Preview & Prediction: By Evan Dorey
-- Evan Dorey's game previews & rankings are based on Elo Ratings. Elo Ratings are fairly simple, all teams are assigned an initial number of points, which is the same for all teams, eliminating preseason bias. Then, as the season progresses, when a team wins it gains points, and when it loses it drops points. The amount of points that are gained or lost depend on the level of the opponent (beating a cupcake gets you little, beating #1 will be a big increase), the scoring margin of the game (which is capped), and the game’s location. To take a look at Evan's College Basketball Elo Ratings, visit his website or blog where he discusses the rankings along with other statistical observations about big games and interesting teams.
So, the first time I took a crack at previewing the Buckeyes I went against them, and I was feeling pretty good about myself until Jack McClinton was ejected for a slap to relatively little-used freshman Anthony Crater. Of course, the Buckeyes then stormed back in the second half to ruin my prediction. The reason I bring this up is that this preview again features #46 Ohio State (4-0), this time against a better opponent, #36 Notre Dame (5-1), in Indianapolis.
Ohio State hasn’t played since the game with Miami, and that game was important for the Buckeyes, as it gave them a win much better than the three they opened the season with. For their part, Notre Dame has won all of their games except the big loss to North Carolina, which is really somewhat en vogue these days. The Irish’s most impressive win was just barely edging Texas in Maui.
The question of this game is, of course, the status of All-American Luke Harangody. Both the ND media guide for the game and coach Mike Bray indicate he will not play. This will have a big effect, and I’ll discuss below.
I was worried before the Miami game about Ohio St.’s numbers being really badly affected by their poor schedule, but with at least one set of data against a quality opponent, I’m a little more confident in the stats. Ohio St. is still a very solid defensive team, and once McClinton was out, they really managed to stop Miami’s shots and force a lot of turnovers. The Buckeyes also excelled on the defensive glass more than in previous games, and with Harangody out, this could continue. Surprisingly to me, despite Harangody’s presence, the Irish’s strong offense doesn’t depend that heavily on offensive boards, though they do benefit from Harangody’s domination, of course. Losing the big man could very well take their solid but not spectacular rebounding and inside scoring numbers and send them plummeting. Notre Dame is a good three-shooting team, and have very steady nerves with the ball, 2nd in the nation in turnover rate. They do struggle with free throws, and losing the 65% shooting of Harangody will likely cause their percentage to go even further down.
When Ohio St. has the ball, neither team resides quite as much in the extremes. One of the main reasons the Buckeyes managed to pull their comeback against Miami was that they turned the ball over at a pretty low rate, and while they shoot a lot of threes, they don’t do it anywhere near as well as Notre Dame. For the Irish’s part, they really don’t force many turnovers, so a repeat performance in this area from Ohio St. wouldn’t be a big surprise, and they don’t defend the three well, a big concern. One area where Notre Dame has been very effective is in avoiding fouls, though Ohio St.’s middle of the road shooting doesn’t make that a huge concern for them.
Even with Harangody’s inactivity lasting only two games to date, you can clearly see a before and after in the lines of the Notre Dame guards. Kyle McAlarney went from taking around 10 shots a game to being closer to 20, while Ryan Ayers has gone from around 7 to around 15. The good news is that both have maintained their efficiency, especially McAlarney, whose shooting has been sublime, over 50% from behind the arc. The problem for McAlarney is that he does very little inside the arc, and while he can distribute the ball, as he takes a greater role in the offense he should be trying to get to the line more often, as he has been there only 10 times in 7 games. Ayers, at 6-7, is a bit more of an inside/outside player, but is just not as efficient as McAlarney, though few are. Inside, two seniors will try to fill Harangody’s shoes, Zach Hillesland and Luke Zeller. Hillesland has been a solid rebounder, but his shooting is just not good enough, failing to crack 45% inside. Zeller’s inside numbers have been just as bad, with his only saving grace being that he is at least hitting a good number of threes.
B.J. Mullens may have had his best career game against Miami, but still didn’t reach double digits in any stat category, not exactly meeting the high expectations. The good news for Ohio St. is that the two sophomore guards, Evan Turner and Jon Diebler, kept on doing their thing. Diebler’s 50% shooting from three was critical to keeping the Buckeyes in the game, and Turner had a very solid scoring game down low. Junior David Lighty also stepped up as a scoring option, though his 1-10 from three on the season suggest he should keep it to inside the arc. Mullens, along with another big forward, Dallas Lauderdale, will definitely be happy to see Harangody out of the line-up, it’ll make their afternoon significantly easier.
Well, if the Irish had Harangody, I’d probably take them to edge out a victory, but without him I’m just not convinced. Sure, McAlarney and Ayers lit up Furman and South Dakota, but Ohio St. is a different beast. While McAlarney is good enough to shoot his team to a win, he can’t keep going at a 50% pace, though the way McClinton scorched the Buckeyes’ defense does give me pause. Still, while the Harangody-less Irish are good, I think a confident Ohio St. team will be a little bit better. Also, the possibility that McAlarney might just go on ahead and kneecap sparingly-used freshman William Buford, just to stick it to my projection, is enough to scare me into picking the Buckeyes.
To be a bit more serious, I think that the Ohio St. defense that confounded a Miami team lacking its best player in the second half in that game will be able to cause enough problems for a Notre Dame team lacking its best player to secure a slim Buckeye victory.
Winner: Ohio St. Margin: 1-5