As Ohio State fans know, Jon Diebler could shoot the lights out anywhere, anytime.
Except in the Edward Jones Dome.
Two years ago, Diebler – the Big Ten’s all-time leading three-point shooter – made just 1 of 7 shots as Ohio State crashed out of the Sweet 16 with a loss against Tennessee.
That stat just helps illustrate how difficult it can be to shoot from long range when this part of the NCAA Tournament comes around. The NCAA’s recent decision to stage all Final Fours and some regional finals in massive football stadiums has resulted in unprecedented crowds – and unfamiliar environments that make it difficult to shoot the basketball.
“It’s interesting,” assistant coach Jeff Boals said. “It’s completely different. We played in a dome two years ago in St. Louis. Everyone talks about the depth perception and how you have 74,000 seats with an open environment, so it’s a completely different atmosphere when you play.”
It will be the same way when Ohio State faces Kansas tonight in the Final Four in New Orleans' Mercedes-Benz Superdome, one of the most massive sporting venues in the country which is expected to be filled to the rafters with fans.
In many ways, the stats about the difference between shooting in a dome vs. shooting in a conventional basketball arena – even one as big as OSU’s Value City Arena, which has 19,000-plus seats – are stark.
The most famous example might be last year’s national championship game. Butler – a team that shot 43.3 percent from the floor throughout the season – made just 12 of 64 shots (a stunning 18.8 percent) in the title-game loss to Connecticut. The Huskies weren’t much better, shooting 34.5 percent from the floor and making 1 of 11 threes.
Research recently published by USA Today shows that one game wasn’t just an aberration. Overall shooting percentage went down nearly 10 percent in last year’s tournament games staged in domes, while three-point shooting suffered a 6 to 7 percent dip. Even free-throw shooting went down four percentage points.
There are certainly other factors at play – big-game nervousness, and the fact that as a team goes deeper into the tournament, the better the opposing defense is likely to be – but it’s fair to say the sheer size of the dome setups and the differing sightlines has an effect.
“I think the vastness (makes it so difficult),” assistant coach Chris Jent said. “There is nothing over the court; there is no feeling of a ceiling. It’s like playing outside in a sense because there is no roof. That more than the peripheral and what’s behind the basket is weird. It’s different. You normally have a scoreboard and roof above you giving the sense that you’re in a gym.”
That’s not to say it’s impossible for a team to perform well in a dome; look no further than Final Four squad Kentucky. Last weekend while performing at the Georgia Dome, the Wildcats shot a combined 50.4 percent from the floor and 47.4 percent from beyond the arc.
In addition, Ohio State players say they have adjusted well.
“The rim is a rim and the court is a court,” hot-shooting forward Deshaun Thomas said. “I’ve played on all kinds of courts – cement, board backboards. It seems comfortable to me. I love this game and that's what I love to do so no rim bothers me."
Thomas is the kind of guy who isn’t bothered by much anyway, and the same goes for William Buford. The senior has been in a shooting slump of late, going 13 of 44 from the floor in the tournament, but reports he and the team haven’t had much trouble in the Superdome.
“It’s great,” he said. “We’ve got up a lot of shots, so we have a nice feel for the arena. As you can see, we were knocking down shots today when we were in there so hopefully it will work during the game.”
Those words are encouraging from the Buckeye players, as they show the dome effect hasn’t gotten into their heads. To that end, Boals said the Buckeye coaching staff won’t even address the situation leading up to the game.
“I think the more you bring it up the more they think about it,” he said. “It’s like the movie ‘Hoosiers,’ the rim is 10 feet and the free throw line is 15. So we just want to stay on task and do the thing we do.”
The way Thomas has played in the NCAA Tournament, making 7 of 17 threes, the thing he does is fill up the basket. He doesn’t expect that to change no matter where he’s playing Saturday night.
“I shot it well yesterday and I thought I shot it real well today,” he said Friday afternoon. “You’re going to see a couple threes tomorrow night."