scoring team as they are, they - and particularly star wing Lauren Prochaska - are also a very good defensive team. So while Georgia Tech could give them fits by forcing turnovers with their athleticism, BGSU is a team that can find ways to score by staying aggressive on the offensive boards and getting themselves to the free throw line, which are two things that count in a tournament setting.
That would likely set up a meeting with Ohio State, assuming the University of Central Florida doesn't upset them in the first round (as James also suggested they might) by beating them on the boards, which they've done by a 10% margin against opponents this season.
Cinderella/Cannonball: Bowling Green
Points per possession: 1.08
Opponents' points per possession: .82
Statistical strength: scoring efficiency (+12% effective field goal percentage relative to opponents)
Beating Ohio State can apparently be accomplished in different ways, but Michigan's sweep of Ohio State does represent a recurring theme - Ohio State has lost a few games by struggling to defend threes, if not by big games from talented perimeter players. Bowling Green definitely has talented perimeter players but also has 5 players shooting over 35% from three point land while shooting 36.1% as a team. If OSU's strength is inside, ball movement and spreading their defense with threes could beat them.
Bowling Green might not have an obvious way to stop Lavender, but if for some reason OSU shows up napping Tennessee will likely happily pass on a meeting with Lavender.
Competitive first round game: #6 Oklahoma vs #11 James Madison
Oklahoma wasn't particularly happy with getting a 6-seed and drawing James Madison can't make that any more pleasant. In addition to the Dawn Evans factor, JMU's strength this season has been forcing turnovers, which has been Oklahoma's biggest weakness. That could come together to create a nightmare scenario for Oklahoma. But ultimately, Danielle Robinson is a tough guard and they could find a way to advance to the second round.
Potentially most entertaining game: #3 Miami vs. #2 Notre Dame
Notre Dame has the best defense in this bracket allowing only 0.78 points per possession while Miami isn't far behind at 0.82. Both like to feast off of opponents' turnovers and while Miami typically likes to move a bit faster, Notre Dame is an extremely disciplined team that can score efficiently at a high pace with a +11% effective field goal percentage differential.
But where this game will become most interesting is in its contrast of team structures - while Miami relies very heavily on 3 players to win games for them, Notre Dame is a more balanced team that goes deeper than star Skylar Diggins as Scotter described after witnessing them almost defeat UConn. In a game of strong defense, it's easier to pinpoint a focal point to take away for Miami and far less so for Notre Dame.
Favorite: Notre Dame
Points per possession: 1.10
Opponents' points per possession: 0.78
Statistical strength: scoring efficiency (+11% effective field goal percentage differential)
What impresses me most about Notre Dame is not just that they're good defensively but that their pieces fit together perfectly to create among the most imposing defensive units in the nation. One of the more interesting ways of thinking about Notre Dame is to think about UCLA's notorious defense that actually beat them in South Bend.
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"UCLA is extremely athletic," said LMU coach Julie Wilhoit, whose team lost to Notre Dame 91-47 on the second day of the tournament. "And I think Notre Dame, they have athleticism within their players, but within their system they're very sharp and crisp. And what they look like - they're just a machine. They just are well-tuned, into each other, and they execute so well together...today, as everybody is preparing for conference, Notre Dame looks like they are really ready."
I've said on multiple occasions that I would love to see a UCLA vs. Tennessee matchup, but Notre Dame offers a similar test for the Lady Vols: they are exactly the type of well-tuned defensive unit that could frustrate Pat Summitt's squad into turnovers and sloppy play. In fact, while UND and UT are relatively similar statistically, the one major difference is UND's 7% turnover differential. It's not that UT has a negative differential, but that their ball handlers have been inconsistent throughout the season.
That said, this is not the same UT team of even a month ago - they've improved across the board and one thing that helps limit the type of mental mistakes that lead to turnovers is to simply make shots and find a rhythm. They've done that. Yet if they were to have a turnover relapse, Notre Dame would be the team to make it happen.
#1 Tennessee def. #16 Stetson
#8 Marquette def. #9 Texas (statistically, Texas was not stronger than any team in this field, outside of Stetson)
#12 BGSU def. #5 Georgia Tech
#4 Ohio State def. #13 UCF (I just don't have the heart to pick this upset, but it's one of the stronger possible upsets)
#6 Oklahoma def. #11 James Madison (I have faith that Oklahoma can limit turnovers against JMU)
#3 Miami def. #14 Gardner-Webb
#10 Temple def. #7 Arizona State (ASU was the worst 3-point shooting team in my beloved Pac-10)
#2 Notre Dame def. #15 Utah
Tennessee def. Marquette
BGSU def. Ohio State (This is as much about tournament pool strategery as lack of faith in case OSU loses to UCF)
Miami def. Oklahoma
Notre Dame def. Temple
Tennessee def. BGSU (a great run for Prochaska & Co. and a chance for draft scouts to see her against top tier comp)
Notre Dame def. Miami
Notre Dame def. Tennessee (This could definitely go either way - the Lady Vols have improved dramatically)