THE Ohio State Buckeyes. Game overview and OSU notes:
Where: Columbus (2nd straight B10 opener on the road)
When: 12/30 6pm CT
OSU Overall record: 8-5
OSU streak: W4
Biggest win on season: Kentucky... neutral site but largely a Wildcat crowd.
Leading scorer: Marc Loving (Jr.)
Last season record: 24-11 (11-7) Lost to #2 Arizona in third round of madness.
Key departure: #2 overall pick D'Angelo Russell, Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott, Amir Williams
The Buckeyes lost a lot from last season, but the year has gone well for them despite the high caliber departures. They have scheduled very difficult non-conference opponents in: Virginia (ACC Challenge, I know), Memphis, UCONN, Kentucky and Mercer. They posted a respectable 2-3 record in those games. As we have learned from Coach Izzo, it can be very advantageous to schedule difficult opponents in the non-conference schedule if your team is teetering on "The Bubble" or if you hope to make a run in the field of 68.
The Buckeyes don't seem to trust their bench much at all, usually only going 8 deep in a contested game. They are starting Lyle, Diop, Tate, Loving and Trevor Thompson and they bring Giddens (highly touted freshmen) in for Thompson at the center position playing about equal minutes; they also have a shooter in Kam Williams and an extremely quick Freshmen guard in A.J. Harris. Harris only stands 5-foot 9.
After facing so many halfcourt comfortable, yet still high scoring offenses it may be refreshing for the Gophers to face an uptempo team like Ohio State. Ohio State doesn't have many shooters, but they have taken more 3-point attempts than the Gophers have this season, 275 to 254. Shot selection will be key for both teams.
I asked what the Gophers can do. I believe if they:
- Stop penetration
- Force Ohio State to take 3-point attempts
- Keep Murphy and King out of foul trouble
- Keep Gopher freshmen guards confident
- Get to the free throw line
- Get JaQuan Lyle in foul trouble
- Win the 50-50 balls and the energy battle
- Starting out well on offense (I know that's asking a lot)
If they do 3 or more of those things, I believe they have a chance. Unfortunately, as my hairline recedes, the problem for the Gophers this season has been shot selection. They also seem intent on not giving Joey King the ball at times, which adds up to some of the chaotic defeats put on by the South Dakota teams. Those things must change. Carlos Morris has played better as of late, and while I wouldn't count on that to continue that is, perhaps, something that could push this team over the hump for a B10 opener win as well.
Lyle seems to be a big key for the Buckeyes. If they disrupt him, possibly with some Dorsey or McBrayer defense that would be huge. He is the straw that stirs the drink and I don't believe AJ Harris has been given much leash at this point in the season... he seems to have a lot of Kevin Dorsey in him, if you will.
I like this matchup in a B10 opener. Yes, Ohio State is riding a nice winning streak, but we saw the Gophers ride a similar streak and have it all quickly fall apart. Just maybe, the Buckeyes will fall asleep in the early goings.
That's all folks. I really believe this will be a fun matchup. Greg Paulus is also Assistant Coaching under Thad Matta and Thad actually gave him the reins in the final minutes to draw up final shot plays. He is being raved about, and you could see him step into a very big head coaching office as soon as next season.
Happy New Year to all, and to all a good night!