Can Ohio State rewrite the script against Gonzaga? The last time these two teams clashed, it turned out ugly for the Buckeyes.
The Bulldogs dismantled Ohio State over 40 minutes in the opening round of the PK80 Tournament in November. Gonzaga ran the Buckeyes off the floor, coasting to an 86-59 victory behind 21 points from Johnathan Williams and 20 from Josh Perkins. The Bulldogs shot 58.5 percent from the floor in the win – including 48 percent from 3-point range.
Both teams survived first-round upset bids to earn a rematch.
Ohio State edged 12-seed South Dakota State 81-73 on Thursday behind 24 points and 12 rebounds from Keita Bates-Diop. Kam Williams added 22 points – including a rare four-point play and three free throws to break a 70-70 tie entering the final two minutes.
Gonzaga outlasted No. 13 UNC Greensboro 68-64 behind 19 points and 13 rebounds from Johnathan Williams. The Bulldogs barely won their 10th straight NCAA opener after blowing a 12-point lead late in the second half. Redshirt freshman Zach Norvell Jr. hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 20.8 seconds left.
This is the third meeting between the two teams and their second one in the postseason. Ohio State previously beat Gonzaga 73-66 in the Round of 32 of the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
West Region: No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes vs. No. 4 Gonzaga Bulldogs
Time: 7:45 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Where: Taco Bell Arena (Boise, Idaho)
Keys for Ohio State
Getting Bates-Diop involved in the offense early is critical. Gonzaga ran away from the Buckeyes earlier this season, in large part, because the Big Ten Player of the Year was a non-factor. He collected 10 rebounds in that game, but was limited to seven points on 2-of-7 shooting. If Bates-Diop can get things going around the post, it will keep the Bulldogs from choking off the perimeter.
Rebounds are difficult to snare when Gonzaga is around. The Bulldogs are one of the nation's best teams on the boards with 1,394 total rebounds in 35 games. Gonzaga ranks in the top 10 nationally in defensive rebounding. If Ohio State wants to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2013, it will start with neutralizing Gonzaga's dominance on the glass. The Bulldogs are excellent in limit opponents’ shooting (46.1 percent, 22nd nationally), so the Buckeyes need to create multiple chances on multiple possessions to get their offense going.
Keys for Gonzaga
Starting and finishing strong is critical for the Zags. They can't afford prolonged shooting slumps like they endured in the first round against UNC Greensboro. Usually, this isn't an issue against most teams. Gonzaga ranks seventh nationally in field goal percentage, shooting at a 50.1 percent clip. The Bulldogs also rank 13th in adjusted offensive efficiency. Simply put, this is a team that takes good shots and takes care of the ball. That's a winning formula against virtually any opponent.
Gonzaga needs to follow the same inside-out attack it utilized in November as a blueprint for handling the Buckeyes. Johnathan Williams needs to dominate down low. The Bulldogs are 13-2 this season when he finishes with a double-double. The senior forward leads Gonzaga with 13.7 points and 8.4 rebounds per contest. Killian Tillie also needs to be a factor. Tillie enjoyed a breakout season, averaging 13.1 points and 5.9 rebounds. The sophomore forward is a true stretch four, hitting nearly 49 percent of his 3-pointers this season.
Ohio State has yearned for this rematch with Gonzaga to materialize since the bracket was unveiled. The Buckeyes will be fired up to prove their one-sided regular season loss to the Bulldogs was a fluke. It's difficult to see a more favorable outcome this time around. Gonzaga has enough size and versatility in the post to give the Buckeyes problems. If the Zags’ shooters get going on the perimeter, it could be another long 40 minutes for Ohio State.
Prediction: Gonzaga 78, Ohio State 70
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.
(Top photo courtesy of OhioStateBuckeyes.com)