Siena has edge in experience because of Buckeyes’ ever-changing roster

One big difference between Siena and Ohio State is that the Saints don’t have to adapt to personnel

One big difference between Siena and Ohio State is that the Saints don’t have to adapt to personnel losses due to early departure to the NBA.

Sure, the Saints (26-7) have to absorb the effects of graduation and transfers, just like everybody else, but they’ve never had to see a player like Greg Oden come and go in one year.

That helps give them an experience edge over Ohio State (22-10) heading into Friday night’s first-round NCAA tournament game in Dayton, Ohio.

Except for freshmen Kyle Downey and Owen Wignot, the Saints have been to the NCAA tournament and rely heavily on the junior class, which includes starters Alexander Franklin, Edwin Ubiles and Ronald Moore. Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference player of the year Kenny Hasbrouck and Josh Duell, who will be playing in the third NCAA tournament of his career, are co-captains.

The Buckeyes don’t have a senior on their 14-man roster, start three sophomores and a freshman and bring 7-foot freshman center B.J. Mullens, an NBA prospect who might not be back as a sophomore, off the bench.

Ohio State’s situation was compounded by the fact that junior David Lighty, who played the second-most minutes on the team last year, was lost for the year with a broken foot seven games into the season.

“In my five years at Ohio State, in a lot of ways, I feel like we’ve coached four completely different teams,” Buckeyes head coach Thad Matta said during a Tuesday afternoon conference call. “It’s a challenge. The biggest challenge, normally, is to go into the offseason, and sit down and say, ‘Let’s talk about our man-to-man or our zone package.’ For the last few years, it’s been, ‘What can this guy do at this level?’ And then David breaks his foot.”

Siena practiced Tuesday at the Alumni Recreation Center, and is scheduled to leave Albany International Airport on an 8 a.m. charter flight today. The Saints will have a closed practice at Wright State at 3:30 this afternoon.

Despite the youth of his roster, Matta believes Ohio State has handled the quick turnover well.

“You look at the Big Ten. A few years ago, Michigan State had a freshman leave,” he said. “I honestly think we’ve recovered well from losing four freshmen in two years. I think our recovery has gone well. A lot of times when you’ve got juniors and even sophomores now, they’re coming back with a little more experience. Guys like Jon and Evan, you can see the rewards of playing a lot of minutes as freshmen.”

Still, it can change how the team approaches the offseason, he said.

Instead of working on fine-tuning their game, the Buckeyes have to puzzle through their personnel, and figure out which roles players will be able to handle the following season.

He’s found that his young big men, Mullens and sophomore Dallas Lauderdale, have needed a little more time to evolve.

Lauderdale played well during the Big Ten tournament, and could pose some real problems for Siena when the Saints are in their halfcourt offense.

“They have to come to grips with the fact that the better they play, the better team we are,” he said. “You’re not going to get a Greg Oden walk through the door every day, where what he did with one hand was remarkable. The hard part for us is that, with the gauntlet of the Big Ten, every possession is important. We had games where we were substituting offense- defense in the first half, not only at the center position, but others.”

Diebler is a 6-6 perimeter shooter who has made 94 of 220 (.427) of his three-pointers this season.

He played all 40 minutes in four of the Buckeyes’ last five games.

“He has a tremendous feel for what’s going on at all times, and he has a heck of a motor,” Matta said. “He can just keep going.”

The game is shaping up to be a matchup of Siena’s speed against Ohio State’s size and muscle, which is typical for a Big Ten team.

Siena has seen teams like this before.

“I look at Siena as a veteran team, even though they only have two seniors,” Matta said. “But I think the juniors and sophomores have been through it before. A lot of times in the NCAA tournament, experience is a huge factor. Guys having been in that arena and environment can be very advantageous.

“We think we have a pretty good understanding of who Siena is, and what they’re capable of doing. They will press, run and jump, halfcourt trap, pressure in the man-to-man. They do a lot of different things. I see that as a sign of them being together for a few years. Obviously, you don’t want to turn it over, and let them get going. I think our guys need to recognize what they’re attempting to do, and read the sit­uation and have great spacing and move the ball.”

Matta dismissed the notion that any homecourt advantage the Buckeyes, whose campus in Columbus is 75 miles from Dayton, have will make a big difference.

He also pleaded for the scalpers to take it easy on the Buckeyes’ fans, who will face stiff compet­ition from Louisville supporters for tickets, especially since it’s likely the Louisville fans will be pulling for Siena.

“With the way the economy is today, I hope they don’t have to pay too much,” Matta said with a laugh. “We’re hoping for a heck of a turnout.

“I really believe that when you get in these environments, it’s a 40-minute game where, hey, the winner stays, and the loser goes home. I don’t think it’s [homecourt advantage] much of a factor.”

Categories: College Sports

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