TULSA, Okla. — There’s been a belief among Ohio State’s players that, when it comes to coaching, there’s little chance they will be less prepared than their opponent. It has been developed during the first two seasons under coach Chris Holtmann and it has led them again to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
So as the Buckeyes prepared for a high-powered Iowa State offense that presented multiple matchup problems in a first-round Midwest Regional game Friday, they had a big factor on their side: time. For the first time in his five years of reaching the NCAA Tournament, Holtmann had a first-round game on a Friday instead of a Thursday.
It’s likely not a coincidence that, given the schedule, the Buckeyes frustrated the Cyclones into their worst statistical offensive performance of the season in a 62-59 win. With the extra time, assistant coach Terry Johnson, in charge of the defensive plan, said he prepared as if he didn’t have an extra 24 hours.
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He watched more film but didn't overload his players with too much information. Johnson said he watched nearly 10 Iowa State games compared with his average of four or five for an opponent, helping prepare him to anticipate situations to help better make in-game adjustments.
“It allowed us to put our traditional game plan in, us being us, but it allowed us to have a backup plan if we needed to find a way to get them out of rhythm,” he said Saturday. “Our initial way of guarding them man-to-man, it worked. Our guys brought the intensity and we were able to take advantage of a lot of things.”
That backup plan was an undisclosed zone defense that the Buckeyes haven’t played all season, but it wasn’t needed. The extra day of scouting and study allowed the Buckeyes to play in a way that led to them advancing to face No. 3 seed Houston on Sunday night for a spot in the Sweet 16.
“We made sure that everybody knew personnel as much as possible, knew how we were guarding actions,” graduate transfer guard Keyshawn Woods said. “Everybody was really dialed in on the defensive end, and I think that showed (Friday) night. Give credit to our coaches for how they prepared us, and credit the guys for taking the initiative to make sure that we executed the plan.”
It was a successful test of how the Buckeyes could handle having ample time to prepare for an unfamiliar opponent. Immediately after the win, though, the opposite situation presented itself: Ohio State had fewer than 48 hours to prepare for the Cougars. On Friday night, Johnson said, he got about four hours of sleep.
Now it’s about trusting what has gotten the team this far, because there’s not enough time for the customary preparation.
“You can’t have mental mistakes from not knowing personnel,” Johnson said. “They’re going to run something we’re probably not going to go over, because you can’t cover everything because you want your guys to play free and easy, but you’ve got to remember all our basic fundamentals.”
That includes staples like sprinting back on defense, boxing out on every possession against an elite rebounding team and guarding against specific screens.
“It’s going to be a players’ game,” Holtmann said. “Not to say that they’re not going to be prepared. They do some things we’ll need to adjust to and make sure we’re prepared for, both offensively and defensively, but it’ll be a players’ game.”