Scouting Ohio State: To start, confront Sullinger, confound Craft

by | CBSSports.com College Basketball Blogger
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Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft play big roles in Ohio State's half-court offense. (Getty Images)  
Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft play big roles in Ohio State's half-court offense. (Getty Images)  

Scouting: Kansas | Kentucky | Louisville

How should you attack Kansas?

What's the secret to stopping Kentucky?

Where's Ohio State's most obvious weakness?

What's the biggest concern when facing Louisville?

These are questions various sportswriters have spent months answering, but the truth is that sportswriters are just sportswriters. They get paid to have opinions and type them into a computer. But they never have to, you know, actually figure anything out. Coaches do, though. That's what they get paid to do. So with that in mind, CBSSports.com college basketball writers Gary Parrish, Jeff Goodman and Jeff Borzello spent the past few days talking to men who have coached against either Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio State or Louisville this season.

Parrish, Goodman and Borzello spoke to at least three men who have coached against each team and asked them for what amounts to a scouting report. The coaches were promised anonymity to ensure complete honesty. Here is what they said:

Scouting Ohio State: Style of play

"They're a half-court execution team on offense. They run a lot of plays, and they don't particularly play real fast. Obviously, [Jared] Sullinger is a big part of what they're doing on offense, getting him the ball. Defensively, they're a solid man-to-man, half-court team. A scouting report-oriented defense."

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"They want to play fast. They don't overwhelm you in transition because Sullinger isn't blazing fast. But [William] Buford and [Deshaun] Thomas will shoot fast in transition, and [Aaron] Craft likes to get to the basket in transition. In the half-court, they're very methodical about what they do. They'll set one screen, and if their guys are open, they're going to shoot. They look down low at the end, or it's Craft usually trying to make a play off a ball screen."

"They're a hybrid team. They have a couple of big strong bodies in [Evan] Ravenel and Sullinger, back-to-the-basket guys. Can throw it down to him. It's an old-school, traditional feel. But they can play a little more up-tempo, with Buford and Thomas running the wings. That's one of the reasons it makes them a tough matchup, because they can play slow and up-tempo."

Offensive strength

"Tremendous passing team. Tremendous. And all their players make the right pass and the right play. They take good shots and execute their offense. It's Aaron Craft. He orchestrates the whole show, gets everyone involved."

"Everybody on the court is a weapon. Their best weapon is Sullinger on the block. If you double-team him, someone is capable of making a shot. And if you don't, he'll score. Those guys have gained confidence with the tournament going on. Lenzelle [Smith Jr.] stepped up [vs. Syracuse], and Craft willed them to victory the game before. They're not dead-eye shooters, but if you leave them open, they'll hurt you."

"They can put the ball inside and have a back to the basket player. Sullinger is a legit 6-8, 6-9, but where he runs into problems is when he gets too antsy to score. He starts jumping into guys and look for calls. Their strength is when they go inside-outside: They bring the ball down, run ball-screens, high-low, get a touch for Sullinger, kick out, Thomas and Buford slashing. I doubt they'll be able to get a lot of transition stuff against Kansas. It will have to be their half-court offense, running through Sullinger."

Key player

"Everybody has their different opinion. But if you don't have Sullinger in that lineup, it's a mediocre lineup. He does so much; he's such a load on the block. You have to make the decision to trap him or not, but he's such a good passer out of the trap. Sullinger is the most important key."

"If Buford can play with confidence, they're tough to beat. It's been big for him that other guys have stepped up. Thomas has been their mainstay workhorse, using the right-shoulder floaters with his left hand. Those are tough shots. People have hung around with them because they have stopped Buford. If you can stop one person, it would be Sullinger, but that's not easy to do. To have your best chance to win, it would be Buford."

"I think it's Buford. That was our focus. Craft is consistent; he is what he is. He plays tough defense, might make a shot, makes good passes. Sullinger is pretty consistent with what you're going to get out of him. I really think it's Buford and how he shoots the 3-ball. If he loosens them up, spreads the defense out, it opens driving lanes for Thomas and post touches for Sullinger."

Primary weakness

"Offensively, their weakness is consistent outside shooting from 3. Aaron Craft is one of them. He has to shoot the ball at a good level. Lenzelle Smith has really stepped it up in the tournament, and that's probably why they're advancing. Defensively, they're a very good defensive team. Not a lot of weaknesses. But teams that push the ball in transition, that can hurt them. Teams who can beat them off the dribble."

"Depth. If you can get out and run on them, they don't have the bench that these other teams have. If Craft ever gets in foul trouble, they're in trouble. When Sullinger comes out, they're in trouble with Ravenel and Amir Williams. They are better in the half-court, but they're opportunistic in transition."

"It's outside shooting. That's why Buford is the key. Can Buford make enough shots from the perimeter? You can't count on Smith for three 3s a night. They're very good defensively, they have a good inside player and they apply ball pressure. The other thing is depth, especially on the perimeter. If Craft, Buford or Smith get into foul trouble, I think their depth comes into play."

How to stop them

"A team that can switch everything would give them problems. They're a play-oriented team. If you go man-to-man, switch everything 1-4. Teams that can pressure and switch will give them problems. They do a good job of running plays for Buford, Thomas and Sullinger. That's their offense: getting them shots in areas of strength. Buford getting handoffs to his left; Thomas off a pick or a screen; and Sullinger on the left block. Those are the three keys."

"You have to get Sullinger off the block. Let him take those perimeter shots, he's more willing to take 3s and faceup jumpers. If you push him off the block, you're in better shape. You have to be able to stop Craft from being in his comfort zone, with his little dribble pullups. Try to make him take tough, contested 3s. The two-dribble pullup to his left is Buford's go-to-thing. He's not as explosive as he used to be. He's not going to the basket. You have to make him a driver."

"You need to limit Sullinger's touches. I don't think a lot of teams try to front Sullinger, but he seems to find a way to get a lot of post touches. If they do go over the top, Sullinger is not a high-rising big guy who can finish in traffic. Two, I would really try to limit Buford. He's their key, so you have to limit his perimeter shots. I would really challenge Craft and Lenzelle Smith to make plays. If you're going to get beat, get beat by Craft or Lenzelle Smith."

Best way to score on them

"You have to have a low-post presence. Establish low post and score. Kansas can hurt them. Sullinger's not a great defender in the low post. Kansas needs [Jeff] Withey and [Thomas] Robinson and those guys to score around the basket. Thomas is not overly big. He's a tweener power forward, more of a faceup player. You can go at those two guys. You have to get the game going fast. Or attack them and spread them out off the dribble. Getting into the lane and kicking out. You gotta make the extra pass."

"We did a pretty good job of scoring on them with our movement. Whoever Craft is guarding, go away from them. Sullinger has trouble with his perimeter defense, and he's skeptical of foul trouble. Whoever he's guarding can exploit him. I don't think Kansas should change what they do. Craft made it hard on [Scoop] Jardine, but he was still able to play his game. He's a better on-ball defender than he is off-the-ball. I wouldn't get too crazy. I just think you can't try to do it by yourself. Once the ball is swung around, don't go one-on-one. That's when Craft is at his best. Score in the context of what you normally do."

"It's very interesting, because Craft is so good with ball pressure. I think it's very hard to ask your point guard to create as much as possible because Craft gives them problems. So you can put the ball in someone else's hands, or run him into a lot of ball screens. Plus, if you're having someone ball screen, you bring Sullinger and Thomas outside of the lane, you're making them slide their feet on the perimeter. I just don't like guys trying to handle the ball against Craft. He's an elite defender; he has a special skillset. He changes the tempo and flow of the game."

Ultimate concern

"I think it's trying to figure out a way to guard them. Zone is not the answer, and some people thought it was. They have so many good weapons. They beat Syracuse's zone. I think it's a decision on how you're going to guard them. Sullinger is a legitimate scoring option and low-post option. They have good scorers, they pass the ball and execute. It's a tough thing."

"You don't want to let them get into a rhythm. When they get the inside-outside game, the transition game -- you can't let it all click at the same time. If you double-team Sullinger, and you make a mistake on the rotation, they hit a shot. Don't let them get that sort of rhythm. You have to take away a couple of things. You have to rely on not making many mistakes. If you're used to double-teaming, double team Sullinger since your rotations will be fine. You can play him one-on-one. Kansas has big, strong athletes. He initiates a lot of contact, but he's not the most explosive player."

"It's probably Sullinger. I go back to personnel. Sullinger is a fantastic college basketball player. He's got to be your key. He's capable of scoring 25 on any given night. If you're talking against Kansas, it's if Sullinger can get Robinson in foul trouble. If Sullinger gets going and Robinson gets frustrated, it's a double-edged sword for Kansas. You have to limit Sullinger's touches inside, rush Buford on the perimeter. Make him go off the dribble, take away his catch and shoot. And you have to hope to make shots."

Something extra

"Take away Buford's catch and shoot. You can't let him go to his left. He loves going to his left. He's not a great ball-handler, so you can pressure him."

"Pressure Craft as much as you can full court. Get the ball out of his hands, make the other guys run offense. He doesn't get tired and worn down. He doesn't get too emotional. We tried to run the offense with other guys, but he reared his ugly head, so to say. We tried to do it. But the ball goes back to his man, and he's dangerous because he steals it from you."

"I think you can bother Craft. The one thing about him is he's pretty strong going to the basket, so you have to push up on him on ball screens. Hedge him, make him go away from the screen. He's better if he gets an angle and he attacks your big guy right away."

"Thomas is hard to take away. We tell our players he has to shoot over his right shoulder, but that doesn't seem to stop him. You have to limit him from catch-and-shoot opportunities. You don't want to get caught on a bad rotation."

"You have to go strong inside. Sullinger doesn't want to get in foul trouble. He wants to swipe at the ball, make you make mistakes. Craft is good in there, getting a hand in. You have to take it strong; don't settle for jump shots. Make them work."

"Kansas can guard one-on-one against Sullinger with their size. It should be interesting to see how Robinson or Withey defends him. If they double, they should leave Craft."

"Maybe give a junk defense, throw them off. See how you can do without doubling Sullinger to start. If I'm Kentucky, there's no way I double."

"Thomas is the best slashing four man I've seen. He gets behind the defense. He's going to get what he needs to get to. You need to make him make plays off the dribble going to the right. Just don't let him go left on you, because he's so good at the jump stop and finishing. You also have to limit transition points with him."

"You have to get back on defense. No transition lobs."

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