How Ohio State’s defense works its magic


Ohio State spent Tuesday night throttling Illinois. Big deal, right? Plenty of teams do that to the Illini lately, including Nebraska.

It’s notable because it was yet another solid effort from the Buckeyes’ defense.

It’s the 11th time in 15 Big Ten games that they held an opponent below 1 point per possession, which is why they’re tops among the league in defense and boast the best adjusted defensive efficiency on Kentucky and Syracuse might boast scarier defenses – those shot-blockers! – but Ohio State’s shouldn’t be overlooked.

As Michael Rogner at Run the Floor explains, Ohio State’s defense is allowing points at a ridiculously low rate. Only Kansas’ 2006-07 squad allowed fewer points per possession compared to the national average.

You don’t get to that level without doing a few things that usually go unnoticed. That includes the Buckeyes’ high rate of causing turnovers yet doing it without excessive fouling.

But I’ll let Michael explain:

To map these hidden possessions we’ll assume a 68 possession game. Ohio State (12th nationally) will force you to turn the ball over 16 times, leaving 52 effective possessions for your team to do their scoring. In those 52 possessions, Ohio State opponents have averaged 30.8 misses shots per game. The Buckeyes allow 7.5 offensive rebounds. And since they foul so little, opponents will average 16.4 free throws.

Now, the same numbers with the average NCAA defense. In that same 68 possession game, the average defense will force 13.8 turnovers. So that’s 2.2 more scoring opportunities than OSU allows. Assuming the average team forced the same shooting percentage (they don’t) those extra 2.2 possessions would equate to an extra 1.3 missed shots, or 32.1 per game. Average teams allow opponents to grab 32.3% of their own misses, which in this case would be 10.4. The average team also has a 36.3% FT Rate which would mean 19.1 FTs.

So. Ohio State takes away an extra 2.2 of your possessions. They keep you from extending 2.9 possessions with offensive rebounds. And they don’t allow you 2.7 FTs that a normal team would. Those are the hidden possessions in a game, and this year’s Buckeyes is remarkable at finding them.

Now, the trick will be to do it against Michigan State on March 4 or in the NCAA tournament.

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