Emerging from the highly-competitive Big Ten Conference, the seventh-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes now find themselves pitted against the Iona Gaels in the second round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament at Dayton Arena on Friday night.
The second seed in the West Region, Ohio State has just a single senior on the roster, yet the program was able to keep up with the rest of the elite teams in the Big Ten as it finished in a tie for second place with a record of 13-5. The squad is currently enjoying an eight-game win streak after capturing the conference tournament title in Chicago last weekend.
The Buckeyes began the Big Ten Tournament with a 71-50 win over Nebraska in the quarterfinals and then progressed with a 61-58 triumph versus eighth- ranked Michigan State, followed by a 50-43 decision against 22nd-ranked Wisconsin in the championship round on Sunday.
Meanwhile the 15th-seeded Gaels, losers of all eight of their previous official battles in the NCAA Tournament, gained access to the Big Dance by virtue of their victory in the title game of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament on March 11 versus Manhattan (60-57). Iona, which was 11-7 in conference this season and 20-13 overall, has an all-time record of just 1-7 against currently members of the Big Ten.
In terms of the all-time series between the teams, each has won once with the most recent meeting taking place during the 2008-09 campaign when the nationally-ranked Buckeyes posted a 71-53 win in Columbus. The very first encounter was part of the Great Alaska Shootout back in 1981 with the Gaels slipping by with a 58-57 triumph in Anchorage.
According to OSU sources, the Buckeyes have a record of 45-23 in this event over the years, advancing to the Final Four a total of 10 times and coming in as the runner-up on four occasions (1939, 1961, 1962 and 2007). The squad won it all back in 1960 when it needed just four victories to claim the crown. The team's most recent appearance was in 2007 when it made it to the finals but lost to Florida by a score of 84-75 in Atlanta.
The winner of this contest will go up against the survivor of the Iowa State/Notre Dame matchup in the third round on Sunday for the right to advance to the Sweet 16 next week in Los Angeles.
The first Iona player to lead the MAAC in scoring, placing third in the NCAA overall, Lamont Jones was named the league's Player of the Year for his efforts. He is scoring a hefty 23.0 ppg and thanks to that effort the program was second in the country in scoring overall with 80.7 ppg, after pacing all of Division I last season with 82.9 ppg. A transfer from Arizona, Jones is shooting 44.4 percent from the floor this year and has made the most of his trips to the free-throw line where he has gone 219-of-247 (.887). Also playing a huge part in the team's success this season was Sean Armand who, when teamed with Jones, formed the highest-scoring tandem in the nation, thanks to his 16.6 ppg. A top-notch perimeter sniper, Armand has knocked down 108 triples this season, connecting on 41.2 percent of his tries. Adding some power in the paint is David Laury who is averaging a double-double with 13.1 points and 10.4 rebounds per contest.
It is clear who the top scoring threat for the Buckeyes is this season, as only one player is averaging in double figures. Deshaun Thomas, an easy choice for the All-Big Ten First Team, accounts for 19.5 ppg, which is a considerable portion of the unit's 69.2 ppg on the campaign. Thomas, who is playing in excess of 35 minutes per game, has shown the ability to knock down the perimeter shot (64-of-190), but might be even more of an asset in the paint where he has averaged 6.2 rpg to pace the program. Aaron Craft, an all- conference performer in his own right, doesn't have quite the same touch from the outside (.296) as Thomas, but still it is critical that Craft be on the floor as much as possible, his 9.9 ppg ranking second on the team, but his 152 assists and 66 steals both topping the charts for Ohio State. Although his own offense is not much of a factor, Shannon Scott (4.8 ppg) is also a key piece of the puzzle with 127 dishes and 62 thefts, a major reason why the OSU defense has held the competition to only 57.9 ppg.