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Blog Entry

Buckeyes still aren't too far behind the Wildcats

Posted on: February 8, 2012 11:56 am
Edited on: February 8, 2012 12:34 pm
 
Sure, Ohio State might not be AS good as Kentucky right now, but they're not that far behind. (Getty Images)

By Matt Norlander

Let's not go lose ourselves in the moment.

Let's not say Kentucky's better than everyone else right now by a significant margin. I know a lot of you want to. I know many want the two or three really big, really easy, really fun storylines to push and discuss and squeeze the sport into an easy, five-minute conversation. But to say Kentucky is indisputably hovering over the landscape is premature. College basketball still has another one-loss team in Syracuse, after all. But I'm not even going to address the Orange right now. They're good, and I likely won't think any less of them tonight, should they lose to rival Georgetown.

Ohio State is the one I've got my eye on. You know, the team who also has a player-of-the-year candidate, multiple future pros and a defense that's better than anyone's, statistically, in the country. The Buckeyes absolutely deserve inclusion into the club -- not that they ever were unworthy enough to get kicked out. In the wake of Kentucky's cruise-control win over Florida last night, and surely with commentary cooking in the oven right now, you'd be easily led to believe college hoops' hierarchy looks like this:

Kentucky

--

Syracuse
Ohio State
Missouri
North Carolina
Baylor
Kansas

--

Fill in the rest

In reality, it's more like this:

Kentucky
Syracuse
Ohio State

--

The rest

Right now, that's the fair configuration. If you wanted to put Missouri in the top group, I wouldn't argue all that much, either. Remember, when it comes to Ohio State, we're talking about a team that's the best in points per possession defense. Kentucky, known for its D with Anthony Davis, actually has moved into the best offense, surpassing Missouri. Ohio State: No. 1 in adjusted defense, No. 9 in adjusted offense. Kentucky: Tops in offense, No. 7 in D. There's not that much difference between the two right now.

The Buckeyes allow .84 PPP, tied with Wisconsin for tops in the country. In KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency, tOSU is still tops, even after a miserable defensive performance against Purdue. It was in the mid-.70s until Purdue went on a 3-point bonanza at Value City Arena Tuesday night. Ohio State forces more turnovers and gives it away less, too.

I do think Kentucky's better than Ohio State. I was the only one here at CBS HQ who picked UK to win it all in the preseason, and I've never wavered on that. But I think OSU belongs on the same shelf right now. The Buckeyes have one of the best defenders in college basketball, too. For all that Anthony Davis does to block and alter shots (by the way, Davis is the most efficient offensive player in the nation. Ridiculous.), Aaron Craft causes as much havoc lower to the floor. Seriously: check the stats and see how much damage he does. He's the compact, scarlet-and-gray version of Davis for OSU's D.

Also, take a look at the overall strength of schedule, Ohio State: 34. Kentucky: 71. And UK, as many have pointed out, still has road games against the SEC's best remaining. We're cruising into mid-February and it's great to see these teams mold into their true selves, but we've still got lots of ball to see. To say Kentucky definitively lifted itself above the riffraff last night is premature. In time, they can, and in a way, I hope they do, because I love domination in sports. It creates polarity and polarity drives interest.

The good news is, I think we get a real verdict on this in the coming two weeks. Ohio State gets Michigan State at home this weekend, then goes to Minnesota and Michigan. It needs to win all three to remain elite, most likely. Kentucky has Vandy on the road Saturday, then gets Mississippi State in Starkville on Feb. 21.

If there's this desire to make Kentucky College Basketball's Great Team, why can't we extend that to two, three or four other teams? All have viable cases at the moment.

Category: NCAAB
Comments

Since: Feb 18, 2011
Posted on: February 10, 2012 12:19 pm
 

Buckeyes still aren't too far behind the Wildcats

So has OSU...their losses can be attributed to the same reason...inexperience on the road with a huge target on their backs (same with UK, everyone plays better when going up against them).  And OSU has now gone on the road and beat Wisconsin in the toughest game to play an away game in the B1G.  Kentucky hasn't had a road test since Indiana...they are about to get a couple.  



Since: Feb 24, 2008
Posted on: February 10, 2012 11:45 am
 

Buckeyes still aren't too far behind the Wildcats

My point concerning UK being young is that the loss means less because of the circumstance.  This UK team has grown significantly over the season.  



Since: Feb 18, 2011
Posted on: February 10, 2012 10:40 am
 

Buckeyes still aren't too far behind the Wildcats

See, that is exactly what I'm saying.  Dominant team?  There are none.  Most deserving of being #1?  UK deserves it.  The same reason that you state why UK lost to Indiana (4 freshmen) is why they aren't a "dominant" team and the tournament is up for grabs.  By the way, OSU is far from an established team.  They have one senior (same as UK) and three sophomores that had any playing time coming into this year (one more than UK).  Otherwise, OSU is in the same boat with inexperience as UK is...the reason I would put UK ahead of them right now is because UK has only lost once.  OSU struggled with Purdue at home same as UK struggled with Alabama at home.  It happens to good teams.  The tournament this year is going to be fun no matter what happens with someones favorite team because it is wide open.  



Since: Feb 24, 2008
Posted on: February 9, 2012 5:06 pm
 

Buckeyes still aren't too far behind the Wildcats

The a dominant team shouldn't lose argument is rediculous and I think you know it.  It is even more so when talking about Kentucky. UK's lone loss was on the road in an extremely hostile environment.  OSU lost there as well, so I know you know about how Assembly Hall was during that game.  But remember, UK is a Freshman team.  4 of their top 7 players had never played a college road game. That is not the same as an established team going on the road and laying an egg.  

As for UK being the most dominant team in the country at this moment, I think you can say that.  It doesn't diminish the other top teams, OSU, Syracuse, Mizzou, etc for them to be that team. Don't get caught up in the need to defend OSU and put blinders on because of it.  

Does UK still need to defend itself? Yes.  They haven't played the three toughest road games in conference yet.  I fully expect them to drop at least one, possibly more.  But in a week where OSU struggles with Purdue, Syracuse needs ovetime to beat G'Town, and UNC and Duke can't decide who wants to lose more until the last second and then UK blows out a top ten team, their fourth straight blowout, it is OK to ramp up the hype machine a little bit and say right now UK is the most dominant team in the land.   



Since: Feb 18, 2011
Posted on: February 9, 2012 2:27 pm
 

Buckeyes still aren't too far behind the Wildcats

I'm not a big stats guy either...I was simply putting a little emphasis on them to show that Sullinger doesn't back down to anyone.  He knows he isn't going to be the tallest guy on the floor a lot of the time...he uses his strength to overcome it.  Trust me I know that the box score doesn't show the value of a player.  If they did, Aaron Craft wouldn't appear to be as big of an impact that he is to OSU.  Sullinger puts up numbers against just about anyone not because he is big and shoots over them, but because he uses his body and strength to gain position and draws a lot of fouls and actually makes most of his foul shots.  Unlike some other big men in the country, Sullinger doesn't do a lot of standing around on the offensive end.  He is always working for position.  He isn't quite the impact that Davis is because he doesn't have the length or the jumping ability for the shot blocking.  Davis is absolutely crucial for his team to win.  I'm just tired of the "this team is the most dominant in the country" talk.  No team is that dominant or they wouldn't lose, ever.  OSU has had a couple losses they shouldn't have had, and they have played close games they should have closed out.  But it doesn't mean they aren't a great team, just that they have had a couple off nights.  A completely dominant team wouldn't do that.  It doesn't exist.  If Kentucky were so much better than everyone else, foul trouble and playing on the road wouldn't have let them lose at Indiana.  They wouldn't have had the close games they have had...they would have all been blowouts.  As I said, right now I see UK as the best team in the country and deserving of the #1 ranking, but that's right now.  We will see at the end of the month after they play their tough part of the schedule to see if all the hype is warranted.



Since: Feb 24, 2008
Posted on: February 9, 2012 2:09 pm
 

Buckeyes still aren't too far behind the Wildcats

So Davis "puckered" in those games?  I am guessing you didn't actually watch them, you just looked up the stats and chose the three worst statistical games.  The Indiana game he was in foul trouble, his first NCAA road game.  He dominated the Georgia game with his defense. And he put his definitive stamp on UNC game with the game sealing block.  

I like Sullinger.  But you can't compare the simple stats of points and rebounds or single game stats to compare the two.  Each team uses the player in a completely different way.  Don't for a minute think that Davis wouldn't be putting up 18-20 points a game if the offense went through him.  He isn't used the way that Sullinger is used and that is the only reason he doesn't put up the points that Sully does.   

As for the UK-OSU game last year, that was a really good game.  And you are right about Sullinger putting up good numbers.  But, what really stood out was not his numbers, but the fact that Josh Harrellson battled him straight up and hung with him throughout the game. What was supposed to be a huge advantage for OSU was neutralized by Jorts!  



Since: Feb 18, 2011
Posted on: February 9, 2012 1:23 pm
 

Buckeyes still aren't too far behind the Wildcats

bfrost,


I would pick UK over OSU if it was a matchup on a neutral court if I were a non-biased betting guy.  But Sullinger and OSU got pushed around by UK last year?  Really?  I seem to remember UK winning on a last second shot and Sullinger had 21 points and 16 rebounds (8 offensive).  I wouldn't call that getting pushed around.  I really can't remember seeing Sullinger "pucker" against anyone in his career.  I do remember Davis "puckering" against a couple teams...Georgia when had 4 points and North Carolina with 7 points and Indiana with 6 points.  The only time this year where Sullinger scored less than 11 points was against South Carolina when he played 6 minutes after being injured.  Sullinger is averaging 17.4 points and 9 rebounds in a rough B1G league while Davis is averaging 14 points and 10 rebounds against the bottom half of the SEC this year.  And Davis is averaging playing 2 more minutes per game.   



Since: Mar 20, 2010
Posted on: February 9, 2012 1:20 pm
 

Buckeyes still aren't too far behind the Wildcats

I like using KenPom, but you can't just look at the overall number.  If you look behind the numbers, UK's effective defensive FG% is 2 and OSU's is 44.  What really helps OSU's ranking is that UK is in the 200's on stealing the ball, whereas OSU is 9th.  Unless there is a complete fall off, I still think that it is UK and UNC at the top in the end with Syr and OSU second tier.  Then, just roll the teams out in whatever order.



Since: Feb 18, 2011
Posted on: February 9, 2012 1:14 pm
 

Buckeyes still aren't too far behind the Wildcats

Haha, if them only losing 2 game this year versus 8 last year makes them 4 times better, then they are going to win 100 games in the regular season since they only won 25 last year right?  That's pretty dumb logic.  Maybe you are taking my post out of context.  Kentucky has a great team this year.  They deserve the #1 ranking.  But saying they are "at least twice as good" is asinine.  Doubling the draft picks doesn't mean anything...just means they have a senior and two sophomores and three freshmen that are going to go to the NBA.  If that is the case, last years team had 6 draft picks because Jones, Miller, and Lamb were on it and will be draft picks.  And adding them to Liggins, Knight, and Harellson makes 6 great players.  If the three remaining players were on last years team, how are they twice as stacked if three of the players are still on the team?  That means there are 3 players that are different and it would mean that Davis, Gilchrist, and Teague are four times better than Liggins, Knight, and Harrellson to make up the difference.  If they were twice as good as last years team they would win every game easily and the tournament wouldn't even be a challenge.  But we know that isn't the case.  It's up for grabs come tournament time.  And if the OSU defensive numbers are inflated because of the grind game in the B1G, then Kentucky's win total is inflated because of the weakness of the SEC.  Kentucky still has to play the good teams this year...their schedule is getting tougher, not easier.  I know the big win over .500 Tennessee was impressive and all, but until the Florida game they hadn't played a "good" team since Indiana which they lost (and arguably Louisville).  The toughest games they had played was against Alabama and Alabama who are both questionable on even getting into the tournament.  We will see if they are all they are cracked up to be when they play Vandy twice, @ Miss State, and @ Florida.  



Since: Feb 24, 2008
Posted on: February 9, 2012 12:32 pm
 

Buckeyes still aren't too far behind the Wildcats

I think all of the facts in this article are valid, but I am still not sure that I agree with the conclusion.  

I think that UK has padded its stats by playing the alsorans of the conference over the last couple of weeks.   Kentucky still has a tough road schedule in front of them and we will really see what they are made of over the next month when they go to Vandy, Miss St., and Florida.  


I think OSU is a really, really good team.  I can easily see them making a Final Four run, if not more.  I think their top three players are all really good.


Starting the season I think there was a general consensus that the top two teams were going to be UK and UNC based on talent.  Right behind them we had OSU, Syracuse, and UConn (disaster).  Add in surprise Missouri and that is what we have at the top, minus UConn.  But, why was UK and UNC separated?  Talent.  Kentucky's top six are better than your top six, with the possible exception of UNC.  Kentucky has lived up to their talent and are playing really well right now.  


I know that Craft can be a big disruption on defense.  I was really surprised on what he was able to do to Knight last year in the tourney.  But I have watched a few games and seen Craft exposed recently.  But, I don't care what metrics you use, he does not disrupt the way that Davis does.  Period!  


There is more to basketball than the metrics.  There is the eyeball test.  Right now, UK passes the eyeball test in a way that OSU doesn't.  What that means for March, nothing.  Matt, get your head up away from the numbers and watch the teams.  There is a reason why your partners on your podcast dissagreed with you.  In this, you are simply wrong, no matter what the numbers say.


The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com