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Preview: #2 Villanova Wildcats vs. #7 Ohio State Buckeyes

The ‘Cats take on the Buckeyes for a trip to the Sweet Sixteen

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round Pittsburgh- Loyola (Il) at Ohio State Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The #2 Villanova Wildcats will take on the #7 Ohio State Buckeyes on Sunday afternoon for a trip to the Sweet Sixteen.

THE Ohio State University is a public research university located in Columbus, Ohio. The school has over 60,000 students and a football team valued at $1.5 billion - so, nearly a mirror image of Villanova University.

Some fun facts about OSU:

  • In 1926, the school elected a cow named Maudine Ormsby as Homecoming Queen.
  • Scarlet and gray were chosen as the school’s colors in 1878 as they were not being used by any other schools.
  • The Victory Bell is rung after every football win - it can be heard up to 5 miles away.

Here are three randomly selected alumni:

  • R.L Stine, author of the Goosebumps series
  • Larry Sanger, founder of Wikipedia
  • J.K. Simmons, voice of the peanut M&M

The Buckeyes are coached by former Butler coach Chris Holtmann, who is in his fifth year in Columbus. Ohio State finished 20-11 (12-8) this year with wins over Duke, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Michigan State. However, the Buckeyes also lost to Xavier, which is an indictment of the school and everything for which it stands.

Ohio State throttled Villanova 76-51 in the teams’ last meeting in 2019. The ‘Cats are 1-2 against Ohio State since 1949-1950. Ohio State also defeated Villanova in 1939 Final Four. I don’t know about you, but that’s been stuck in my craw ever since.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Coming off of a win over #10 Loyola Chicago in the First Round, the Buckeyes will be chomping at the bit to upset Villanova and set up a showdown with #11 Michigan next week. According to DraftKings, Villanova is a 5.5 point favorite.

So, let’s dive into what we can expect tomorrow.

The Buckeyes’ primary strength is their offense. The offense ranks #12 in AdjO, with top-35 rankings in both 2P% and 3P%. They have an elite mid-range game, ranking 3rd in the country in mid-range shooting percentage. Like Villanova, the Buckeyes play very slowly, ranking 287th in AdjTempo and drag out possessions. As the Buckeyes have the ability to hit from basically anywhere on the floor, the Wildcats will have to be tenacious and crisp on defense - even the slightest amount of space could yield a high percentage shot for OSU.

E.J. Liddell, a 6’7 (243) junior forward, is the primary threat for the Buckeyes. He is an incredible low post-scorer and he can get hot from mid-range. He’s active off-ball and Holtmann loves using him to set screens. On defense, Liddell is a solid defender - specifically in the post - and will gladly send some Wildcat lay-up attempts into the seats. He is not much of an outside scorer and has struggled with ball-handling this year. A combination of Jermaine Samuels and Brandon Slater will likely be thrown at Liddell as he’s too athletic to be effectively guarded inside by Eric Dixon for 40 minutes.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round Pittsburgh- Loyola (Il) at Ohio State Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State’s secondary weapon is freshman G/F Malaki Branham. The 6’5 wing has been an absolute revelation for the Buckeyes - he can score from anywhere on the floor and has developed into a great facilitator. While not an elite ballhandler, Branham has a tight handle and he can break defenders down off the dribble. He’s got the size and craftiness to cause problems for Villanova’s defense, especially on the wing. Villanova will need to disrupt this two-man game of Liddell and Branham and force the other Buckeyes to beat them.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Wildcats will also need to take advantage of the Buckeyes’ weaknesses on the defensive end. Ohio State ranks #107 in AdjD and, like Delaware, struggles to defend the perimeter. The Buckeyes have a strong interior defense, anchored by Liddell, but the supporting cast struggles to close out or cause turnovers. As was the case with Delaware, Villanova should be able to generate good looks from deep. Given Ohio State’s stout interior defense and efficient interior/mid-range game, Villanova will need to be hitting from outside or this could be a very long afternoon.

Overall, this game does not have the on-paper mismatches that typically terrify this fanbase every time we head into the Round of 32. Ohio State is a solid team with two very strong players - but the team has warts that play into what Villanova typically looks to do. During the first half of the Delaware game, Villanova was baited into a number of questionable mid-range shots. Eventually, the ‘Cats realized where their bread was buttered and went back to their inside/outside game. Simply put, the ‘Cats don’t want this one to turn into a mid-range shootout. Given the Buckeyes’ porous perimeter defense, this is a game where Villanova should look to once again establish and inside/outside game. The ‘Cats were able to heat up from deep, specifically in the second half, against Delaware - a trend that will hopefully continue into Sunday.

Let’s play our game and let’s get the dub.

The game will tip-off at 2:40pm on CBS.